Social Media — Lead, don’t follow

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate on January 18, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Recently, we discussed social media with a longtime client’s leadership team. The client, a nonprofit human services organization, has taken a leadership role in its sector with progressive thinking and groundbreaking practices. However, while the organization has begun to dabble in social media, it hasn’t plunged into it fully.

These days, it would be easy to think of such an organization as being behind the times, but anyone who sat in on the conversation would see that the lack of social media involvement isn’t a result of backwards thinking; instead, it’s a product of the same kind of thinking that put the organization ahead of its peers.

Following are a few examples of that thinking.

Lead, don’t follow. It might seem odd to suggest that an organization not engaged in social media is a leader, but sometimes leaders are the ones who simply refuse to follow the herd. A lot of nonprofits invested quickly and heavily in social media – and then didn’t know what to do with it. Our client chose to wait, watch and do it right. Sometimes, that takes more leadership than blazing a trail.

Tell me more. We opened our social media discussion with a Social Media 101. When we finished, we braced for, “That’s great, but it’s not for us.” Instead, the discussion quickly progressed from “What if?” to “When?” The execs had good questions, not about the basics of social media, but about implementation and potential impact.

Perspective. Ultimately, the execs said their organization’s involvement in social media is “inevitable,” but they know it’s not a silver bullet that will solve all their problems. Instead, they see it as one more weapon in their arsenal for fundraising, client engagement, community-building and operations.

More than ‘cool.’ Everybody gets excited about the ‘cool factor’ inherent in social media, and about the impact it can have on an organization’s reputation (especially with younger audiences). While our client’s execs are excited by the ‘cool factor,’ they refuse to let that distract them from more meaningful considerations, such as whether social media is the best way to increase engagement, impact and effectiveness.

Points of concern, not roadblocks. As a human service nonprofit, our client must consider issues of privacy that can hinder communications efforts. While the execs recognized those challenges, they refuse to let them stifle social media efforts. Instead, they simply said, “We’ll have to resolve those issues.”

Personal investment. One of our key recommendations is that this organization spend the next six months in a “listening” phase, seeing what their peers are doing, paying attention to how their audiences use social media, and so forth. The execs agreed, but they also went one step further: Each of them pledged to plunge into social media individually – setting up Facebook pages, opening Twitter accounts, etc. – so they could get a firsthand feel for the new landscape.

Leading is like anything else – to be successful, you have to master a number of approaches, keep a number of tools handy and know which approaches and tools are right for each situation. Often, our client is a charge-ahead-with-new-ideas organization; other times, it has been more cautious, more studious and more resistant to following the herd.

We’re confident that, when it identifies the right approach and fully enters the world of social media, our client, once again, will be a leader.


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