In some respects, this is one of the most vibrant, dynamic times to be running a business and to be a company figurehead. The economy seems back on track, (if not totally perfect), investment in start-ups is driving innovation from the ground up and is forcing enterprises to become more agile as a result, which is in turn allowing new products, services, and ecosystems to come to market faster than ever before, radically changing the industries within which they arrive.
From an employee perspective, technology is allowing businesses to operate in such flexible, people-centric manners that nimbleness and flexibility are part-and-parcel of the modern working day, allowing talent to sit at the heart of a company, rather than the commute. As such, the biggest talents in industry have their pick of where they choose to work – you only need look at the success stories from Silicon Valley to see how the grass can be as green as it is made out to be from afar if you have the right company ethos, and the right figurehead pioneering and publicising it.
As the head of the business, these should be good things to be working within, but with advancement comes challenge – naturally. It would be too simple otherwise. Your own business might be able to take advantage of all these technological developments, but so can your competitors, meaning the need to stay relevant, and stay visible is more important than ever. It is in this regard that, especially when it comes to the talent, and the hiring (and retention) of it, that your external profile as the company leader needs to be as polished as it can.
While previously, you could argue that the brand under which you worked defined your career, increasingly it is the people you work alongside, the boss you work under, and the mentors you work into, that define how your skills and career develop. The talent coming into the workforce today wants inspiration as well as a pay cheque, and they want to be inspired by osmosis – surround them with clever people, and they’ll become cleverer as a result. If your own public perception doesn’t demonstrate your understanding of this, nor your own innate wisdom, experience, and character with which you inspire your current workforce, then you’re missing a trick.
It’s with this in mind that social media platforms come into their own. Twitter and LinkedIn have become a powerful part of the ‘Brand You’ armoury – (personally, I’m discounting Facebook within the suite of key platforms, as this isn’t suitable for every figurehead at scale). It’s important to recognise that your presence, interaction and engagement on social platforms is not about having an ego and pandering to it – it’s about showing you’re savvy to what people look for in a business; namely a face. We’re human, we trust faces more than we trust logos – it’s part of our evolution. As such, a brand with a recognised face to it can cut through the noise created by brands which don’t. From a senior perspective, it can also help foster partnerships, business-to-business opportunities, and your own networking. In short, it’s an imperative part of being in business in the 21st Century.
But how to get started?
Well, firstly, you need to complete your LinkedIn profile, skills and job history, and other essentials which unite to form your own personal biography – it sounds an obvious and unnecessary piece of advice but you’d be surprised at the number of senior industry figures whose profiles don’t even include a picture, let alone a CV. Indeed, during the recent BHS crisis it was pointed out, (or rather, ‘gloated about’), that the current CEO doesn’t even have a complete profile. Not only does this show a lack of care and attention to nominal detail, it hints at being disconnected with the current multi-platform business ecosystem within which you operate. It’s a basic, but it’s missed too often.
Given that you are the figurehead of the company, having a complete, proud, and inspiring profile is not just personally essential but arguably it’s business critical. Executive search companies may well provide prospective candidates an overview of the role, the company they’d be joining, and the personality of the business, inevitably one of the first places they will research is the leader behind the brand. Senior executives join companies to be inspired and to become even better practitioners – they want to know they’ll learn from the best and so will want to gain an understanding of the CEO’s leadership style, personality, and industry profile before making a decision. You wouldn’t hire someone without knowing as much as you can about them and being confident they’d be a cultural fit – why should anyone join your company without knowing the same of you and the business?
Once you’re up and ready, how do you build meaningful connections and increase your reach online, so LinkedIn becomes more than simply a CV? The analogy I often use with social media platforms is that they should be regarded as being akin to the world’s greatest bar, with the world’s finest minds; the most important, influential people in your industry; the key media; and some of the cleverest people you want to network with and build relationships with all sitting down and talking. (Granted, there’s the odd pub drunk in the form of a troll, but you don’t talk to them in real life, so ignore them too on social platforms). If this was a real bar you wouldn’t walk in, sit at the nearest table, and start telling complete strangers about your job, your day, or how great your latest business deal was. It’s antisocial – ‘social media’ is called this for a reason.
From a Twitter perspective, you need to research who’s in the bar first, who’s sitting where, and who they’re talking to and decide who to approach first and engage with. Make sure you use your marketing team to do this. Have them identify the pockets of conversation where you will have most clout, and most relevance, and then start following these discussions. Then, once a topic comes up which you might be most suited to comment upon, join the debate. Equally, LinkedIn is now a great platform for starting debates in more controlled, (if, arguably less real-time), manners than Twitter. Post regular blogs on your thoughts on industry trends and developments, reply to others’ posts and build up a reputation for having an opinion and being comfortable sharing it. As a species we like to communicate – it’s what differentiates us, so make sure people know you’re open, honest, and chatty.
Over time – you don’t become friends with everyone in the pub overnight – you’ll build up a reputation and your own circle of followers, who in turn will have their own microcosm of influence which will start to edge into yours and your influence will grow. In an ideal world, some of these within your circle will be media, analysts, academics and others in industry who carry external sway and where your proximity to them, and regular discussion can increase your perception and profile. It isn’t an immediate process, and time needs to be taken in building up and managing your profile and engagement, but it pays off in the long term.
But at the core of your LinkedIn work is this: potential hires, partners, and customers are all checking out how you might be representing the business they’re looking at – if you don’t seem fully engaged, they’ll think your business isn’t either. If you have a footprint in digital, technology, or social industries in the company you run, this need to be seen to be relevant is even more paramount. You need to walk the walk and showcase you are a modern, engaged, and passionate business leader.
Once you are established, you’re also then in a position of authority within your business to encourage the senior team reporting into you to become equally authoritative and active on the social channels where everyone else is hanging out. After all, the conversations are already going on, whether you like it or not – it’s up to you whether you want to join them and have your voice heard, or if you want to leave this to your competitors to grab the limelight.
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