Leadership and Social Media: Oh the Opportunities!

Engaging your Workforce through ConnectionsThree years ago, only the most innovative organizations, with the most enlightened and confident leaders, employed social media.  Today, it’s getting to be almost the opposite.  It’s rare to find a Fortune 500 company not using social media to both drive business and engage their workforce.


Blogs.  Facebook. Twitter.  LinkedIn. Yammer….the possibilities are seemingly endless.  Actively promoting the use of these modern tools as a way of connecting with its employees and customers isn’t just trendy anymore.  It’s strategic, and it’s become an expectation in all sectors.


Let’s talk about the “engagement” factor of social media for a second…many organizations tout their acceptance and burgeoning use of social media as a driver of engagement.  And they’re partly right.


In and of itself, any particular program, policy, or initiative will not engage your workplace.  However, if the underlying purpose is to actively and creatively begin to transform your workplace from the ordinary to the extraordinary, and you have aligned processes and accountability systems to drive actual behavior and attitudinal change, embracing ideas such as social media may result in a more engaged workforce.


Alternatively, launching social media initiatives themselves is not enough to carte blanche engage your workforce.  It’s but a first step…and here’s how it needs to go:


1)   Embrace social media for what it is, a potential tool for building a more interactive, transparent, and trusting workforce.  This can be tricky if leadership is afraid of what they may here, or resist additional transparency for fear of being held accountable (Heavens, NO!).


2)   Test the cultural waters of your organization to really gauge the level of trust flowing through the organization.  Analyze the virtual interactions over the first month or two.  Pay close attention to whether particular levels in the organization are dominating the conversations, while others are completely absent.  Determine if certain hot-button topics fail to generate anticipated discourse.  Both of these can be indicators of underlying trust issues in your organization.  And remember, it’s okay to identify distrust in your organization.  It’s not okay to bury your head in the sand and pretend all is hunky-dory, if it’s not.


3)   Reward social media risk-takers in your organization.  Where pockets of distrust (whether by workforce segment or topic area) are festering, leadership needs to actively and publicly recognize and reward those putting their necks on the virtual line.  Doing so will send a clear message that honest, open communication is a value leadership and the organization truly seek.  Failure to send this message will result in nothing more than “feel good” discussion boards, providing more harm than good in demonstrating publicly the true nature of the organization’s culture.


4)   Require senior leadership participation in social media.  As technology improves, it should be held as an integral part of every leader’s role to actively engage in and encourage the use and spread of social media throughout the organization.  Take the time to educate, coach, and, yes, allow leaders to flounder a little (nothing builds credibility better than well-intentioned errors, acknowledged and embraced).


Properly positioned and executed, the embrace of social media can do wonders to build a sense of community, trust, and shared purpose and pride amongst employees.  Conversely, even the best social media tools can spread distrust, apathy, and disengagement if seen as a quick “engagement” deliverable.  It’s up to leadership to understand the power of social media, grab a hold of the possibilities, and actively champion and drive their successful integration into the fabric of the organizational culture.


Certainly if 13 year-olds across this country understand the power of social networking, so too can seasoned leaders in any company!

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