Effective leadership in the era of social media

I read a statistic today that said that in 2007, 40% of all employees were blocked from using social media tools at work.  By 2010 this had JUMPED to 70%.  Does anyone else see something wrong with this picture???  We are at a period in our history when we have the ability to more effectively communicate than ever before and those who have the power to use and let us use these tools to work efficiently not only are not promoting them, they are squelching our access to them.

Truly visionary leaders recognize the power of social media and how it can benefit them, their staff, and their organizations.  Rather than being afraid of what might happen if they allow people to use these communication tools, they embrace the ideas of transparency and information sharing.  Interestingly, the same sorts of concerns were present when we all first got access to email at work. I can vividly remember my director at the time insisting that only management would get email access because if it were given to all staff, they would ‘just play around and email each other all day.’  Now look at us!  I have 5 email accounts that I use for different purposes, and I cannot imagine my work life without access to this vital form of communication.  Then along came the Internet and Web and we went through the whole thing again.  As before, we had to break down the barriers of fear and over-protection before we could begin to use the resources so readily available to us.

And now here we are with the world literally at our fingertips.  We can instantly communicate with our colleagues around the globe, share information, pose questions to experts and get answers in minutes, and make ourselves and our organizations more efficient than ever.  The key lies in how we, as leaders, choose to approach this new era.  I firmly believe it is not a question of ‘If’ but ‘When’ every (or most every) organization will finally open the gates and allow their employees to appropriately access social media tools for work.

Here are some of the unique and forward-thinking ideas I have run across that leaders have implemented to effectively integrate social media in their organizations:

  • Management operates a blog about the ‘state of the organization’ and uses it for Q&A from staff
  • Management creates a weekly/monthly podcast to give the organization’s regular newsletter more of a personal touch
  • Wikis are used to create and manage documentation for new employee orientation, keeping track of all document updates via links to the organization’s intranet site
  • Communities of excellence/knowledge are formed using LinkedIn, Facebook, or SharePoint profiles which allow people with similar skills and interests to quickly find one another

This is clearly not an exhaustive list of all the possibilities, but hopefully it will stimulate some thinking about the ways that leaders can best engage their employees and how staff can most effectively utilize social media to their advantage at work.

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