Are you an executive who has scoffed at the suggestion that you should tweet? Have you dismissed the idea of blogging because the time requirements are simply too much to fathom? Do you wince at the term “social executive”?
You are not alone—and for a good reason. As an executive, your time is your most precious asset and managing it carefully is critical to your success. Looking at a random feed from Twitter (or any other social platform) is likely to reinforce the fact that social can be a waste of time and even verge on the ridiculous.
But you’re just looking at the surface. Beneath the drivel, an amazing marketplace of ideas pulsates in the nooks and niches of each network—a marketplace that you can design to align with your own interests, goals and ambitions. Unlocking that personalized network can dramatically boost your productivity around the one resource that you might think is most threatened by the effort—your time.
Social networks can help solve some of the vexing challenges of executive leadership—doing more with your limited time, aligning your team, providing you unfiltered access to information when you need it and giving you early warnings of issues. Once you start to understand how to extend your reach and influence beyond your everyday circle of contacts, you also start to see how your organization can possibly benefit from your participation because of the speed and global nature of the network flows.
Being social is not about tweeting, blogging or engaging per se—you already communicate. It’s about extending the reach of that communication in ways you simply couldn’t in the past. It’s taking the concept of managing by walking around the office and extending that globally.
While there’s a tendency to judge success on social solely by how many people follow you, business value is driven even more by the network you choose to follow—unless, of course, you are following folks unrelated to your business. This group has to be made up of individuals who can impact your ability to set and reach professional goals—peers, key team members, customers, industry analysts and thought leaders. Those people will surface content that will make you smarter and more connected. In turn, if you share good content and engage with them regularly, you will provide the triggers that keep you and your organization top of mind for them and give you early and unique access to opportunities.
Here are a few suggestions on how to start to build value with social networks (on the platform of your choice):
- Follow 50 to 100 people that matter to your personal success, some who you have good relationships with and others who you may not know well—or at all. This could be a way to get to know them.
- Review your stream once a day.
- Share at least one interesting piece of content and one observation each day.
- Respond with your perspective to one shared item every day.
Building your initial network will take a couple of hours, but the daily engagement should take no more than 10 minutes. Now, you have a system with the potential to:
- Give you early warning signals about changes in the market
- Keep you and your organization top of mind
- Create an informal backchannel to test ideas and ease formal collaboration
- Help you influence how your community thinks and what it considers to be its “truths”
- Enable you to support and encourage ideas and initiatives that serve your interest and your company’s
- Allow you to informally poll your network before making decisions
The Community Roundtable has found in our Social Executive research that this kind of regular engagement triggers constructive business outcomes that the executives didn’t foresee, with limited risk. Examples might include:
- Connecting with a colleague on the other side of the globe who has a customer solution that you were prepared to spend a lot of time developing
- Having a prospect you didn’t know existed reach out and ask for a meeting
- Creating a dialogue with an analyst on an unlikely topic and then getting your remarks included in the analyst’s research
- Having a conference organizer you don’t know ask you to participate in a big industry event because of your perspective on an issue
Without social media, you are locked into a known and limited universe of people and ideas. Social media’s primary value is to bridge gaps in knowledge and alert you to things you don’t know, both of which help you adapt and innovate.
It’s not quite cloning, but it is the best mechanism we have to date to extend our influence and reach. Does the social executive exist yet? Yes —to varying degrees, in different industries. But we are only beginning to see executives who both use social approaches and use networked thinking in their business strategies and that leaves you plenty of opportunity to make your mark.