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You can show more of your character to more people

Business leaders cannot stay aloof from a massive trend that all other parts of their business or organization are adopting. So much of leadership is about being a role model. If you want the organization you lead to engage in social media, then telling them to do as you say, not as you do, will quickly distance you from your staff.

There is no doubt in my mind that, where business leaders do engage in conversations with their customers and consumers online, all of those watching are more likely to trust the brand as a result. It is a great way for leaders to target different audiences, deliver key messages, and communicate about their beliefs, products and services. It is also a way of challenging stakeholder opinions and putting your side of the argument across to the public.

The adoption rate, however, is still extremely slow. Only a small percentage of leaders are active online. That does seem a huge missed opportunity to me. A leader’s job is to inspire, and simply not showing up for – or in – social media will fail to inspire anybody.

Those leaders who are active on social media are thought to be more inspirational than leaders who aren’t. Social media facilitates openness. It helps leaders to be more accessible, enables followers to understand who they are and what they believe in. Those followers will be much more likely to trust as a result.

The visibility of social media does place great stress on authenticity. Being authentic is critical to effective leadership, so tone really matters. My advice is that you should do everything in your power to engage with social media yourself, and not give it to someone else to do on your behalf. Only you can speak in your authentic voice. People have an acute ear for anything inauthentic. This is especially true of employees, who will quickly work out the ‘falseness’ of such a personal medium as a blog or tweet. They will know that this is not your voice and it will not help them to believe in you.

Those leaders who do use social media primarily target their employees. They feel more comfortable confining what they have to say to an internal audience. However, the number of leaders and CEOs who are engaging with customers is on the rise. I have seen some CEOs openly giving their e-mail addresses on television and radio to encourage feedback from customers, in spite of the worry that it might stimulate a flood of complaints. They see complaints as a way to take action and fix problems within the organization. Having done so, they are able to communicate back to customers to improve reputation and build loyalty. To them it is an opportunity, not a threat.

Many CEOs are now also targeting investors, the general public and news media with their tweets and blogs. Unlike meeting rooms or offices, social media has no physical or geographical boundaries. It lends itself to conversations and creates higher levels of engagement, because it allows leaders to communicate their ideas and enthusiasm about the future of their organization confidently and informally, in a way that is engaging and inspiring to others.

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