Leadership and Your Social Media Voice

by Debra Askanase

On Tuesday, I presented a session entitled “Leadership and Your Social Media Voice” at the North American Jewish Day School Conference. Based on the conference theme of ”Leading to Learn, Learning to Lead,” I offered the session as a conversation-starter for educators who are thinking about or currently using social media personally on behalf of their organizations. The session and presentation addressed the following thematic questions: Why should educational staff use social media personally yet professionally, how could organizational leaders translate their leadership offline to online, and is it possible to have a “playbook” of sorts with which to design one’s professional online presence and voice?

The session focused on three elements: translating leadership vision online, defining leadership voice, and the intersection of transparency with leadership.

Redefining Online Leadership

One of the challenges of organizational leaders when they move online is how to continue to lead the organization offline, yet convey a sense of their personal organizational leadership style and authority online. Organizational leaders I spoke with ahead of the conference shared that they were nervous about sharing too much through their social media personal profiles, how to share their organizational vision online, and how to continue to offer a sense of school leadership. The chart above is one approach to doing so, and provides a guide to thinking through these issues.

Screen Shot 2013-02-06 at 10.01.53 PM

A leader is someone others respect, listen to, and take action because of that leader’s influence (such as clicking on a link or following a “Follow Friday” recommendation). Thinking through it a bit more, I believe that the really successful as online leaders fall into one of two persona categories: Network Weaver or Knowledge Hub. (These categories are further defined within the presentation itself, above.) Overlaying both of these personas are what I think of as critical success qualities: transparency, trustworthiness, generative of conversation and ideas, conversational, and a willingness to be true to oneself online. Think about any online leader you know and converse with, and they do not lack a single critical success quality listed.

One interesting point of fact about the attendees of this particular workshop: when asked at this point who could see themselves as Network Weavers, and who would prefer to identify as Knowledge Hub persona, all but two identified as a Knowledge Hub. Reflecting on this, it’s not surprising that a group of educators are far more comfortable as knowledge curators than online connectors. However, as network weaving becomes co-mingled with content curation, I foresee more educators becoming Network Weavers.

The transparency continuum

Does one need to be transparent to be a leader online, and how comfortable are school leaders with transparency? By far, this was the element of the session that generated the most questions and discussion. The critical takeaway for any school or organizational professional using social media personally is to remember that there is no privacy online, but if you are online, you are in control of what you write.

As an individual becomes more comfortable using social media personally, and begins to understand the cultural norms associated with each channel, he or she will migrate along a continuum of personal/professional voice. How personal and how transparent do you need to be in order to really succeed online? Social media demands true conversation (it is social media, after all), and navigating that demand while staying professional requires thinking about your spot on this continuum. For the educators in the session, this also poses sticky issues of conversing with former students, as well as former or current parents. Seek guidance from social media policies (or create them if your organization has not already), along with common sense and professional guidelines.

Please feel free to use and share the presentation. The personal social media voice playbook referenced in the opening paragraph may be found on slides 47 – 54.

Debra Askanase has 20 years of experience working in nonprofit organizations, from Community Organizer to Executive Director. She is the founder and lead consultant at Community Organizer 2.0, a social media strategy firm for non-profit organizations and businesses. She blogs about the intersection of social media, nonprofits, and technology at communityorganizer20.com and regularly provides advice and commentary to our eJewish Philanthropy community.