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May 02, 2019 Thursday 02:50:41 PM IST

Leadership in the time of social media

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Currently, it is estimated that there will be around 2.8 billion social network users worldwide. Social media has encroached into every space of our lives as customers, citizens and much more.  What about corporate leadership?  Three or four decades ago, most employees knew very little about their leader outside of work. By the advent of the 21st century, it became more acceptable to know leaders on a personal level. Nowadays, it's become the norm for employees to not only know their leader on a personal level but to be linked with their leader on social media. Researches show that 10 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are personally involved in social media - neither outsourcing to ghost-writers nor ignoring the phenomenon.

The change to a leader who is not only existing on social media, but also an active contributor, has become less of an outlier and more of what the great leaders are doing on a regular basis. By adopting this tactic,they let the outside world learn about them by reading their blogs, tweets, or watching a video. Leaders can leverage on social media to increase sales, humanize theorganization, and be proactive during anemergency while establishing themselves as an industry leader at the same time. It can also help them tosuccessfully include their voice in theorganization content, cross-promote among their own networks or evaluate the effect of their efforts.Social media generates more ability to metabolize the intricacy of the contemporary world and turn it into a strategic advantage. Here are the four key ways of making it happen.

Familiarity and expertise

Mary Barra, the chairman and CEO of General Motors, frequently tweets her insights on the future of the automobile industry, vouches for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education and highlights her organization’s commitment to sustainability. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group,shared the post‘How to Cause Disruption and Create Change’ and it reached out to 150,000 people and notably said, "Using social media isn't just a bit of fun, it's a significant way to connect, keep your ear to the ground and advance your business." Whether you’re leading a five-member team or the CFO at a Fortune 1000, one of the best cases of use of social media is building familiarity around your expertise on a few relevant topics. For instance, if you’re at the helm of a firm brokering renewable energy projects for companies with aggressive sustainability goals, it will be helpful to be known for your mastery of renewable energy-related topics.


Updating stakeholders

Jeff Wiener, CEO of LinkedIn,shared his commencement speech at Wharton, titled ‘Be Compassionate’ which had over 13,000 likes. Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Companies,posted an article,‘When Your Name is On the Building’emphasizing the five values of their culture code which had over 4,500 likes. Another significant use of social media as a leader is keeping all the relevant stakeholders aware of important news related to the firm. Even though leadership isn’t accountable for sharing about every update at the organization, it is a leader’s responsibility to publicise major news, address general issues and share milestones of the firm’s sustained progress. It can be anything from a two-minute video on LinkedIn about the hiring of a key role- holder or posting on Instagram about your latest product. Being transparent about your organization’s growth is beneficial for nurturing trust amongst employees who will feel more committed towards the overall mission, which can lead to a more dynamic and involved team.

Tackling crisis

Recently, CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff, apologized directly to a customer about the firm’s software being down for an entire day. Mistakes happen at every company and majority of the damage can be contained depending on how the problem is dealt with after it happens. Whether a flight is delayed due to technical issues or a company spokesperson makes contentious statements, it’s vital for leadership to promptly respond to the emergency and share how it’ll be resolved. Timely interventions of top officialsintaking ownership, apologizing for the mishap and ensuring corrective action are crucial at the juncture. Social media is an efficient tool for leaders to handle a crisis because they can rapidly craft their own response, reach out to a hugeaudience at scale and provide achance for others to react to their post directly. Also, a video could be uploaded or a link to an apology letter mentioned in a post on social media to manage a complex, much more serious problem.


Social consciousness

Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, posted on Twitter how he still disagree with the U.S. government’s travel ban. In a former Facebook post, Cheskydeliberatedon how he lost a friend a year earlier and how tough it was for his friend’s spouse to be back to work. Though the topic is of personal interest to the Airbnb founders,it is also aligned with their organization’s values and services as a hospitality brand.  He ended his post by announcing that Airbnb would instantlyprovide its paid bereavement to its staff. By broadcasting the policy update, he put his and the firm’s values into action beyond stating his position on avital issue.Leaders can effectively employ social media to convey their organization’s views on important social issues and occasionally, share what action they plan to take.

Progressive leaders should employ social media on a personal and strategic organisational level to boost original thinking and enhance dialogue. In today’s world driven byrapid social and technological changes, social media equips leaders to leverage on the deep-seated transformations that are taking place everywhere.  Social media aids to humanise an organization’s communications with stakeholders, creatinganinstant rapport and nurturing valuable brand loyalty. This is very much imperative in the vibrant media landscape of today. 



Dr. Manu Melwin Joy

The writer is an Assistant Professor at School of Management Studies, CUSAT

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