Gini Dietrich

Four Ways Leaders Can Integrate Social Media

By: Gini Dietrich | December 3, 2012 | 

Before the Coopr event on Thursday night (where I spoke in Amsterdam), I was talking to a local journalist about social media and its role among an executive team.

He asked me, “How important is it for the leader to be involved in using social media if they want their organization to use it?”

I said it’s extremely important and emphasized the value in leading by example.

Take, for instance, Richard Branson or Mark Cuban. They both run very successful organizations (both of them run more than one) and they both are active on the social networks. They don’t have someone tweeting for them, for instance, they do it themselves.

And, even though they are the chiefs of multi-billion dollar companies, they find the time to connect and engage with their fans, followers, and connections.

Outsource Social?

Right after that conversation, Howie Goldfarb and I had a similar exchange. He said it’s a shame organizations outsource all of their social media because when the relationship ends (and it always ends), the intimate knowledge of the people you connect with go away.

Sure, the fans, followers, viewers, listeners, and connections remain with the organization, but knowing that Sally stops by your restaurant as a special reward when she reaches her weekly weight goal or Ben has bought and donated several thousand bottles of your product to schools in Africa…that knowledge is gone.

You see, social media is just that – social – you are supposed to build relationships with real people out there on the interwebz. Yet most organizations, particularly business leaders, treat it as another way to broadcast about how great they are and ask people to buy.

Sure, you can outsource your social media and most of you should. But if you want intimate knowledge of some of your biggest customers? Those relationships should belong to you.

Lead by Example

Just like anything else, if you lead social by announcement (write a memo, say it will be done, and expect everyone else to do it), it won’t work.

The culture has to change in order to embrace the new way of building those relationships, understanding the nuances of your most enthusiastic fans, and actually making money from the effort you spend online.

Just like you would with any other culture change, there are four things to consider:

  1. Make expectations explicitly clear. Why are you spending time on the social networks? What do you hope to achieve? What are the goals? Are they truly measurable (and I don’t mean more fans, followers, and connections)? Define your expectations in something that is objective, not subjective.
  2. Hold everyone accountable, including yourself. This is the “lead by example” piece. I know it’s hard. You don’t have time. You don’t care what someone had for lunch. I’m asking you to stop thinking about it that way and spend just 15 minutes a day having a real conversation with just three to five people who are commenting in your Twitter stream or on your Facebook page. Just 15 minutes.
  3. Be a consistent role model. See number two. No excuses.
  4. Connect with employees and customers daily. The awesome thing about social media is you can do this without ever leaving your desk (though it is advisable to talk to your employees face-to-face). Ask them how’s it going. Ask them what they like about working with you. Ask them what they don’t like. Gather some great intel by having those real conversations you started in number two.

It’s not easy. We expect to be able to hand off social media and be done with it. But if you want it to work, and if you want to make money from it, you have to be involved.

A version of this first appeared in my weekly Crain’s Chicago Business column.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • giesencreative

    I find the question of outsourcing social media to be an interesting one. There’s not much point in the case of executive social media accounts (which are about leading by example and connecting with specific people), but in what cases is it a good idea? Yes, at some point you’ll inevitably lose the intimate knowledge of the people your company connects with, but on the other hand, how do you avoid this when regular employees leave?

    • @giesencreative I think it’s okay (though not as good as having it internally) on the brand’s account. The CEO should not be the one managing those accounts. They should do it for themselves, under their own names. And, if they don’t have someone internally who can do that, I think it’s okay to outsource it.

      • @ginidietrich  @giesencreative I try to encourage my clients to outsource in NECESSARY with the intent on bringing it inhouse. We try to act like consultants and the entire process is to coach them along, with the idea that we’ll be handing it off when they’re comfortable and set up for internal.

        • @AmyMccTobin  @giesencreative I always say here that when our clients can manage it on their own, we’ve done our jobs. The best part about that? They learn they can’t live without us and find other things for us to do.

        • @ginidietrich  @AmyMccTobin  @giesencreative  <<They learn they can’t live without us and find other things for us to do.>> In that case, you’ve established yourself not just as a social media expert, but as a strategic leader.

  • I’m sorry, I yet to hear a GOOD reason why leaders aren’t integrating/using Social Media (at least to some extent) already.  Can someone play devil’s advocate or real life advocate and tell me what boat I’m missing?

    • @TonyBennett It’s all a time issue and partially one of ignorance. I don’t have time to add one more thing. I don’t understand it. I don’t care what people had for lunch. They don’t see the value so we have to show it to them.

