The use of Twitter as a leadership communication tool is certainly in the spotlight these days, for better or worse. And that’s causing many execs to reconsider or reevaluate their use of social media — or lack thereof.
As far back as 2009, Forbes was advocating for leaders to maximize the opportunities presented to them via social media. That clarion call has become a “must” since then. In the past, leadership was about control of message and top-down communication, and corporate structures featured programs to do just that, with safe platforms like newsletters, broadcast emails, corporate videos, etc.
But the world has changed significantly and rapidly over the past few years. There’s a seemingly endless variety of social media choices out there these days, with the most prevalent in the business world being Twitter, LinkedIn, and in some cases, Facebook. The rise of these tools has transformed the way that employees, customers and consumers expect to interact with brands as well as the people who lead them.
Manufacturing leaders lag
In spite of those facts and expectations, manufacturing leaders have been particularly resistant to adopt new communication tools when it comes to social media usage. Many have viewed it as solidly in the realm of large B2C brands. Others view it as a distraction. Some even feel it’s a liability or too big a risk. And if those execs are on periodically, they’re not frequently joining the conversation.
They’re leaving a lot of valuable social currency on the table, and missing the chance to interact directly with customers, employees, and their peers. Not to mention the opportunity to build their own reputation, communicate their company’s story, and drive business results.
There are notable exceptions, though. Active Twitter users include people like Apple CEO Tim Cook (@tim_cook), HP’s Meg Whitman (@MegWhitman), Jeffrey Immelt (@JeffImmelt) at General Electric, Alex Molinaroli (@amolinaroli) at Johnson Controls and leaders of Medtronic (@MedtronicCEO), Motorola (@GregBrownMoto), General Motors (@mtbarra). For the vast majority of leaders, LinkedIn usage is more common, but most manufacturing leaders aren’t utilizing it as optimally as they could be.
Building the brand
I had the opportunity to discuss social media usage in depth recently with Dan Ariens, president and CEO of The Ariens Company — manufacturer of Ariens snow throwers and lawnmowers, and Gravely outdoor products.
Dan (@dariens58) has been tweeting regularly since November of 2010 at the behest of his kids, who are also active in the business. A bit unsure at first, Dan quickly has become an online virtuoso — connecting with customers, showing off products, sharing history, and having quite a bit of fun with folks along the way.
I asked him why more CEOs aren’t as active as he is, and he shared three potential obstacles:
- Many leaders have heard of some social media horror stories that damaged the reputation of the leaders and/or their companies because of how situations were handled, so it’s easier to stay away altogether.
- He believes it’s easier for leaders of privately-held companies to use social media than it is for those in publicly-traded organizations due to job security concerns.
- Some leaders just haven’t adapted to customer and employee communication expectations. Those are missing the boat on a great opportunity to connect on a daily basis.
More pros than cons
When it comes to risk, of course you have to be careful to avoid pitfalls like confidentiality breaches, financial disclosures and brand/reputation damage. But most CEOs are pretty good communicators. After all, it’s part of what got them to that seat in the first place. This is more a matter of how to communicate these days than what to communicate about.
Think about social media for what it really is: a platform to communicate more effectively, efficiently, and in real time. Social media allows execs to have more direct contact with employees and customers. That can have a big impact on boosting morale, driving innovation and reinforcing company vision, mission, and values.
It’s also valuable in the opposite direction, giving leaders the pulse of the organization that’s often so difficult to experience first-hand when you’re in a leadership position.
The first step is making the commitment — and it doesn’t have to be a daily thing, either. There are plenty of guides out there for getting started, but check out Forbes and Fast Company for a quick-start. See you online!