Leadership Communications And Visibility During COVID-19
Leaders all over the world are working remotely, making communication more important than ever. Right now is the time to be highly visible, connected, and frequently engaging with audiences, who spend 25 percent of their day on digital media. Plenty of studies have proven that leaders who are consistent in communicating the state of their business openly and transparently—with both internal and external audiences—are able to build trust, loyalty, and visibility for their brand. All achievements brands must strive for in an almost unprecedented worldwide crisis.
Now is the time for every executive to open LinkedIn and learn what employees are saying, doing, and thinking. It's the moment for you to scroll through your Twitter feed and follow customer conversations relevant to your business. Join a Facebook thread, or check out YouTube to see what other leaders are saying via live casts. On these platforms, you can directly engage with your advocates on common ground, and be of service to your company, community, and even your country. For instance, Mark Cuban recently sat down for an hour on LinkedIn to answer small business owners' questions, helping them keep their businesses afloat during this crisis.
You Are Your Brand
When we think about Tesla, we think Elon Musk. We equate Tim Cook with Apple, and Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook. Major business publications like Forbes, Fortune, and The Wall Street Journal all focus their coverage on company leaders, and investors are betting on executives as much as the companies themselves. Right now, the only window that lets us see how these leaders are managing their companies is in social media channels. In the case of your business, like Zuckerberg and Musk’s, these social media channels are where your primary audience will gauge whether you are a leader, a follower, or a non-participant in the current climate.
If you have an existing social media presence, then you are already ahead of the game. Take the time to think about your purpose for using social media during this complicated time. For example, do you want to focus on establishing a closer, more personal connection with employees and customers? Or do you want to communicate what your business is doing to adapt to recent change? Is your goal to provide context or additional information related to your business within the current environment? Are you most interested in sharing customer stories and solutions to help them succeed? Can you provide special services or other resources?
For example, Eric Yuan, CEO of video-conferencing tool, Zoom, has been constantly engaging on Twitter and LinkedIn by retweeting and reposting Zoom customer posts. Additionally, he is engaging with the media and reposting articles highlighting Zoom’s recent donation of free access to video conferencing tools to schools K-12.
One of the most visible and effective leaders on social media is Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella. He is known for engaging directly with customers and investors. He shifted his focus to employees by sharing a Microsoft blog post on Twitter highlighting ways to be productive while working from home. He emphasized how they are continuing to learn new ways to apply technology in ways that encourage productivity and collaboration while also maintaining a sense of community.
Leaders who are new to social media should consider both their short-term and long-term goals for communicating. Be clear on what you are hoping to achieve early on and be consistent by publishing strategically at designated times when your audience is most engaged.
Have a Team and Game Plan
As an executive, you know best that you are short on time and can't jump on every opportunity alone. Though you might find a Tweet or article fascinating, it's hard to squeeze the crafting, editing, and vetting of a response or blog post in between meetings.
To make sure you're keeping up with the timeline, you'll need assistance monitoring, responding, and cultivating a social media presence. All this activity involves setting up the right task force for the job, whether it's a content writer that knows your voice, or simply a copy editor that ensures all social pieces are moving efficiently. Establish a support team that will be able to identify crucial pieces of information to listen to, watch, or respond to when the time is right.
At this moment in time, executives should be proactively connecting with the fluctuating network around them. This means following, sharing with, and informing all audiences with company news, direction and resources. By engaging with influencers on various platforms, executives will be a valuable resource and expert on topics of their choice. Again, this will require establishing a process and platform strategy beforehand.
Many leaders are investing time in developing a company-wide social media strategy that leverages every employee to be the eyes, and ears for the brand, while supporting broader company initiatives including leveraging social media for customer service, recruiting, and employee engagement.
Tone, Voice, and Style
When cultivating your presence, make sure you are consistent with your tone of voice, frequency of posting, and variety of content. For instance, Elon Musk's off-the-cuff Twitter persona often aims to provoke discussion and diverges significantly from Bill Gates' more polished, thoughtful, and engaging persona. Developing this will be gradual, and may shift depending on the organization's needs.
The more you talk like a person, the more people will see you in a friendly light. Avoid sounding like a press release or using hashtag-heavy corporate-speak. Try your best to be conversational, encouraging followers to share their opinions via comments, polls, surveys, or questions. Proactive engagement helps build a continuous network; remember, it takes 12 interactions to build trust.
Even though you are the voice of your company, that doesn't mean your content should just be company-centric. Avoid staleness and repetition by sharing current news, seasonal events, local stories, and opinions on industry news. Become a knowledge aggregator by sharing best practices, lessons learned, trends from industry magazines, and more.
Focus on Quality, Not Quantity
Some leaders will post several times a day across multiple channels to keep up with the constant news cycle, while others will dedicate their time to one channel. You will want to align your objectives with your audiences and the channels where they frequent. For example, use LinkedIn for employees, partners, and customers. Use Twitter for media and industry influencers. Use Facebook and Instagram for broader consumer audiences. Tracking the performance and communication of other leaders will enable you to have clarity about audience expectations.
The goal is to create and share quality content that adds value to the lives of your audience. Focus on topics that are positive, solutions-based, or insightful opinions. Your engagement goal should be to address shares, questions, or comments within 24 hours. Over time, aim to make at least four interactions a week on one platform to build a following.
Listen and Learn
It's impossible to effectively join any conversation without knowing who is talking about your brand, industry, or competitors. As the leader of your organization, you will naturally want to start by listening and learning from the stakeholders who are most relevant to your business. Begin by identifying your allies, advocates, detractors, and neutral parties. Listen to what people have to say and learn from them.
To build a network of influence, you should be following industry hashtags, industry influencers, competitors, and peers. For example, LinkedIn provides a wealth of data about who is viewing your profile, posts, and articles. You can search the LinkedIn database for companies, individuals by job title, as well as media influencers. By tapping into the people and topics that are relevant to your brand, you will have more opportunities to participate in the conversation with comments, likes, or shares.
Create Content and Engage
Create content and engage your audiences directly. This means role modeling behavior for employees, and responding to customers' needs, ideas, and successes. Communicating the state of the business broadly for investors and identifying opportunities to co-create content with partners. This give-and-take helps to, first, identify and, second, boost your allies that have the potential to become your biggest advocates. Throughout this process, scouting out and monitoring detractors will be just as important.
Visuals are the most universal and democratizing language. Once you've mastered the above steps, you can begin producing your community-tailored content and, for example, influencing the influencers by contributing specific insights.
With this step, you truly become a leader and jump-start a conversation, hosting communities on a thread or AMA, beginning a hashtag or Twitter Moment, hosting a podcast, or video conversation. Ultimately, this doesn't have to be a solo endeavor. Open the door to co-creating content with peers, partners, customers, or critical influencers with similar philosophies and mindsets.
The more you create, the more you will be seen as a seasoned expert on your subject of choice and a leader who knows how to engage in a crisis.