      • @ginidietrich we meaning PR pros? Because, frankly, as not a PR pro, I say let em sink

        • @TonyBennett  Not necessarily PR pros. Anyone who is using social. I don’t agree with “let em sink.” If you can convince your executives the value of social and connecting with a handful of really good customers online, you might have a nice little bonus in store.

  • What true leaders do is not just lead by example, but educate and groom as well. That’s what I’d add to your list; because it’s only when everyone on board understands why this is important, that they “get” it. IMHO that is what sets the Bransons and Cubans and Hsieh’s apart – they create a culture not just by leading by example, etc., but by educating until it becomes part of the organization’s DNA. @giesencreative I think that is part of the answer to your question as well; because then it’s not just one or two employees who “own” those relationships, but it’s the organization with which people start building relationships. That’s when the “whole” triumphs over the “one.”

    • @Shonali  Yep, yep, yep! Totally agree! On a separate note: Is tomorrow the big day?

      • @ginidietrich No, Friday!

        • HowieG

          @Shonali  @ginidietrich hey every day is a big day for Shonali!

  • I know many ‘leaders’ of large businesses who aren’t using social; I’m going to force feed them this post because you are 100% right.

    • @AmyMccTobin If they only manage it from the perspective of building online relationships with a handful of their biggest advocates, that’s enough.

      • HowieG

        @ginidietrich  @AmyMccTobin I am sure they all use social media in some form or another for personal use. But I think their ego’s would tell them to drop in on the customers, inquirers and chatterers regularly to gain insights that only Their Esteemed Majesties are capable to seeing.

  • Howie is right. Social media becomes the voice/personality of a brand/company and when that changes it can have a distinct impact upon relationships at multiple levels,
    It goes beyond knowing about a person’s love for PINTEREST, cycling and cooking and extends to the people who feel an affinity for the brand/company but rarely communicate with the company.

    • @Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes I LOVE PINTEREST! I mean, what?

  • The samples cited should be cited in any case for managing cultural change in any organization.
    Here’s a devil’s advocate position, and I always made this assumption when I was working in PR. The reason a CEO doesn’t engage in social media is he or she doesn’t see the value or can’t connect the dots. Here’s the devil’s advocate part – that is the fault of whomever is responsible for social media in his company.
    It is a problem in that a lot of top-tier managers don’t “speak” social media and quite a few social media experts don’t really speak “bottom line” from a corporate point of view.
    If you are in a position of bottom-line responsibility, then the only bottom line is THE bottom line.
    I have responsibility over dozens of employees and millions of dollars annually. I engage in social media for a couple of reasons. One, part of my news operation’s digital advertising inventory is based on page views. The more page views, the more advertising. The more advertising, the more revenue. I blog, tweet, and FB to drive those page views, which literally drives dollars.
    I get that connection so I do it, and trust me, I’m not a fan of Twitter – but it drives traffic for me.
    There are other benefits – we find a lot of great story ideas via social media and readers seem to enjoy the interactions they have with reporters.
    I have some personal social media. I don’t post a lot of work stuff (some) on my personal Facebook Page. Also, my Pinterest account is very much personal use.
    Even Gini has a financial stake in social media. She must demonstrate expertise in order to sell her services. If her social media is crap, nobody will buy her services, right?
    However, some top-tier, bottom-line leaders may be in industries where it is seemingly difficult to place an actual dollar value on social media. This doesn’t make it OK to not engage in social media, but it makes it more difficult to justify.
    In that sense it isn’t much different from traditional public relations – CEO’s know that a feature story in a national magazine has value, but WHAT is the value? It is very difficult to quantify and often, successful PR takes consistency and time. They may not be able to put a dollar figure on the value of that PR, but they know value is there.
    They must reach that point with social media….where they may not be able to quantify the value of social media, but they understand it does have value.
    CEOs must get on board, even if they can’t quantify social media. Their social media experts must help them connect the dots so they see the tangible value.

    • @ClayMorgan I guess my thinking on it aligns with yours in a lot of ways, with one slight difference. If they’re willing to go golfing or to dinner or what have you with their largest customers, why can’t they use social to engage with those same people a few times a week?

