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Internal Social Business for Leaders series: 3. Be yourself

This is the 3rd and final post in the Internal Social Business for Leaders series. By now, you should have a polished profile in place and be more comfortable with your online social surroundings. We’re at the point where you are probably asking: “what now?” Don’t worry, here’s where the fun begins. You don’t have to be a great writer to have an effective presence in your organization’s internal social business platform. You just have to be yourself – everyone else is taken anyway, according to popular wisdom.

There are no accidental leaders – that’s just an urban myth, or perhaps an attempt to dismiss the qualities of somebody who got to a position of influence by attributing it to sheer luck: being at the right place at the right time. Leaders – and everybody else – can always use a good hand of cards, but they need much more than that to conquer positions of leadership. Having said that, not all leaders are good communicators. Some speak well, but write poorly. Some are decent writers and can speak with a script, but struggle to improvise, so end up favoring channels that allow time for preparation. Finally, some lead despite being bad communicators or introverts, because of the unique skills they bring to the table.

Here is the bad news: not participating in online social interactions at all is increasingly becoming a bad option for leaders. Your online silence may be perceived as a lack of care, knowledge, or vision.

The good news is that you can be very active and influential in your company’s internal social business platform no matter where you are in that bad to good communicator spectrum. Social business platforms offer enough content variety to cater for your style. Here is a menu of items you can try. Like a restaurant menu, it’s not expected that you will order (or follow) every item there. The idea is to pick the ones you feel more comfortable with at first and grow your presence from there.

1. “Like” content that is close to your heart. 

Liking content is easy to do, and it’s a strong way to signal what is important for you or for your area of the organization. A “like” is not necessarily an endorsement to the content or to the person who wrote the content. You may choose to “like” items that you don’t necessarily agree with, but that encourage an open conversation on themes that need to be discussed broadly. Furthermore, when your followers see that you are liking content across the social platform, they know they are being listened to.

2. Post short praises as comments.

You may want to start with comments that praise work well done, or to reinforce behaviors that are important to emphasize. Many organizations think about rewards only in monetary terms, but a sincere and timely “thank you” or “good job” by peers or leaders – especially when done in a medium consumed by many others – is a powerful incentive often neglected at the workplace.

3. Discover the power of status updates: work out loud.

You may not be Twitter or Facebook type, and you may have no interest in sharing with all employees in your organization what you had for breakfast this morning, but status updates in internal social platforms are probably the best bang for your online participation buck. As a leader, your week is full of events that interest your constituents a great deal – yes, even though you may not be an elected politician, you do have constituents, people who are inspired and impacted by your leadership actions. Most social platforms give you the ability to have status updates posted to the entire organization or to specific groups. Since status updates are supposed to be short and sweet, you don’t have to be a Pulitzer-caliber writer. Just be factual, and if you feel brave, add a personal touch to it. Naturally, use your common sense to avoid revealing confidential or sensitive information there.

  • Flying to New York for meetings tomorrow, hoping for better weather this time around
  • Attending a presentation about Cloud strategy – lots of opportunities there
  • Just returned from a short vacation – good to decompress and re-energize

Learn more about other ways to work out loud in this post by John Stepper: The 5 elements of working out loud.

4. Ask-Me-Anything.

Many leaders starting their social business journey create a “leader’s corner” and ask their folks to ask them questions there on an ongoing basis. While that’s a great idea, in practice it creates a celebrity social media syndrome: because this is a one-to-many relationship, you may not have enough hours in the day to address all questions people may ask you. A more manageable approach may be to conduct Reddit-style Ask Me Anything events, perhaps quarterly. People can ask you dozens or hundreds of questions, but your commitment is to select a few (I suggest something between 20 to 50) to respond to. You may answer in writing or by recording a video – whatever you feel more comfortable with.

5. You as the asker.

The celebrity syndrome works well on a continuous basis the other way around: the leader as the person asking the question. Ask about how you are doing, or about an initiative you are about to start, or for feedback about a service or product your department provides. There’s a wealth of great information that people on the front lines know about that can help steering your organization in the right direction. Anonymous surveys don’t allow for real conversations like social platforms do, and many employees will actually feel empowered by knowing their leader is listening.

6. Video.

Video content is widely used in the consumer Internet, and it’s growing fast in the corporate environment too. Many leaders communicate well verbally, and may benefit from having their messages distributed in video format. An easy way to do it is to have it done in a Q&A format, with one person playing the role of the facilitator interviewing the leader or a leadership team, or simply record an actual leadership event and share it internally.

7. Blog.

I placed this one last, as it’s the most difficult to sustain, but also the one with the biggest returns in the long term. Blogs may not be as popular in the consumer Internet as they were, but if you do feel comfortable with writing, this is probably one of the best ways to communicate with others in your organization. Ideas about what to blog about justify a post in itself. My recommendation is that you start modest: don’t commit to multiple posts up front. Try it once or twice, see how you feel about it, and how your posts were received. You may want to ask what people want to know about. You may actually invite people in your leadership team to contribute to a group blog. Eventually, you will find what works for you and your team. One approach to avoid is ghost-blogging: people will know immediately that’s not you writing them.  It’s preferable that you don’t blog at all rather than having others writing pretending they are you.

Hopefully this series will help more leaders to be more active in the online social conversation happening in their organizations, contributing to the growing ranks of authentic and open leadership in the corporate environment.

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Aaron Kim

Aaron Kim is the Head of Digital Social Collaboration at the Royal Bank of Canada, and led the efforts to bring social business and social collaboration to an organization of 79,000 employees. He’s also been a public speaker at several events across the globe, from the Web 2.0 Expo to JiveWorld, from Singapore to Barcelona. He has a passion for innovation and for making work smarter, more meaningful and rewarding to all. Born and raised in Brazil, to a Korean father and Japanese mother, he also volunteers in several diversity initiatives, inside and outside RBC. In the past, he worked as a consultant both at IBM Canada and Unisys Brazil, having played the roles of solutions architect, Basel II analyst, performance engineer, Java programmer, Unix administrator and environmental biologist. He holds an MBA from the University of Toronto, and a bachelor’s degree in Biology from the Universidade de São Paulo. He lives in Toronto, Canada, is married to Tania and have a son, Lucas.

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