Communication has changed dramatically over the course of the past two decades. Postal mail has largely been replaced by email, and our phones, once plugged into the wall and stationary, now fit in our pockets and come with us wherever we go. Perhaps most notable is the explosive popularity of social media. By 2017, it is estimated that more than one-third of all people on the planet will use social media. While the way people interact has changed dramatically, few business leaders have altered the way they communicate with their employees and partners, industry colleagues, and their customer base.
There are several reasons why so many business leaders have not made it a priority to build a presence on social media. These individuals are understandably busy with their core responsibilities, and may not have the time to keep up with something they see as a side task. Often, many such tasks are delegated to executive assistants. Furthermore, technological innovations have occurred at a shockingly fast rate. However, moving forward, business leaders will need to adapt their communication styles to the 21st century to stay connected to their customers, employees, and the industries they work in.
Visibility and Authenticity through Social Media
Social media has already radically changed the ways in which people relate to each other. These evolutions are also fundamentally changing the role of the leader. Formerly, leaders were charged with overseeing the operations and overall strategy of their organizations. Now, in addition, they are expected to be visual and verbal representations of their organizations as well. Figures like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg became manifestations of their companies. While very few company leaders achieve this level of visibility, a similar charge is now falling on all company leaders, especially in times of crisis when the organization needs to answer quickly to the public or the business community.
In the past, business leaders needed to undergo media training. Today, they need to undergo social media training as well. Social media has become the public stage through which leaders make themselves visible. Notably, communicating via social media differs from the process of communicating via traditional media avenues, like interviews, press conferences, or newsletters. With social media, people build their own networks, and individuals follow others with the expectation that communications are more authentic, rather than completely filtered through a corporate communications or PR team. Social network profiles are more personal and individuals expect an authentic voice on these outlets.
Social networks are not simply tools for marketing—instead, they facilitate communication. In this sense, it’s inappropriate for business leaders to treat them merely as sales channels. Rather, executives should think of social media more as a way to share information and engage in meaningful conversation with customers, the general public, and other industry leaders.
At the same time, a business leader’s social media account still represents his or her company and its brand. For this reason, business leaders need to learn a new style of communication that balances the call for personal authenticity with the reality of corporate responsibility.
Developing a Personal Leadership Brand
Another way to think of the balance between personal and professional is through the concept of branding. On social media, business leaders need to reflect the brand of their organizations while also developing their own personal brand. While some leaders certainly see themselves as a brand, many do not—however, all leaders are developing a personal brand, whether they do so consciously or not. A brand reflects the values that a leader embodies and speaks to what he or she considers most important. When people evaluate a leader, it is often that person’s brand that they consider.
Business leaders need to distinguish their personal brand from the corporate brands they represent. The personal brand lets other leaders and organizations know what the leader values, both personally and professionally. When it’s time to move to a new company, the brand that a leader has developed can be a major factor in the types of offers that he or she receives.
Social Networks and Professional Networking
Personal branding was something difficult to accomplish before social media, but now anyone can establish a personal website and blog rather easily. From a professional perspective, it is important for business leaders to do this and to create meaningful, engaging content. This content can be shared through platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. As business leaders create and disseminate meaningful content, and share content written and published by other business leaders, they can quickly build a strong professional network.
When social networks are viewed as a source of professional networking, business leaders gain access to the people they need to solve problems. A larger professional network means that business leaders have more access to highly qualified, talented contacts that they can call upon for assistance, or when building a new team. To the modern business leader, developing this kind of network through social media is critical to the success of his or her company.