On Leadership – social media or otherwise…

I keep finding myself drawn to the emerging buzz about brand, social and a third element that isn’t yet at the forefront of the conversation, but will be soon – LEADERSHIP. I’ve been talking to @kwlow @snowcialmedia and various others about change management, social [fill-in the blank] and strategy. The startups I work with hear about leadership more than they probably care to. But it is a topic I believe in. Leadership is not a title and can not be claimed easily. Leadership is a state and it is earned (and is usually backed with metrics). So, I just checked out this great blog post over at Web Strategy by Jermiah, The Challenge of Social Media Executive Recruiter which got me thinking about change, leadership and social media and sparked this blogpost.

I couldn’t agree more with the post, particularly with the second and third points. On the second point, I propose what is really needed are Social Media Leaders. What is the difference? SML = Strategist + Implementor. While elegant strategy is not easy, that is primarily the sign of a great analyst, and a true leader is required to implement strategy. How many strategy decks are collecting dust in the offices of the worlds brand managers? So, while many a strategist can pontificate about what is happening in ‘today’s new world’ (because, mysteriously, we are always living in a new world), it takes additional talents to architect a roadmap and implement real change at any of the large brands (see my post). I know, it took me years to help lead two change initiatives. The first during the last great brand transition, the one that was all about customer experience (we said advertising was dead too) and the second during the re-awakening of US Innovation (I reminded people that Invention does not equal Innovation).

It takes a patiently aggressive team to navigate this kind of change. It takes participatory strategy development (not black box consulting). It takes amazing commitment and brilliant executive leadership. And it takes a combination of bottoms up and top down engagement. When successful, there is little that is more rewarding that participating in these changes initiatives. I reflect on my experience regularly now that I’m in the start-up world (as very few are the overnight successes people dream of).

Now, on the third point, the tricky part for any brand/company hiring the latest hot specialist is that retention can become a HUGE issue. What do you do when they arrive and realize your culture really isn’t ready for change, or that they aren’t enabled for change? What happens when after 18 months they are ready to get a promotion and there is no room for an SVP of Social Media? Anyone serious about their career is thinking about all these things while realizing they can make pretty nice money working for themselves or a small organization, while staying focused and nimble. I’m betting this will be the new challenge of social media recruiting in 18 months. This is not to say that you can’t bring folks in – you can and should when you find the right mix at the right time. I’m just pointing out some of the hurdles and questions that should be answered by all involved.

One solution I like is as follows – find one of your rising stars internally, enable him/her to become an expert (pairing them with the best external experts you can find) and clear the way. This works because there is no bigger challenge to change initiatives than navigating the creature that is the big company. No one will be as credible at real execution as an insider. No one knows how decisions are really made better than someone that works inside. No one knows the real company strategy better than someone on the inside. And then if they leave at the end, at least you have a great alumni out there making your brand look good : )

I offer this POV not as a social media strategist (I am however working with some brilliant proper Social Media Strategist), but as someone who is involved in the social web and is watching the bubbling up of the next big brand idea. I’m sure it will be a fun one!

I have to run. My car is ready and I have a few startups waiting for some leadership fun!


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