Social Media is Changing Leadership [DATA]

Maddie Grant social strategist, SocialFish

Posted on November 1st 2012

Social Media is Changing Leadership [DATA]

Jamie Notter and I surveyed 505 individuals about social media and leadership, as part of ongoing research related to the concepts in our book Humanize: How People-centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World.

The survey questions gathered data on their perspectives about social media implementation in organizations, particularly related to leadership and how leaders are leveraging social media for organizational results. The results of the survey, completed mostly by individuals who work in organizations that are actively using social tools, provide some interesting insights about the deep ways in which social media has become a disruptive force in our organizations.


Here's some of what the research revealed:

  • 84% agree that leadership involvement in social media gives their company a competitive edge.
  • 84% agree that communicating core values via social media is integral to leadership (46% strongly agree).
  • Only 4% agreed that a leader’s social media involvement should be limited to crisis situations.
  • And 44% are concerned about the lack of involvement by their leaders in social media.

However, the research revealed some interesting nuances in terms of what "involvement" actually means when we're talking about the leadership (eg the C-suite).

Even in companies where the leadership was involved in social media, 29% were concerned it wasn’t enough.

The trick, of course, is in understanding a more nuanced definition of “involved.” When respondents elaborated on their answers about leader involvement in social media, they got into some of the grey areas:

  • Actually the answer is "kinda." One of our leaders is involved but is quite busy so he can't be as involved as I'd like.  The other is absent.
  • 2 out of 8 are involved in FB.  1 out of eight on Twitter, etc.
  • Accounts and some activity on twitter, facebook, linkedin
  • But not significantly, and not in a coordinated fashion.
  • He creates blog entries and some tweets, but it's very spotty and not a continuous policy.

Involvement can mean participation on social media sites, but even participation may vary among leaders both in terms of quality and quantity. So checking the box of “involved” doesn’t necessarily alleviate all concerns. And social media participation in and of itself may not be the most important factor for involvement. 

Why? Because we asked respondents to rate their top four out of twelve leadership traits, and it just so happened that six were traditional command-and-control traits ( providing clear direction, brilliant strategist, leverages best practices, charismatic, holds people accountable, and commands loyalty from employees), whereas the other six were "Humanize" traits -  embraces change, values experimentation and failure, open to diverse perspectives, transparent and shares information freely, comfortable with conflict and participates in social media in his/her own voice.

"Participates on social media in his/her own voice?"  that was the third-lowest on the list.  But four out of the top five were Humanize traits. And arguably, the top choice, "provides clear direction", is both a Humanize trait and a command and control trait depending on whether you emphasize "clear" or "direction".

So what conclusions can we draw?  READ THE FULL REPORT TO FIND OUT, but here is part of it...

We're in a transitional period in which companies are struggling (some more, some less) to integrate social into their business processes.  Those that are confining this social activity to sales or marketing will soon be at a huge disadvantage to those that can incorporate the human-powered principles of social media through out the organization, all the way to the top.  The conversation is quickly shifting from how we will be doing our marketing campaigns differently to how we will be running our organizations differently. Our employees are expecting more transparency, more change, more experimentation and more clarity. Smart organizations will start taking a close, hard look at their existing cultures, and even considering some different (less hierarchical) understanding of what “leadership” means if they are going to successfully adapt to this disruption.


Maddie Grant

social strategist, SocialFish

Author of Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World. Editor of SocialFish, a social media blog helps nonprofits and membership organizations navigate the social web.

See Full Profile >


Laura Monn Ginsburg
Posted on November 2nd 2012 at 2:05PM

Hi Maddie - Very compelling stats in this report. Question for you--were the respondents leaders in B2B or B2C organizations? Or a mix?

Posted on November 5th 2012 at 9:03PM

Hi Laura, they were a mix - also both for-profit and nonprofit.

Rachel Miller
Posted on November 4th 2012 at 3:01PM

Excellent article Maddie. I think you've hit the nail on the head with regards to the shift in employee expectations.

Transparency, change, experimentation and clarity are vital, and employees now more than ever, expect to see that in their workplace, and social media has its own role to play in facilitating them. 

Posted on November 5th 2012 at 9:02PM

Exactly right.  Social media is changing how we work - and those changes are not only about social media!