Should leaders be active on social media? And if so, how can they go about being engaged and social on digital platforms? We spoke to Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group, and author of “The Engaged Leader” to hear what she has to say.
You can listen to the podcast interview on iTunes, Soundcloud or keep reading for a summary of our chat. Questions by me, answers by Charlene.
About Altimeter Group and Charlene’s Role:
Altimeter Group is an analyst list firm that I started back in 2008 after being at Forrester for many years, almost a decade. And we conduct research on the biggest disruptive trends that are hitting organisations. So everything from social, to digital, to Internet of Things, content, analytics, big data, big hairy problems that require holistic ways to think about them because these types of disruptions aren’t limited to a single industry or even a function inside an organisation.
And recently we were acquired by a company called Prophet, a brand strategy and consulting firm that’s based in San Francisco, but with offices all around the world. So now, we have the capabilities of being able to put our research into practice which is a fantastic way, again, to feed our research too.
Why leaders need to master a new way of developing relationships:
Networking has gone digital: Well, I think business has changed in a way, in particular, the ways we form relationships have changed. And the fact that business is global, you have larger organisations working remotely oftentimes. Being a leader is no longer about walking around, looking people in eye, shaking their hands and saying, “Are we good?” in a face-to-face way. So leadership has had to evolve in ways that are in keeping with this digital era.
The standards of leadership that people are inspired, to be led by the leaders still remains the same, but the way we develop and nurture and deepen those relationships has changed because of these digital tools. And I think a lot of the practices around leadership haven’t taken that into account.
How social media can help you enhance company culture:
Allows employees to show personality: I think more than anything else, it allows for differences to be surfaced. It allows us to bring our full selves into the organisation. There’s a saying oftentimes in diversity circles, it’s a question of how much do you check at the door? It’s not even a question of what do you check yourself at the door. Everybody checks a piece of themselves at the door.
Encourages openness: And I think the opportunity is now with more social, more human workplaces is that we bring more of our full selves to work. And that means I can exhibit my sense of humour, my political points of views, my religious point of views. All of these different parts that make me, and bring perspective into my work, and the contributions I can make are appreciated.
The benefit of diversity for organisations:
Understand different markets: I think diversity in all spirit, formats, age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background helps you understand different types of thinking. And the reality is we serve a very diverse set of customers typically. We tend to not just sell to people who are like ourselves, either in B2C or B2B. And so having diverse people, first of all, helps you think about people different than you so that you can avoid groupthink.
Different ways of thinking: But then it’s also having different ways of thinking help you approach a tough nutty problem, which is what these disruptions cause, in a new and interesting and different way. So I think the sooner you can get diversity into your organisation, and I think about diversity in backgrounds but also ways in the thinking. It’s hard though because it’s a lot more comfortable to be around people who are like yourself, but you have a much richer organisation and richer strategy and culture if you have differences.
A step by step guide to becoming an engaged leader:
I think engagement is something that every leader aspires to. It’s like I’m engaged, I’m involved. People feel like I know about them and I care about them. So the difference is that in the digital space, there are three things, three skills, I believe.
1. Listen at scale
First of all, you can listen at scale now. Instead of just listening to people one on one, you can listen to pretty much everybody, all of your employees, and your customers, and partners in the ecosystem.
And I think the thing here is not to get overwhelmed by trying to listen to everything, but to listen to the people and the voices and their topics that are going to help you make the best decisions, the most important decisions that are important to you as a leader.
What I realise with leaders, it’s not an absolute that you listen to everything or do everything. It’s about your top leadership objectives. And every successful leader knows exactly what they need to accomplish and have their organisation accomplish, their teams accomplish. So listening with a purpose is what I really recommend.
2. Share to shape
The second thing, you have so many different opportunities to share your own thoughts. And communication is a key part of being a leader. And so this is sharing in order to shape that relationship between the leader and the followers.
