Social media in the executive suite: For influence, yes. For networking? Not so much

George Colony In his recent series of blog posts on The Social CEO (Pt 1, Pt 2, Pt 3, Pt 4, Q&A), Forrester CEO George Colony seems to assume that social media technologies can only be used as tools for social networking. 

If I’m reading him right, I think this is a mistake. If these technologies were seen more as tools for leveraging one’s influence, then many more leaders would like be willing to deploy them. 

In Part 2 of his series, Colony writes:

With the exception of a small minority of brilliant thinkers, smart social networkers, and publishing-oriented personalities, the social heavy model is a recipe for blowhardism. Think about it — how many people do you know with the erudition to make 30 worthwhile short statements per week, and one valuable long statement per week?

What Colony appears to miss is that a blog in the hands of a leader can be used for (among many purposes) strategic, near real-time, short storytelling. And Twitter can simply be used to help the individual blog posts ‘travel’ around to the leader’s intended audience. (Yes, I’m deliberately using the term ‘audience’ instead of the term ‘network.’ More on that below.)

Here’s a recent example by Paul Levy, President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, in a post to his Running A Hospital blog titled Brava, Maureen!

Paul LevyI was out of town when President Obama made his recess appointment of Don Berwick to head CMS, and when the Institute for Healthcare Improvement announced that Maureen Bisognano would take over as CEO… Regular readers have often seen Maureen’s name on this blog. Her suggestions, for example, have made a huge difference in the way we have made our ICUs more patient- and family-centered.

Levy’s using his blog post (tweeted here) to provide recognition, telling a short and simple story about someone whose efforts or actions embody his values and furthers his strategy and goals as a leader. 

Another Levy example: a blog post about a single employee whose actions reflect one of the hospital’s strategic initiatives.

In the networked world we live in, this is a significant way to affirm someone. In the How to blog effectively section of my 2005 Leadership Blogging Guide (currently under revision as a White Paper), I write:

One of the most effective ways to acknowledge someone informally is to tell someone else a story about them. Why? Because it has a better chance to spread around.

A positive remark directly to the person being acknowledged generally goes no further because to most people it would feel like bragging to tell someone else. But if the positive remark is made to someone else, then the recipient is very likely to repeat the story to others.

A blog post recognizing an employee, a colleague, an organization or business in the community is an effective way to accomplish the informal form of recognition with the impact of the formal.

Others see the post and mention it to the affirmed person; some pass around its URL/PermaLink via email to others; others blog it and retweet it, thereby widening its impact; and the search engines store the content of it indefinitely, thereby providing opportunities for serendipitous acknowledgement far into the future.

I can imagine in the days and weeks subsequent to Levy’s blog post about Bisognano, she got a fair number of people saying to her "Hey, Maureen, I saw your photo in Paul Levy’s blog…"

While erudition might be important for anyone aspiring to be a columnist (which is how I’d describe Colony’s "one valuable long statement per week"), it’s not necessary to be an effective leadership blogger.  (Providing recognition is only one of the ways leaders can use a blog to leverage their influence. I’ve identified about a dozen.)

Colony rightfully challenges the notion that executives need to be heavily interactive with their use of social media technologies. In Pt 4, he writes about his ‘social light’ strategy:

Now admittedly, this is a far cry from the "Get into the conversation" conventional wisdom of the social heavies. And it contradicts the "Post incessantly to build followers" high-school behavior of many social players. But let’s face facts — most CEO don’t have the time or the capacity to play those games. They’ve got companies to run.

Which is why I think it’s often more helpful to emphasize the term ‘audience’ instead of the term ‘network’ if you’re a leader considering how you can personally deploy these social media technologies. (Some of the lack of adoption of these technologies by those in leadership positions is likely due to the nomenclature of social media. ‘Blogging,’ ‘tweeting,’ and ‘social networking’ can be off-putting terms to the uninitiated executive.) 

