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60/20/20: Being An Authentic C-Suite on Social Media

One question that I get asked a lot by c-suite executives is if they should be on social media, and if they are on social media, how do they boost their profile as a leader.

To be honest, most of the time I discourage people from using anything besides LinkedIn as a professional social media platform unless I see that they genuinely like people and get energized by interacting with others (then it’s Twitter, and maybe if they’re up for it, Instagram). However, most executives simply don’t have the time, are not comfortable with digital outside Facebook use with friends and family, and the idea of venturing into social media as part of their job looks more ominous than opportunity.

Personally, I think there are some c-suite executives who do an amazing job on social. I appreciate their willingness to share the journey and enjoy how they present themselves as real people. That’s inspiring, because social media for career development is not a competition about who’s more popular or a practice of “selling” oneself online. It’s about extending yourself into a wider platform for conversation. It is one huge professional networking event.

I am aware that not everyone has the benefit of being able to employ consultants to help them navigate the social media landscape. Yes, it is so much easier to have someone work this all out for you, but if you’re in the c-suite or an executive and are contemplating your professional social media game, here are some thoughts.

To start, we’ll have to set realistic expectations about what social media can (and won’t) do for a c-suite executive:

  • Being on social media does not make you a better leader; it makes you a more visible leader. If you’re a good leader, this can expand your scope of leadership to more employees, maybe people in your industry and the world at large. In many cases poor leaders are forced to adapt ‘good leader’ behavior in fear of being criticized by the public and their peers. This will be quickly identified as superficial by those who suffer your wrath and people will roll their eyes.
  • Being on social media will not raise your standing in the company; doing your job will. Getting more followers or ‘Likes’ is not a reality-based assessment of how well you are doing your job, or how much people like you in person. It just means people on the Internet like what you have to say and what you share. 10,000 followers does not a pay rise make (though you will probably increase your chances of being headhunted).

Before we go into the “to do’s”, I want to highlight the role of self-awareness, which is the number one reason why I would discourage an executive to participate in any kind of “real time” communication.

Executives who have low self-awareness should not be on social media.

If you’re not clear on what being ‘self-aware’ means, I suggest you Google it. Some people think they are more self-aware than they really are, but to keep it simple, if you’re the reflective type, if you have a good idea of what your strengths and weaknesses are, if you are clear of your values, preferences and behavioral tendencies, then you are relatively self-aware.

Executives who are not comfortable with who they are should not be on social media.

Many times executives think that they should adopt the behaviors of other “more successful” people as that is what “the market/consumers want”. This is BS. If you don’t like yourself, you’re going to have a really hard time deciding who you are online, maintaining that persona (both online and offline) and you won’t take feedback well. It’s going to be draining. If there are self-esteem issues, I suggest you work on that first. This will do far more for your career than posting tweets.

You’ll note that I very specifically used the word “executives” in the points above because there are plenty of people who are on social media who fall into the two groups mentioned. Remember that we are talking about individuals in managerial or powered positions within a company. If an 18-year-old is not self-aware and doesn’t like herself, but has the right social media game, I’m sure she’ll do okay on Instagram.

“Sarah, this is not helpful to me,” you say. “I am self-aware, and I like who I am, but I don’t know where to start.”

The title of this post does not have the word “popular” in it for a reason. Popularity is hard to come by on social media though it is the default indicator of success (so many cons to that, but that’s another conversation). Since we are talking about authenticity, this advice may run contrary to what you have read elsewhere, but in nutshell, stick with Socrates: “Know thyself.”

Forming or Borrowing Opinions 

There’s an unrealistic pressure for people to be innovative in their thinking. It’s very advantageous to have your own POV, but developing unique opinions of value takes a lot of time and some talent. For the person who is busy doing other things (like running a company), a simple way is to use a clipping tool (like Pocket or Evernote) to capture anything that you come across which you agree withfind inspiring or worth exploring further. Review this week after week and you’ll see a thread develop throughout which you can use to develop your voice.

Topics

If you’re posting, stick to three topics to start. The industry that you’re in, your professional development, and one of your passions. A good ratio is 60 / 20 / 20. Example, if you work in the pharmaceutical industry, you may take this approach: tech innovation, quote from speaker at conference, CSR activity from work, medical fact, good op-ed on health you read (60); items on active listening, how you’re trying to create better habits (20); your love for basketball, that great restaurant you went to last week (20).

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