Social Business

The Social Leader Is the Secret Ingredient to Branding Success

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Hear Cheryl Burgess and the thought leaders she highlights below on Wharton’s upcoming Marketing Matters business radio show, SiriusXM Channel 111, Wed., 7 Sep, 5–7 pm EDT.

Social employee advocacy continues to grow in both sophistication and value. This new authentic marketing channel has become infused in the DNA of organizations across the globe. It’s a brave new world, although, for many, unlocking the power of the social employee remains something of a mystery.

As those who have figured out the recipe will tell you, the social leader is the secret ingredient to branding success. So what is the function of the social leader, and how can they help bring value to your organization’s social marketing efforts? Let’s see what some of social business’s most prominent thought leaders have to say.

“A social leader can be compared to a player-coach on a football field who not only calls the plays for their team but also participates on the field. They are players. They are in the game.” — Mark Burgess

There’s nothing quite like leading by example—and that goes double for social leadership. The average workplace is filled with a generationally diverse group of people—Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials—each with their own experiences and opinions about social media. Some have quite a bit of experience with social, but don’t see it as having any business applications. Others are interested in social processes, but they’re hesitant to try it themselves, fearful that they might make a misstep.

The social leader’s job is to generate buy-in among as large a segment of the employee population as possible. And the best way to take the fear and second-guessing out of the process for your workforce is to dive in and demonstrate value yourself. Not only is this a great way to model best practices, but it also demonstrates accountability, showing that social leaders aren’t asking anything more of their coworkers than they would ask of themselves.

“The ‘social business model’ demands as table stakes a degree of ‘empowerment’—employee engagement, employee autonomy—unimagined a scant five years ago.” —Tom Peters

Social business is a dynamic, individually led process. It’s not about getting all the latest tools, but rather it’s about empowering your employees to understand the vast possibilities inherent in social processes. Ultimately, that’s what social employee advocacy is all about: using social tools to celebrate your brand with your fan base. It’s not about being flashy, but about being helpful—and enthusiastic. As John DiJulius said, “Your customers will never be any happier than your employees.”

This is a new way of looking at marketing, and it won’t be intuitive for many employees. That’s why social leadership is so essential to the process. That’s why, when I served on the advisory board for the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 25 Social Business Leaders list in 2014, we selected traits that highlighted leadership such as storytelling, culture, and innovation. It’s just like IBM Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty said: “In a social enterprise, your value is established not by how much knowledge you amass, but by how much knowledge you impart to others.” And to build knowledge, you must first capture imaginations.

“Social media is an executive suite issue. Those executives who are more comfortable with it can better shape their brand’s future.” — David Edelman

There is great value in social leadership from the C-Suite. Companies with social executives are seen as more transparent and more attractive places to work. Not only that, but engaging through social channels has proven to be a valuable listening tool for executives, putting them in touch with customers, stakeholders, and industry experts alike.

But while buy-in from the C-suite is an essential driving factor in any social employee advocacy program, it’s important to remember that everyday employees are actually a more trusted voice on social media than executives. This is why social leadership must be present at all levels—and in all departments—of a social business. The C-suite is invaluable in providing guidance and vision, but building a healthy social program is everyone’s job.

“Employees need to believe in and own a stake in their brand’s vision. They need to participate in the brand’s purpose with their minds, hearts, and souls.” —Kevin Randall

There’s the old saying that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Such is the case with social employee advocacy. In 2013, Gartner found that only 10 percent of “provide and pray” social initiatives succeed. Simply setting up a Twitter account and telling your employees to tweet isn’t enough. In the social age, brands are built from the inside out and advocacy programs are built from the ground up—and it begins with a pilot program and a deep commitment to training and empowerment.

This is where the value of social leadership really lies. It’s not about how many tweets you sent or how many reshares you got. It’s about the conversations your brand is starting, the stories you and your customers are telling together. So if your brand is looking for ways to expand its digital footprint and really make an impact in the new age of social employee advocacy, ask yourself: What’s your story—and who is championing that story within your walls?

Discussing Social Leadership and More on Wharton’s Marketing Matters

Join Blue Focus Marketing President, Mark Burgess, and me as we discuss social employees, social leaders, and the win/win of employee advocacy in the Wharton Future of Advertising Program’s upcoming Marketing Matters business radio show, SiriusXM Channel 111 on Wed., Sept. 7, from 5 – 7 p.m. EDT. Helping us to explore these topics will be prominent thought leaders Tom PetersDavid Edelman, and Kevin Randall.

We’re sure the show, led by host Catharine Hays, will be full of lively, insightful discussion. Be sure to tune in!


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