Better Leadership Through Social Media

Posted by Lauren Hertel on Wednesday, November 6 2013


Editor's Note: The following article encourages leaders to stop looking at social media as another platform you have to learn—yet another responsibility—and start seeing it for what it can be instead: a personal toolbox for improving your practice of leadership. The original article was published in 2012 on the Wall Street Journal's website and focuses on CEOs, but the recommendations are helpful for anyone struggling to use social media effectively. The site includes a video interview with the author, Dr. Alexandra Samuel. 

"Join a new online network? I'd love to!"

In 15 years of helping business, government and nonprofit leaders make strategic choices about digital technology, I've yet to hear an executive utter those words.

Sometimes that's due to the risks of public embarrassment or conflict that come with online engagement. Sometimes it's painful memories of previous tech projects that ran over budget and behind schedule. And sometimes it's because executives would rather interact face-to-face than keyboard-to-keyboard.

But always, I hear a common concern: How can I add another platform, task list or set of relationships to my already full plate?

Social media have only made that problem more acute. While blogging, Twitter and Facebook have brought new opportunities for conversation, knowledge gathering and relationship building, those opportunities may feel more daunting than dazzling to overloaded executives. 

The solution is to stop looking at social media as another platform you have to learn—yet another responsibility—and start seeing it for what it can be instead: a personal toolbox for improving your practice of leadership.

Each tool and activity described below requires a certain investment of time to set up. But once it's part of your routine, it will repay you with insights into work and leadership, and with freed-up time. Start with one, so you can see the payoff before adding more setup jobs to your busy agenda. But do start.

Here are six ways you can use social media to enhance your leadership.

Create a Leadership Dashboard

Don't just monitor the Web for intelligence about your business and brand; mine it for ideas, news and research that will help you develop as a leader. Use i Google, Google Reader or an iPad aggregator like Flipboard to subscribe to a range of blogs, columnists and news searches that offer insights into new leadership models, profiles of high-functioning executives, academic research on leadership and summaries of the latest business books. Set aside 15 to 30 minutes a day to read the articles that speak to you, or make this your end-of-day reading for the homeward commute.

Stay Focused

For you and your team, social productivity, planning and visualization tools can keep your focus sharp and creative powers strong.

Mind-mapping tools like those at can help you get organized by making a diagram of your priorities for the year or quarter. The diagram should make clear your areas of responsibility, and those of your team members. It should be a constant reminder of who needs to do what to reach your goals. Share it with your direct reports or closest teammates.

A diagram is a good starting point, but you also need to be sure everyone is doing their job. Project-collaboration tools like Basecamp make it easy to track each team member's tasks and progress. For those of you who get overwhelmed by a packed to-do list, try a tool like OneTask, which feeds you tasks one at a time. 

Don't get so bogged down in details that you lose sight of the vision. To keep the team inspired, you can create an online vision board. gives users a way to create galleries of images that remind everyone what they're working toward. Your gallery might include a picture of a crowded auditorium (representing the hoped-for size of your growing company) or headshots of Fortune 500 CEOs (the ones you're trying to acquire as clients). Let the whole team add images. It should be a collaborative effort, building a touchstone that refreshes energy and creativity in each of you.

Change Channels

If it's getting difficult to spot the urgent emails amid the accumulating CCs, FYIs and LOLs, escape the inbox by switching to Twitter as your preferred channel for high-priority or time-sensitive communications.

Set a Twitter account to follow all your direct reports, key clients and trusted colleagues (the ones who don't abuse your time and attention). Let these folks know the best way to reach you is via Twitter Direct Message, and set your smartphone so that Twitter Direct Messages (but not other kinds of tweets) show up in real time, just like a text message.

Reading and replying will be a lot faster when your correspondence is limited to 140 characters. And you can leave the job of clearing your email inbox to the beginning and/or end of the day. Instead of Twitter adding to your communications burden, it's now making the job easier.

Join a CEO-cial Network

As a business leader, the demands of building your brand, customer relationships and industry networks may require you to connect with a very large number of people on social networks like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook—far too many to sustain meaningful connections with all of them. That's why you need to consciously build a CEO-cial network: a set of five to 15 respected and trusted executives, leaders and advisers whose knowledge, insight and loyalty will have a meaningful impact on your own professional capacity and performance.

Make a point of following that highly select group on all the social networks you use; create a separate private Twitter list, Google+ circle, and/or Facebook friend list that contains only these people.

You won't use those networks to consult with your advisers online, but rather to cement your personal, professional and intellectual relationships with each of these key colleagues. 

Make this list of people the first thing you look at when you catch up on any of your social networks, so that you know what they are thinking about, reading, and dealing with in their own working lives.

You'll know who to reach out to when you have a specific challenge, and you'll be able to jump right into intense conversation because you are caught up on each other's personal and professional lives.

Build a Golf Course

If your mental paradigm of CEO regeneration looks like an afternoon on the golf course, it's time to bring that golf course to you. Find or build a social-media space that is purely relaxing and restorative—something you can enjoy in that miraculous five-minute gap between meetings.

It might be a lovingly curated gallery of your own photographs—a personal version of the Pinterest vision board—a blog where you review the latest wines, or a vicious game of Words With Friends. Unlike doing karate or playing the violin, your social-media escape will be something you can do anywhere, while wearing a business suit. All that matters is that it be genuine downtime, and an energy restorer rather than an energy drain.

Amplify Your Voice

Charismatic leadership is a tremendous asset for any company—but it also creates pressures to project your charisma online through a CEO blog, Twitter feed or YouTube channel. If your day is already more than full, never fear. Most of the material you'll need is already out there, waiting to be repurposed.

If you're constantly sending "read this!" emails to your inner circle or staff, start tweeting those links instead: The articles and posts you consider must-reads will be fascinating to your Twitter followers. Whenever you give a speech, get it recorded and posted to YouTube. Set up an internal blog where you post excerpts from the "job well done" emails you send throughout the week; your appreciation will mean even more when it's made public.

Dr. Samuel is director of the Social and Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, British Columbia. She can be reached at


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