I think curation is always a great place to start, but at some point, we want to hear from the leader, well, what are you thinking about? People will spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out, what does our leader want? What are they thinking? Well, just spell that concern and tell them exactly what’s going on.
3. Engage to transform
And the third part is engagement at a totally different level. And you’re engaging now with the purpose of transforming that relationship.
I will use David Thodey of Telstra as an example. One of the first things he did as the new CEO was to go onto their instance of Yammer and post a question that said, “Please post your top 10 wasteful processes and procedures and we’ll either get rid of them or explain why we’re keeping them.” And 700 responses came within the first hour. That’s a lot of pent up demand.
@jasonsbradshaw @Telstra not sure what the problem is…I will ask the team to check if there are any problems
— David Thodey (@davidthodey) December 17, 2014
And to his credit, to his executive team’s credit, they didn’t go off into a room. They came back into that post and started engaging people like, “Oh, yeah, that’s a really good point”. “That’s a good one to get rid off”, or “This is exactly why we’re doing it”. And they did this inside of that channel.
And it made the point now that we’re going to be taking our relationship as leaders, as executives in this organisation, and we’re turning this around. It was that engagement, that willingness to listen and share, but most importantly to engage people at this level, and with that level of transparency that really started building trust with employees, that frankly, it wasn’t there before.
Common mistakes leaders make on social:
- No interaction: I think for them to think that it is a place where they can broadcast, and all they have to do is just put out what they would normally put out in an email and then walk away.
- Relying on others: Where they feel like it’s somebody else’s job, it’s marketing’s job, or it’s internal communications’ job. It’s not my job to go out there and actually post something and engage with people. It’s somebody else’s job, right?
- Not putting themselves on the line: And I think, no, no, this is not again just a place where you put up pre-defined and pre-scripted memos. This is a place where you bring yourself as a leader. And put yourself out there a little bit on the line. Every time you go out there and step outside of your office and engage with people in real life, you’re putting yourself on the line, and this is no different.
Daily habits leaders should adopt for digital and social:
- Listen every day: Listen to what people are saying. If it’s your Twitter account what are the notifications, what mentions are people pinging you about. What are people saying? So if you set up your listening policy in a good way then it should be pretty easy to listen.
- Follow people you care about: So for example, I have set up my Twitter account to follow about 400 people and these are 400 people I care about, the brands, or their clients, or they’re just people I have come to see are very helpful to me in understanding what’s going on. So I use my Twitter stream very strategically and I’m constantly culling and adding new people and deleting other people. It’s the best way, I have set it up. Other people may want to have news alerts set up. It could be around topics, it could be anything but find ways to spend 15 minutes.
- Check social media on your break: What David Thodey at Telstra does and it’s what quite a few other people do. They just pick up their iPad or their phone and when they’re at a break or over coffee, they just kind of spend through and see what the leading discussions are inside of their internal social network. But it’s building that habit so that listening becomes a foundation of everything that you do as an engaged leader.
Charlene’s Social Experience:
- Twitter & LinkedIn: I am pretty active on Twitter not to the extent that some people would say. I might go for weeks sometimes without doing a single tweet and then I might go to a conference and put out 20 tweets. The other thing, I use quite frequently is LinkedIn.
- Blogging: What I have found is blogging, I go hot and cold depending on the phase of what I’m working on. If I have a lot of ideas, I’ll be sharing that pretty frequently. Other times, when I’m more on execution mode of the ideas. So recently, between the acquisition and other things, I have not been blogging, I’ve been more doing op-eds on other sources, doing podcasts for example, to get the ideas of the book out. So I flex, I go back and forth.
- Share interesting content: But more than anything else, I’ve always been focused on making sure that the content I create is helpful to people. It has never been about getting more influencers or more followers or getting a response. It is always keeping in mind who my audience is and how I can develop a better relationship to help them and to make sure that the things that I do have impact and are pragmatic and offer value.