Social Business Needs a Culture of Social Leadership

Social Leadership

I have been arguing for several years now that the real value of social media goes way beyond marketing and communications: it is teaching us a new way to lead and manage our organizations.

Thus I have been encouraged by the recent conversations I’m hearing around “social business.” While I think it has the makings of a buzzword, for now “social business” works for me as a category of conversations that we need to conduct in the business community.

But I’ll say I’d like the conversation to go further. The first level of conversation continues to focus on social tools and technology. Instead of only talking about social software in the context of marketing and communications, we’re now talking about integrating social into our CRM processes, or even some of our HR processes.

That’s cool, but I think we don’t hit the real value until we go beyond using the technology.

Take leadership, for example. I’m noticing more and more CEOs taking a keen interest in social media. One of their first questions seems to be whether or not they should be actively USING social media sites. That is certainly a relevant question (and the answer depends a lot on your industry and specific business goals), but there is so much more to social leadership than whether or not you tweet.

The real value of social media goes way beyond marketing and communications: it is teaching us a new way to lead and manage our organizations.

Maddie Grant (my Humanize co-author) and I did a survey last fall on the topic of social leadership. We received more than 500 responses from people at organizations that were clearly on the social media bandwagon (84% actually feel that having leaders involved in social media gives their company a competitive edge).

We then asked them to choose their top four individual leadership traits among a list of 12 that we provided, which included “participates in social media in his or her own voice.” We figured using social media was going to rank high in this group.

It didn’t.

Using social media ranked 10th out of 12, and was only included in 21% of the lists. So what did rate? Criteria like embracing change, transparency, clarity, valuing experimentation, and being open to diverse perspectives. Those were the top five. They beat out more traditional leadership traits like holding people accountable, charisma, and commanding loyalty from employees.

If you’re a leader and want to reap the rewards of social business, then don’t focus too much on the social tools. There’s nothing wrong with using the tools (it’s a great way to get started, actually). What matters most however, is creating a culture consistent with the principles and values that have driven social media’s success.

That’s what the employees in a social business are expecting now. That’s where you’ll find the productivity and effectiveness gains. At this point, I think only the leading edge has figured this out, so now is the time to make the move.


Art by: contraomnes

Jamie Notter

Jamie is a founding partner at WorkXO where he helps leaders create stronger cultures and upgrade their workplaces, based on a deeper understanding of their organizational genetic code. He brings 25 years of experience in conflict resolution, generational differences, leadership, and culture change to the consulting firm he started with Maddie Grant and Charlie Judy in 2016. Author of two books (When Millennials Take Over, and Humanize), Jamie has a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in OD from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.

  • Jamie, I like the post. Business leaders can use social media in the same way my Lead With Giants Community uses it to: Connect, Engage, Serve, Learn, and Lead. The tool is not as important as the intent of being present on Twitter, Google Plus, Linkedin, Facebook, etc. Being your authentic self on Social Media is no different that being authentic in real life. It’s a necessity.

  • Marie Pijanowski


    Indeed you are right with all of your insights. Social business is convergence of the connectedness of a transparent, cohesive business culture offline and the ability to transfer this online. Of course, this is easier stated that to actually do. First there needs to be an alignment of culture to include mission identification, establish ownership amongst the team, identify goals and objectives, brainstorming on the methods and action steps to get there and moving forward. Additionally, communication of all mentioned is ongoing, social business is weaved throughout every aspect of the company, ongoing training is necessary as well.

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  • What I’ve learned about social tools in a large enterprise is really all about understanding goals. Outside our day jobs, the “act of being social” is in and of itself the goal of expressing yourself on Facebook or Instagram. Inside the firewall, the “act of being social” only works if it is attached to a shared business or organizational goal — work that you share with other people where real-time, often asynchronous communication is critical to success. We have to stop thinking about when social will be adopted behind the firewall and start realizing it’s all about a culture of shared goals. As leaders, that’s our challenge.

  • The internet and google have undoubtedly created the space for Social Media tools to dramatically alter the consumer’s buying journey as described often under the ZMOT banner. This has resulted in a silent revolution which is creating a whole new paradigm for doing business…Social Business is the approach needed to be adopted by Companies to ‘respond’ to this new method of engagement. We are seeing the same type of resistance as we did with those companies who dismissed the value of them having a website!! These same companies would not entrust an intern with the responsibility for speaking with a Business Journalist yet they DO give responsibility to them for Social Media! This will have potentially more damaging consequences…whilst todays headlines are quickly consigned to tomorrows chip wrappers, Social Business is NOT a ‘one-off’ interview….It IS an ongoing process and to be successful throughout the organnisation it needs to become ’embedded’ in th eorganisation. Unlike the introduction of the website objections, where the website was more of an ‘additional’ channel; to respond to the changes enforced by the buying journey changes, SOCIAL BUSINESS will and needs to enforce a whole new approach to how business is/will be conducted in the future. Exciting times ahead!!

  • Jamie I agree with your post. Having worked with several different companies over the last couple of years, the one thing I have found consistently is that executive leadership has an enormous impact on the success of any social business initiative. I recently authored a blog post on the importance of having CXO’s that are social and that lead by example in their social business efforts. You might find it interesting to read:

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  • Jamie,

    Two Twitter chats on this exact topic yesterday. Your title says it, but I feel the need to restate: the attributes that respondents felt were critical for today’s CEO just happen to be those that are developed, nurtured and valued in social media. So yeah, the tool is a bit inconsequential. The skills are not.

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