I had a stint one summer in my early twenties as an Executive Assistant to a CEO. Most of my role involved “managing” the CEO’s inbox. That meant printing out every email.
Twice a day we would have a meeting in his office. The CEO would read through the emails. He would dictate a reply while I scribbled it down in a notebook.
Later, I would go back to my desk and type out the email, pressing send on his behalf.
That was five years ago. When I retell that story it sounds more Mad Men than summer of 2007. The CEO wasn’t a monster, as some of my friends initially thought when they heard I had to print off every. single. email.
In fact, I loved this guy to bits.
He was however, a true laggard when it came to adopting technology despite being a leader in his field. He refused to participate in email. It confused him. It was a waste of his time. He was comfortable with his current tools.
Fast-forward to 2012. There’s a similar pattern with C-level participation in social. ‘Social media? Me? No time for that! But you’re right…we should do something.’
Instead of actively participating, senior executives often delegate the doing of social business to interns. While a CMO may understand the importance of social, actually knowing how to act on it is critical.
Here are three reasons why
1. Understanding your customers and employees state of mind.
As an intelligence tool, leaders participating in social media have a direct portal to how their workforce, customers and competition behave and get work done. Platforms like Twitter, where people share real-time snippets of what’s on their mind, make it easy to see whether your colleague or client is having a good day and what is holding their attention in the last hour, day or week. These sorts of informal human exchanges, people sharing how they behave and get work done, now in a C-level’s grasp add, a valuable layer of insight to traditional reporting tools and market intelligence.
“The next evolution of leadership, the next big idea, will be leading with an in-depth understanding of states of mind rather than with an in-depth understanding of financial statements.” Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup recently commented on an interview about next generation leadership.
C-levels can use social media as a sense check to navigate the business and its stakeholders through innovation, creative and charge cycles in tune with the real-time environs.
2. Leadership by example
I’m a firm subscriber to David Lavenda’s belief that to be a social business you have to model social leadership ‘What Does it Take to be a Leader in Social Business?‘ . Having an organization’s leadership involved and embodying ‘social’ builds credibility both for the organization and personally, and sends a clear signal for other managers and employees to emulate. Such changes in behavior ripple out to the edges of the organization, enabling the business to become truly social from the inside-out.
3. You can’t fake immersion
If Kim Kardashian is managing her own tweets then everyone should be able to do their own.
As a collective type of space, social networks mingle a variety of relationship sets; friends, coworkers, colleagues, peers, thought leaders, brands; only your participation can accurately represent yourself in so many sets at one time.
Networks like Twitter rely on sharing your thoughts with the world, in short, real-time bursts ie. as you are reading an article.
Another way to think about this is to consider whether you would allow someone else on your behalf to cut out an article you read in the newspaper, add a post-it note of your comments, and then share it with your friend.
Your thoughts are your own, and immersion in real-time space, with a variety of relationships, can’t be replicated.
As Dorie Clark, Harvard Business Review contributor and personal brand expert recently tweeted “If you’re still relying on interns to handle your Twitter stream or Facebook account, you’re in trouble.”
If you declare you’re onboard social then best be walking the talk.
Today it is rare that you would have to print out a CEO’s email, but it is not uncommon for employees to tweet or post an update on their behalf.
In 5 years if you happen to land a summer job tweeting for your boss you know you are in trouble.
But if this happens to you this summer, maybe it’s a good opportunity to take the CEO on the journey of doing it for themselves?
While social media will be as ubiquitous as email in a few years, why wait for the inevitable wave of change to engulf us all, especially for those leading companies.