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Executives should leverage relationships not authority when participating in social media

by Mark P. McDonald  |  June 18, 2012  |  1 Comment

What is the role of senior executives in social media?  It’s a question that many ask as Anthony Bradley and myself have talked to then about our book, The Social Organization.  It’s a fair question and the answer is often little to none.

The “Executives Keep Out!!” sign hangs in front of many collaborative communities for the simple reason that direct executive participation stifles rather than supports the free exchange of ideas.

Executives offering their opinions and even soft endorsement for ideas being discussed in a collaborative community can easily turn a vibrant debate and virtual task force.  Behaviors change as soon as the executive speaks as people sit on their hands, wait and watch which way the wind blows.

  • Creativity decomposes into towing the corporate line.
  • Engagement reverts to employment
  • New ideas fall into line with conventional wisdom
  • Experience is discounted against executive authority

I am sure that you have felt this in situations outside of social media when the team comes up with a great, innovative and powerful solution only to be told that it is not what the executives want to do.

But executives are people too.  They have ideas, energy, insight etc.  You cannot ask them to sponsor and support social media and completely cut them out of the discussion.  Engaging executives is an important part of building support for the changes needed to become a social organization.

The question is how to involve executives in social media?

A recommendation is to involve them in a particular style of social media called Relationship Leverage.

Relationship Leverage is a form of social media based collaboration that focuses on maintaining and deriving value from a large number of relationships.  Social media technologies such as blogging or tweeting give executives and others the ability to express their opinions in the hope that they will resonate with others and generate a following.

Relationship leverage is ideally suited for executives, whose formal status generates organizational attention to share their semi-formal or emerging thoughts about issues related to the organization.

  • Bill Marriott, CEO of Marriott Hotels and Resorts, uses a corporate wide blog to leverage his relationships, share thoughts, ideas and issues in ways that enable individuals to comment and respond.
  • Supervalu, a U.S. national grocery chain is using relationship leverage, via Yammer, to respond faster to market needs, create a flatter organization and share ideas and innovations. Link to Youtube video
  • Mark Brewer, the CIO at Seagate, blogs on IT related issues to engage his organization and the broader company.
  • Another CIO tweets during governance and leadership meetings giving him the ability to involve the organization in answering questions that arise and quickly deploying decisions via social media.

Executives using relationship leverage create a conversation that begins one to many (1:M) via blog posts available to the entire company and continues 1:1 as individuals post comments, ask questions or raise issues.

Relationship leverage is a form of social media giving executives a way to participate in social media that:

  • Creates a forum to put issues and discussions into the organization in a more dynamic way than a company newsletter
  • Creates a bi-directional communications channel that transcends organizational hierarchy
  • Does not infringe on the work of other collaborative communities by directly weighing in on their communications and collaboration.
  • Reduces the fear of social media as the executive’s blog demonstrates support for sharing ideas and collaboration
  • Opens the door to other collaborative efforts by showing the organization that it is ok to share ideas and generate active discussion.

Executive support for social media is critical to driving change and adapting the organization to benefit from social media innovations and solutions.  Relationship leverage provides a way for executives to engage in social media without transforming the creativity mass collaboration into just another form of conformance based on mass communication.

Related Posts

Welcome to the Social Organization

Enterprises do not need social media, they need to become a social organization

The Social Organization — Book web site

Category: social-media  social-organization  

Tags: executive-leadership  leadership  social-media  social-organization  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Executives should leverage relationships not authority when participating in social media

  1. Rocio Ramos says:

    I absolutely loved this article! I have the honor of working with an amazing CEO that truly knows the role he plays in social media. We often ask him to blog on a particular subject, reach out to his groups in LinkedIn, or participate in discussions where he can offer his knowledge on Cloud Computing. The key is knowing where to put their opinion and insight. Thanks for the read.

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