These executives are leveraging the connected economy using social media

There’s a new kind of leader who ‘gets’ that when over two billion people use social media, it fundamentally transforms connection, communication and the way we do business.

They are taking to the airwaves on Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media platforms, building global networks, leveraging online opportunities and listening directly to what their customers have to say.

Sadly, they are still a minority. Around 30 percent of executives currently have a social media account or presence but of those that do, many sign up but don’t use them, a bit like going to a lunch and standing in the corner. (The figures however are much lower when you look at who is active in social media.)

Author of Connection Generation and General Manager, Member and Marketing Services, Australian Institute of Company Directors, Iggy Pintado, agrees that more directors and executives need to be on social media but that it’s only part of a much bigger game.

“Connection is deeply transforming the way we do business and this needs to be reflected in every layer of business strategy from creating social leaders to socializing the business.

“That’s not about being offline or online but ensuring your business strategy is inline with a connected economy, worth trillions of dollars.”

Pintado believes the current paralysis at the top is due in part to the need for executives to manage risk, but that they also need to consider the risk of not being connected, as well as the opportunities that it presents.

A recent two-year joint study by Capgemini and the MIT of almost 400 firms confirmed that digitally mature businesses are up to 26% more profitable than others and that a key factor for maturity was a digitally driven board or executive, prepared to propel change through every layer of the business.

Here are just a few leaders who understand the importance of social media for business. They talk about what it means to boldly connect on digital platforms.

Mark Cameron 
30,868 Twitter followers
CEO of Working Three, columnist for BRW, Marketing Mag, Social Media Monthly

On being on social media
I have always been deeply interested in the way people communicate online. I see social media as one of the most significant advances in the way we communicate since the telephone. I’ve been using platforms for at least six years. There is no better way to position yourself as a thought leader and to demonstrate the values you see as important.

The best and worst things about social media
For me, the never-ending debate and communication I get from people who read my work is invaluable. It can use up a lot of time if you are not disciplined, so have a plan and stick to it.

Top tips
Consistency is key. Connect with people you respect, quickly filter out rubbish and focus on what will deliver value.

Kirstin Ferguson 
1303 Twitter followers
Advisory board chairman at Thiess and non-executive director at SunWater Ltd, Hyne and Queensland Theatre Company 

On being on social media
I use social media platforms like Twitter to access (and share) corporate governance and leadership resources that I find interesting and that add value to my role as a director. Having a deep understanding of the benefits, and pitfalls, of social media also helps directors ensure they are asking the right questions in the boardroom about the online strategies for the future of the organisations they govern.

I have also found social media platforms like Twitter a remarkable way of expanding my network with other board directors from outside my traditional, often geographically based network, to around the world.

On the importance of social media 
Just as every director might have always read a daily newspaper for the latest information on the businesses they govern, the industries in which they operate or for updates on the broader economic environment, this information is now available on social media. Knowing how to navigate sites like Twitter means directors can access information from around the world quicker and directly from the source.

Directors can add value to their organisations by educating themselves as to how social media can be leveraged to increase shareholder value of the companies they govern. Regardless of the type of industry in which an organisation operates, it is essential for directors to understand what challenges, risks or opportunities social media may present for future online strategies.

On leaders in social media 
Directors are increasingly understanding that the conversations about their companies, their competitors, their industries and even themselves are happening online whether they are listening or not.

Not every director is going to want to have a public profile online – individually we all have our own level of comfort, interest and curiosity with social media. My suggestion to directors interested in understanding more about social media is to start slowly and simply ‘listen’.

Whether we are ready or not, social media has already changed the business environment in which we operate in as directors. The more knowledge we have about social media and the opportunities it offers, the greater value we can add to the boards we sit on.

Top tips
I have found Twitter works best when I tweet very narrowly on issues that interest me such as corporate governance, leadership, social media and women on boards. And I am always very mindful about what I do and don’t tweet. Like anything, directors do not need to be fearful of social media; common sense simply needs to prevail.

David Singleton 
1175 Twitter follwoers
Director Arup Group, chair ISCA, non-executive director 

On being on social media
I initially got onto LinkedIn out of curiosity and then became hooked. Understanding the real value came later. I used LinkedIn to make key connections and increase my network and later to set up several groups

How does being on social media shape your thinking as a leader?

I find the spontaneity of news and opinion energising; particularly the ability to focus my search using tools like to directly deliver high-quality information on the topics I’m interested in. I think leaders have been slow off the mark because of concerns around security and about being seen to be ‘available’. I use Twitter quite widely to communicate on my areas of interest – this is now settling into a useful two-way pattern.

The best and worst things about social media

Social media is a very demanding mistress. But the advantage is deep connection and spontaneity.

Top tips

Be clear about your topics of interest – pick two or three and cover them well. is very useful here. Stay away from personal material – no one ought to be interested!

Michelle Blicavs
1607 Twitter followers
CEO of International Association for Public Participation (IAP2), non-executive director at LGSuper, councillor at Wollongong City Council 

Why social media?
I’m on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, but also use FourSquare and Instagram.  I post to all others from there, but will personally connect with family and friends on Facebook and business colleagues through LinkedIn. Social media allows me to connect with new people and find out about news as it happens.

How does it impact your role as a leader?

People I would never have the opportunity to meet or speak with can connect with me and they do. As a councillor I get a variety of comments and posts designed to sway my decision-making.  It’s about engaging directly with a broader community.  I seek to promote the activities I’m involved in, particularly the great city of Wollongong.  I like to promote up and coming leaders and recognise and communicate with people I think are doing exciting and innovative things. I try to connect with everyone in Wollongong who is on Twitter to promote the work of the council, ask questions and promote the city and its emerging leaders. I am also able to promote my organisation across the broader international community and hear examples of great community engagement practice from around the world and convey this to our Australian and New Zealand members.

Why have leaders lagged?

Fear. Fear of what to say, that it’s in writing forever in the cloud.  But if you are positive and optimistic in your posts then you have nothing to worry about. Leaders need to embrace change and seek to reach a wider audience. But it’s not all about pushing out your message. Social media allows you to listen to what your customers are saying (good and bad).

The best and worst things about social media

People think it takes so much time but I tweet when I’m at conferences or events, or in a queue at the shopping centre, or waiting for a plane.  Social media is a powerful tool and embracing it helps people understand more about you, what you do and your organisation. It gives your customers, members, contacts that personal insight into who you are and you can learn so much from the general online community.  And you have the power to disregard what you don’t like – though I encourage two-way communication.

Top tips
Just do it! Get online. Start where it’s safe, like at a conference. Tweet the comments that mean something to you. If you get a mention, comment back – start the conversation. Connect with a broad group of people across all your personal and professional interests. Be a real person in 140 characters or less.

This first appeared on Leading Company here


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