      • @ginidietrich Oh, I totally agree Gini. I still think it is a problem of “connecting the dots.”
        When I was still doing a bit of freelance PR work, I had a client who was like that. He understood the benefit of lunch. He understood the benefit of Rotary Club and leading a team at Relay for Life.  But he just didn’t understand – truly didn’t see – how social media could help him.
        I had to sit down with him, slide up to his computer, behind his desk, and show him LinkedIn, and that his vendors, clients and colleagues (and prospects) were there. I had to show him how he could easily network with them further, through LinkedIn. Two previous social media consultants he had hired (cause my kids think it is stupid my company doesn’t have social media), failed to show him this very simple connecting of the dots.
        My suspicion is his two previous social media consultants didn’t understand the connection – or perhaps how to communicate with him – as well. After all, if you are going to advise someone on how to grow business through social media, you sure as heck better understand business!
        The guy was never a social media genius, but he grew in it, and realized the benefits and tried hard to engage. A few posts and a couple Tweets a week and he soon realized that paying attention to social media was the same as paying attention to your customers – and in his mind, paying attention to the customer was everything.

        • @ClayMorgan “After all, if you are going to advise someone on how to grow business through social media, you sure as heck better understand business!”

        • HowieG

          @ginidietrich  @ClayMorgan I am sure there also also some senior execs who won’t use social media because it leaves yet another trail to be sued over if they pull shifty business moves.

        • @HowieG  @ginidietrich I had not thought of that Howie, but I should have.
          My personal Facebook page was a topic of discussion during deposition in a lawsuit against a newspaper I published a few years ago.

  • “You see, social media is just that – social – you are supposed to build relationships with real people out there on the interwebz. Yet most organizations, particularly business leaders, treat it as another way to broadcast about how great they are and ask people to buy.”
    This line would be life changing for many. I wish clients could understand this more. You can’t just release content on social media and hope to get somewhere, you have to communicate and listen on a more personal level. 
    Great Article!

    • @stevenmcoyle Did you particularly like “interwebz?”

      • @ginidietrich Only you can make that work. lol

  • Gini, great advice, and timely too (for me, that is). I love your thoughts on leading by example.

    • @barrettrossie I’m a big lead by example person. If you’re not willing to roll up your sleeves, how can you expect your team to do the same?

      • HowieG

        @ginidietrich  @barrettrossie If Gini told you to jump off a bridge…and then she did it…would you do it?

        • @HowieG  @ginidietrich Maybe… if there were a bungee cord attached.

  • Completely agree. A leader’s engagement with a community just speaks volumes when it comes to the personality of the brand and how much they are willing to do to connect with people. So important. Love this advice.

    • @schmittastic And aren’t we super excited when the leader of the organization reaches out to us? Especially if we’re big brand advocates?

  • Leaders and social media are like five-year-olds and broccoli: Sometimes it needs to be on the plate four or five or fifty times before they like it. A leader I knew “quit Twitter” shortly after I talked him into starting to use it. He just didn’t like it, and didn’t like wasting his time on it. I’m still following him, and he’s still tweeting, three years later! 
    Keep trying the broccoli. Try it with cheese sauce, in a casserole, raw, with hummus, eventually you’ll realize it’s pretty good.

    • @jelenawoehr I hate broccoli.

      • @ginidietrich Would you change your mind if I told you that made you remind me of George HW Bush? It doesn’t, but if it did?

        • @jelenawoehr I would say that totally sucks, but I really do hate broccoli. Try as I might, I just can’t eat it.

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  • Great post Gini. I know it’s hard and with a new job I’m struggling to make time myself. I’m still figuring out how to juggle it BUT I know how important it is. I know it’s the reason why I’ve met so many wonderful friends and mentors. I could go on and on. I definitely think it’s unfortunate that most organizational leaders don’t lead by example in this area. But I also think we’ll start to see a shift in this as the younger generation moves into more leadership positions because those that have used social when they were say just an intern, realize the value it has. Sometimes it takes time to realize it, but once you do you just get it.

    • @rachaelseda It will completely change when Millennials begin to lead organizations. I think we’ll see a big shift toward more virtual teams, use of technology to grow customer bases, and other very cool initiatives. Some things even I’m afraid to do.

      • @ginidietrich Yes and I’m looking forward to it!

  • Maxilnd5oznz


  • Nathalief

    You are so right, Gini! Keep up the good work in being a great example of a Social CEO, and inspiring others to become one as well! Tiny error: the Coopr event, hosted by @josgovaart, @jodykoehler and the rest of the wonderful Coopr team, took place in the beautiful city of Rotterdam. 😉 Thanks again for your insightful talk that evening!

    • @Nathalief  Yes, yes! Good catch. Thank you!