One of the most influential women in technology is calling on those in leadership positions to harness the power of social media as a way to meet their business goals.

Altimeter Group founder and bestselling author Charlene Li talked to Inc. on Saturday about her latest book, The Engaged Leader, at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin.

"The reason I wrote the book is that leaders are telling their organizations, 'You've got to be digital and talk to customers and employees,' but they themselves don't do it! That's a huge contradiction," she says. "They're being hypocritical, and they have no credibility to tell people what to do if they don't do it themselves. The problem is, they no longer need to be convinced that they should, but they don't know how."

Li argues that being active on social media is different for leaders, and requires a special set of skills.

"It's one thing for your organization to be tweeting and making videos and sharing content, and it's quite a different thing for you as a leader to go out there."

One of the challenges, she says, is that leadership is an art--everyone does it differently. This makes it hard to create a single blueprint for exercising leadership through social channels.

The Engaged Leader picks up where Li's previous two books left off. Her first bestseller, Groundswell, essentially argued for the importance of social-media technology and established her as one of the foremost experts on the field. Her hit follow-up, Open Leadership, argued that leaders need to practice a new kind of transparency for this new era. And the new book aims to be a prescriptive guide to doing just that with social media.

The book lays out three key steps to executing your own successful strategy. Figuring out your own version of each involves first examining your business goals and success metrics, then aligning your social strategy to achieve them.

Listen at Scale

Social media allows leaders to understand customers' and employees' interests and concerns in large numbers, all at once. That's a powerful tool that can't be ignored.

Share to Shape

There are things like compensation data that are usually best kept secret, but Li argues that leaders have traditionally been information hoarders in far too many other realms. By sharing new ideas, "Leaders become facilitators who accelerate the spread of information and shape the decision making process," she writes.

Engage to Transform

It's impossible to reach out and physically shake hands with everyone you'd like to engage with, but as with listening, the sheer scale of social-media tools allows leaders to do just that. "In a networked world, the constraints of time and space are largely eliminated," she writes. "Leaders can personally engage with individuals or groups through multiple touch points, thereby cultivating and transforming relationships purposefully."

It's not that she's arguing that all leaders start live-Tweeting their meetings or posting Instagram selfies. "I have no problem with a leader saying, 'I don't want to be on Twitter, and I've decided it doesn't meet my goals.' I just want them to have looked at it and decided some other service is better for them," she says.

But doing nothing and hoping nobody notices? "You'd be missing out on a huge competitive advantage."

 

Published on: Mar 18, 2015