Being a brand online is reserved for the brave. The transparency that social media creates is especially demanding on thought leaders who are out in the world trying to contribute value to professional conversations. There are many doctors, lawyers, and top executives who have personal brands that transcend their workplace. We know Dr. Oz and his philosophies on healthy living more so than the organization he works for. We follow the ideas of John Chambers whether or not we are a Cisco client. For those whose brand is their professional contributions, social media has made it much more difficult to be persistently present as so much of the thought leaders’ actions, ideas and efforts are chronicled online and can be played back, measured and critiqued out of context.
Such social-media induced transparency has provoked some thought leaders to retreat to the written word and seek out more controlled (controllable?) venues. I understand this retreat in many ways. The ever-striving perfectionist in me finds being a brand online difficult sometimes. Sure I give lots of public presentations and my blog is well read but that doesn’t make it easier. As a fundamentally shyish person, I cringe every time I see a Youtube video of a talk I gave – gosh, I think, that looks awkward or darn, I shouldn’t have eaten that powered donut while wearing a black suit right before show-time as I see the white sugary dust all down the front lapel; I try to not count the number of sentences I wish I said differently on every webinar I play back; I note every typo on my blog with scathing scrutiny. But I persist in sharing my ideas and point of view on the social channel because I believe in the platform and have a driving need to further the best practice of building online communities for business. It is harder, however, than in the past, when once a speech was completed it was done – there was no twittersphere to follow the audience reactions!
In order to combat or manage the transparency created by social media, many brand-personas have refrained from the social environment, or worse yet, have pulled back into cautious declarations and platitudes that are void of humanness. But it is within the humanness of social media that true thought-leadership can be defined. Now, I am not advising we let it all “hang out” online as some idea mavens have done. No, that is not within the decorum of being an effective manager. But, social media affords us an opportunity to test ideas that are still in evolution, it offers a platform to talking to people with a human voice, and to share information about the things we are passionate about. There are many wise and thoughtful executive bloggers on the wires and definitely room for more. There is much to learn from those best practice examples.
Social media success lies within the ability to meld a personal voice with a professional platform. The subject matter expert’s thoughts, opinions and questions have an opportunity to come together into a fugue of ideas that help share a deep understanding of a topic. Social media provides the opportunity to know thought leaders just a little better, to feel connected to people we may not have the opportunity to meet in real-life, and to develop a trustful understanding of their leadership point of view that can enhance our world.