The difference between those who follow and those who lead can be a very subtle one. If you peel off all the exuberance and distractions, it all comes down to mastering the fundamentals.
Many people possess amazing skills, but lack self-control, others have incredible stamina, but lack the imagination and the spark of creativity, and so many more have incredible talent, but lack the means of transmitting their ideas.
Transmitting our ideas today is something that can be accomplished in many ways. Social media activity can be one effective way to do this. In business environment the systematic approach on this communication is described usually as thought leadership, which falls under the umbrella of employee advocacy.
Many tools and platforms are available to support this kind of communication that is based on a kind of a simple, universal truth: People are interested to be related to other people and not companies. Companies are not faceless. Companies are their people.
Leading by example… and voice
Social media activity under this perspective can be seen as an evolutionary approach to the typical business communications. Obviously, there are significant differences based on the platform, the audience and the openness on the conversations in social media sphere.
One of the most important aspects and value created by embracing the social channels is the relationship of this activities with leadership and innovation. Today, no single person can innovate on behalf of an entire organization – it’s the teamwork that counts. Innovation is collaborative and demands the will and imagination of many people, who are not just insiders, but outsiders as well – customers, suppliers, competitors and even regulators.
Here is where the crucial role of top managers plays in. Although they don’t create the innovations themselves, they must be able to inspire innovation.
The attitude boiled down to its essence is that, “We are a team and everyone on our team innovates.”
Being a human and not a media channel
The content of these human driven communications allows for more opportunities for personal expression and analysis on adjacent subjects, with a deeper emphasis on the human element. This is another very important aspect, and it’s about, giving our people a platform to communicate on an interpersonal and social level. Professionals want to talk to other individuals, with distinct faces, attitudes and thoughts, not abstract corporate entities.
Giving a face and voice to our communication framework, we gain a better reach towards our partners and our customers and we attract interested prospects, who wish to do business with us. At the same time, our top executives and managers create their distinct personal brands and amplify their unique characteristics.
Each piece of content our people produce, should ideally reflect the executive’s strong aspects of personality, i.e. a person with high levels of conscientiousness talks in a more analytical and rational language. Thus, it is more suitable for communicating the more technical aspects of our offerings. On the other hand, a highly agreeable and open person, is naturally more diplomatic, empathetic, and idealistic, making them more suitable for content that reveals the impact of our technologies on humans, and covers more over-arching themes concerning human-machine relationships.
On top of that, our job as orchestrators of this initiative is to facilitate the discussions with our executives, uncover authentic lived experience and incorporate them into their stories, personal anecdotal recounting, impressions from a recent event or announcement, thoughts based on a good book, movie, travel, an interaction with friends and family, all can be a great way to connect the dots and reveal the person behind the suit.
Matching Sense and Sensibility
Leadership initiatives are a continuous balancing act between limited time, lengthy to-do lists, and the need for an online presence with constant updates, new material, and frequent engagement, leading to higher visibility. The trick here is to enable the development of compelling content, valuable to the audience, leading to organic growth, which is the best way for lasting success. Organic growth is linked to authenticity in the message, as I will mention below, which is quite important – no paid content can match the sustainability of an organically grown social following.
In short, the ideal goals are:
· Increase visibility and social presence of our executives
· Amplify the voices of experts, creating engaging and impactful content
· Aligning our communications with our running marketing strategies
· Communicate our latest achievements and innovations
· Enable engagement and meaningful conversations in the social sphere
Combining all these objectives into one initiative on thought leadership is easier said than done.
Based on my experience, it is indeed an excellent opportunity for marketing, sales, and PR to work collaboratively with social media strategists and generalists and communicate our messages to our partners and customers, informing them of our latest products and solutions, and how to use them for addressing their challenges.
But at the same time, beyond products, sales figures and estimates, it is crucial that we let our top executives show their personality to the world, let them build meaningful relationships without the constraints and limitations of geography, especially at times when we start to work in a decentralized manner, not anchored behind an office desk.
So far, so good, but what are the lessons learned from this experience?
· Maintaining frequency and consistency are very important, our people should have to produce new engaging content every few days.
· Personal involvement and active participation yield the best results.
· Always trying to expand the personal network, make more engaging content that will attract more professionals.
· Transition from a 1-to-1 offline basis to a multi-threaded online environment of communication.
· Adjust to the variables and the factors of each region, age-group and different market needs.
· Authenticity is a major component of creating engaging content – every time we have to enable the production of content that will perfectly straddle the line between corporate necessity and personal emotional expression; otherwise, it would not be authentic. We opt for chunks of “short and sweet” content vs. lengthy, overedited, and canned material.
Last but not least, we must always keep in mind also the corporate value of thought leadership. The most important value of thought leadership content is the human touch in a scattered digital world. We need to take into consideration that in the current era, paid social media cannot deliver as much as they could in the past as all vendors in one field tend to target the same people over and over again with faceless digital content and campaigns. The solution to this is good organic social media amplification, and more specifically thought leadership content of value that can reach organically the targeted audience.
Even though not everyone can maintain a “social first” approach, my experience has shown this is something very achievable and quite effective with the proper systematic work, support from our social media experts, and cooperation with our marketing strategists and tight integration with SoMe platforms.