leadership in the age of twitter: making an impact in 140 characters

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Leadership can, at times, be a tough concept to wrap your arms around. Yes, it can mean you’re the boss. It can mean you’re spear-heading a project. It can mean you’re setting the example — at work, at home or in your community. But, our world isn’t the same as it used to be. Leadership has found a new space online — morphing our ability to influence others, from those who follow our lead in the real world, to those who follow us digitally. And, in fact, according to Insead, 82% of consumers are more likely to trust a company whose CEO engages in social media, and 78% of professionals prefer working for organizations where leadership is social-media active.

Not claiming to be masters of social media influence, the two of us were curious about how some of the most effective leaders we follow digitally, use twitter as a leadership tool. What are they talking about? What are they sharing? And, why? Here’s what we found.

1. Information Sharing: Whether your tweeting about a new project, a new acquisition, a big win, continued growth, or the simple fact that your company was featured in the media, many leaders use Twitter as a simple way to broadcast information to their followers. Brian Chesky, Co-Founder, CEO and Head of Community at Airbnb is extremely active on Twitter and uses it quite often to share information. For example, Chesky (@bchesky) just tweeted, “Airbnb has helped ‪@MakeAWish grant wishes in 30 countries and 60 cities around the world.” Of course, that’s a statement anyone can be proud to share with the public, but it also sends a huge message to Airbnb employees.

2. Wisdom Sharing: Pick your favorite famous quote, recall your favorite meme, or revisit the early days of a company. Some leaders use Twitter as a place to share wisdom that not only motivates their online followers, but also gives employees a glimpse into mantras that inspire the leader. Sir Richard Branson, Founder and CEO of Virgin, often tweets wisdom and lessons from his own failures. @richardbranson just tweeted a meme that reads, “Turning points, while they often come from moments of darkness, can steer us in the direction of great light…or light-bulb moments.”

3. Relationship Building: We were asked recently by a seasoned CEO if we thought he should be using Twitter. “I don’t know what to post,” he told us. “…am I supposed to talk about our Memorial Day Sale, or my new affinity for fashionable socks?”  While tweeting about a sales promotion has been done successfully by a few leaders (think Tony Hsieh in the early years of Zappos.com) it doesn’t necessarily build relationships with your followers—who may just want to know a little bit more about who you are as a person. Named by Wine Enthusiast as Sommelier of the Year, Bobby Stuckey, owner of Frasca Food and Wine, often tweets about long runs in the Boulder, CO area. ‪@BobbyStuckeyMS recently tweeted, “Well I am trying to smile but that was a long 15 miles in the snow.” These types of short insights into regular life allow people to see a leaders human side—away from the business.

4. Cheering: Often times, as leaders, we aren’t there when employees are pouring their efforts into projects. We don’t always get to see the trial and error. Some great leaders understand that Twitter can be a powerful tool to cheer people on and encourage that effort. For instance, Steve Down @RealSteveDown, Founder of Even Steven’s Sandwiches, just tweeted, “Stay diligent; you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want things to change.” Or talk show host and former Co-Host on Entertainment tonight, @leezagibbons tweeting, “Never underestimate the power of a woman supported by other women of strength!” These types of tweets communicate to both your team and followers that you, as a leader, believe they can accomplish their goals.

5. Recognizing Results: In a world where 79% of employees who leave their jobs cite the lack of recognition as the key reason, we all should pay a little more attention to tools like Twitter to share the appreciation those people deserve. Chairman and CEO of Epic Records, L.A. Reid, frequently uses Twitter to recognize the accomplishments of others. @LA_Reid recently tweeted, “Major congrats to incomparable @MariahCarey on the launch of #ButterflyMC Records. Big things to come.” Or, hop on to the feed of Angela Ahrendts, SVP, Apple Retail, and you’ll find a constant flow of recognition and thanks to employees around the world. @AngelaAhrendts recently tweeted, “A huge thank you to everyone helping to bring Today at Apple to our customers next month!” And, just before that, “Big thanks to our teams and the thousands that joined us to celebrate three new stores across the world today!”

Again, the two of us are not social media masters. We can’t tell you how to gain millions of followers, fans, or shares. We can, however, tell you the right stories and information to be communicating if you are a leader, or want to grow your leadership influence. Use Twitter to your leadership advantage today. #140CharacterLeader

This post was originally published on Forbes.

By david sturt and todd nordstrom
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