Yesterday’s New York Times article chronicled Justin Timberlake’s effective use of social media to sell nearly a million copies of his comeback album “The 20/20 Experience” in its first week out. This paragraph summarized the lesson:
“Yet the master stroke . . . was the personal touch that Mr. Timberlake brought to every aspect of the campaign, giving his fans the impression of direct contact and feeding them a steady stream of topics to amplify through social media.”
The key words for me are “personal touch” and “steady stream of topics.” Social media helped amplify the experience, but there was direct contact and a draw to keep the fans coming back. The other lesson described in the article is the planning that went into orchestrating the events that led up to the album’s popularity upon release.
How does this apply to social media in the workplace, you might be wondering?
Two things. There is the “leaders must use social” angle and the “wider net will catch more fish” angle. We’ll focus on the first one now and get to the second issue in another blog.
Lately, I’ve seen a rash of articles in notable journals urging CEOs and other leaders to “get social.” Most suggest that an executive’s presence on social media will help build a sense of trust with employees. This is possible, but only if those executives are trustworthy to start with and they can get over what my colleague Elise Olding mentioned in her blog as the tell – a communication style that is top down and directive.
So here is the opportunity for communications professionals or the social media teams who counsel executives. Assuming you are working with a respected senior exec, plan out the communication strategy and extend it into social media to engage in meaningful ways. Notice I said “engage.”
This may sound obvious. But it’s not. If I’m using social media, I’m engaging, right? Well, in a word, no.
I worked with a social media team that was struggling with this very issue. They were trying to create more engagement among the leadership team and the company’s employees. They thought a CEO blog could do the trick. Thankfully, they had gotten over the temptation to have the PR folks write the CEO’s blog. However, when I queried them on how willing the CEO would be to hear an opinion that differed from his own, I wasn’t so sure they were ready to move forward. I asked, “How will the CEO respond when someone tells him he’s wrong?” Groans. The consensus was he would not take it well and would expect them to get rid of the naysayer’s comment. My advice: hold off on the CEO blog thing for now.
Assuming you do have the right circumstances, you also have to give this new openness time to “take.” In an environment where management has been less forthcoming or where communication via cascaded emails is the norm, employees may view a sudden shift with skepticism until the leaders prove they really want a conversation rather than a monologue. It will be difficult for some leaders to hear the truth at first, but they must be prepared to listen and, hopefully, learn.
It’s also important to regularly test for resonance with employees – and not just the ones that are already in the inner circle. You can’t use social to make an aloof exec suddenly likable, but you can help an authentic leader’s messages get more traction. And what a way to get a sense of what people are actually thinking.