Tuesday, July 3

Demonstrating Leadership: Social Media

A few days ago, I mentioned a distinction between management and leadership of a social network. But the difference doesn't just apply to social media, it applies anywhere there is human capital.

Much like companies or organizations can apply the concept "human potential is an asset" internally (employees or members), they can apply the same thinking to social networks and online communities, which are made up of seemingly uncontrollable people. These people don't need management like Andrew Keen or the collective Amanda Chapel prescribe, both who fail to see "human potential as an asset" but rather as something that needs to be managed.

No, no, no. Any time the rules of management are applied to people, especially online, things go terribly wrong. Given tomorrow is Independence Day in the United States, it seems almost too fitting to point out our country was founded on the distinction between management and leadership. Oversimplified, but accurate. England had attempted to manage the colonies. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman (among others), offered something else — leadership.

Whether it be the day-to-day operation of any business or social network, if executive and network owners recognize their members as human capital and connect with them, their ability to demonstrate leadership can accomplish great things.

In my study of human capital a few years ago, Geri Travis, senior vice president of Aon, a Fortune 500 consulting company, filled me in. She said that any time management can connect and communicate with employees, it develops credible leadership.

There is no question. Credible, involved leadership—through direct contact, communication, and team leaders (if that applies)—will build employee loyalty, which will translate into loyal customers. In determining the value of an employee, Travis said companies need to look beyond the cost of replacing an employee. Rather, the real hard costs are determined by looking at how many people a disconnected employee impacts every day.

"If employees feel discounted from the company on the job, you have to wonder how much business is at risk," she said. "When companies are in crisis, the consistency and frequency of communication can be just as important as the message. Suspicion and mystery can cause employee disconnect more than the crisis."

At the time, it was apparent that companies were finding ways to do more with less. Travis said that inclusion remained the best solution. Along the way, quantitative (eg. surveys) and qualitative (eg. focus groups) measurements can help create a dialogue between management and employees. (Today, social media can add to the dialogue with employees, and also consumers.)

"Companies spend millions on branding their product, but not their people," Travis said. "Yet, by defining the culture of the company, you would be in a better position to retain, recruit, and build loyalty with the kind of employees you want."

It is sound advice that can be applied anywhere. Much like the best companies, the best social networks are those that lead people. For example, Antony Berkman at BlogCatalog is challenging bloggers to do good by collectively writing about social awareness issues. Or, in a strange sort of odd, loud, and unpredictable way, The Recruiting Animal at RecruitingBloggers.com often skips over the body of an idea and goes for the engine. While their styles are vastly different (which is why I picked them), both are very adept at defining an online culture through leadership, not management.

In sum, if you want to build a successful online community, treat it like a successful business that is sensitive to human capital. Manage the site, widgets, links, etc., but not the people. All people need, much like the greater online community, is a little bit of leadership.



Anonymous said...

"Or, in a strange sort of odd, loud, and unpredictable way, The Recruiting Animal at RecruitingBloggers.com often skips over the body of an idea and goes for the engine. While their styles are vastly different (which is why I picked them), both are very adept at defining an online culture through leadership, not management."

I also took this to mean that if you look at the way The Recruiting Animal uses RecruitingBlogs.com you can see that he does in fact use the engine and not the up front idea. The man has more conversations behind the scenes on that network than anyone else. He rarely ever blogs there.

MK on 7/3/07, 10:28 AM said...

That Recruiting Animal, he's a card. Thanks for the compliment, but let me note that the editor of a magazine is not usually hands off and writers often thank them for helping them with their work. So, leadership isn't just a matter of being giving creativity free rein.

In fact, if you are a good manager of creativity you might unleash an explosion of ideas some of which you will have to edit or even refuse.

Likewise, many of the Founding Fathers of the US were very concerned about giving "the people" too much freedom. So they created a representative republic rather than a simple democracy.

Americans, enjoy your holiday.
(Canada was created to keep you from taking over).

The Recruiting Animal

PS: Robert Cringley wrote an article recently in which he claimed that Google has succeeded in making itself such a hothouse for ideas that it has to lose a lot of creators whose ideas it cannot use.

Anonymous said...


Rich on 7/3/07, 12:40 PM said...

Thanks Animal and Jason.

And Jason, I think the Google story is very relevant. Like all things, balance may be the best measure. But again, that too becomes a function of directional leadership.

Some of the best companies I've seen tend to be those that encourage creativity within a context and then communicate their varied ideas with a single/narrow message. Of course, there is more than one way to get where you want to go.

Thank you,

Geoff_Livingston on 7/3/07, 3:16 PM said...

I just visited Google yesterday. Your post reminds me how they are so bent on creating the right environment and at the same time let their people be free. It was fantastic, a utopia.

Personally, my favorite network right now is Facebook. It's so funny how social networks are always focused on tech, instead of optimizing the potential for great interaction. Facebook seems to be focused on the latter.


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