For the ‘audience’ vs. ‘networking’ approach, look no further than Seth Godin who has a huge following among the social media-oriented communcations/public relations/marketing crowd (and a favorite author of mine as well.)

  • SethGodinsBlog Godin does not allow comments on his blog. Readers can only like/recommend a post and/or retweet it. (He does allow pingbacks/trackbacks but in the age of Twitter, it gets little use.)
  • Godin only uses his public Twitter account and his Facebook page as a tools for automatically publishing the content of his blog posts. (His Facebook page followers engage with one another on his Wall, but he doesn’t participate.)

In other words, Godin’s using social networking technologies very effectively to reach his audience without any of the ‘social’ or the ‘networking.’ (He does publish his email address and is reputed to be very responsive.) Rather, Godin is big on using these tools to leverage his influence.

All the Internet’s a Stage. Why Don’t C.E.O.’s Use It? 
Not enough has changed since 2006 when Randall Stross published a column in the New York Times titled All the Internet’s a Stage. Why Don’t C.E.O.’s Use It? 

It need not be the case.

  • http://wigleyandassociates.com Griff Wigley

    From the DemingHill guys, Douglas O’Bryon, Nathan Kievman, Randy Schrum: Why Executives HATE Social Media

    An excellent article. I commented:

    Randy/Nate/Douglas:

    I finished reading Forrester CEO George Colony’s series of blog posts a couple of weeks ago titled “The Social CEO” and last week, crafted my response. He was right on but I thought he missed a couple of key points.

    * The ‘social’ and the ‘networking’ part of social media is a problem for most executives.

    * social media in the hands of a leader can be used for (among many purposes) strategic, near real-time, short storytelling that can influence one’s audience in ways that aren’t easily done otherwise.

    So I was thrilled to read your article this morning and see:

    * Social Networking: The Problem is “Networking” and * Social Networking: The Problem is “Social”

    * The advantages of social media for an executive, esp. Feedback, Authenticity, Transparency (though I think the feedback can be gotten in ways that aren’t quite so intimidating.)

    Most important was your line in the Authenticity paragraph: “leverage social media to authentically communicate…” Another way to put it: “Use social media tools to leverage your influence.”

    Most leaders don’t understand the ‘leverage’ part, eg, how a simple short story that reflects one’s values or goals can ‘travel’ to key stakeholders once it’s placed in a blog post and a tweet.

    I elaborate on this in my blog post:

    Social media in the executive suite: For influence, yes. For networking? Not so much
    http://wigleyandassociates.com/archives/1600/

    Keep up the good work!

  • http://wigleyandassociates.com Griff Wigley

    From the DemingHill guys, Douglas O’Bryon, Nathan Kievman, Randy Schrum: Why Executives HATE Social Media

    An excellent article. I commented:

    Randy/Nate/Douglas:

    I finished reading Forrester CEO George Colony’s series of blog posts a couple of weeks ago titled “The Social CEO” and last week, crafted my response. He was right on but I thought he missed a couple of key points.

    * The ‘social’ and the ‘networking’ part of social media is a problem for most executives.

    * social media in the hands of a leader can be used for (among many purposes) strategic, near real-time, short storytelling that can influence one’s audience in ways that aren’t easily done otherwise.

    So I was thrilled to read your article this morning and see:

    * Social Networking: The Problem is “Networking” and * Social Networking: The Problem is “Social”

    * The advantages of social media for an executive, esp. Feedback, Authenticity, Transparency (though I think the feedback can be gotten in ways that aren’t quite so intimidating.)

    Most important was your line in the Authenticity paragraph: “leverage social media to authentically communicate…” Another way to put it: “Use social media tools to leverage your influence.”

    Most leaders don’t understand the ‘leverage’ part, eg, how a simple short story that reflects one’s values or goals can ‘travel’ to key stakeholders once it’s placed in a blog post and a tweet.

    I elaborate on this in my blog post:

    Social media in the executive suite: For influence, yes. For networking? Not so much
    http://wigleyandassociates.com/archives/1600/

    Keep up the good work!