Love it or hate it, social media is currently an important channel for organizations and leaders.
Yet many leaders continue to take a haphazard approach to social media in their professional capacities – resharing some of the organization’s posts but not others, engaging consistently for a week or two and then going silent, or being on the receiving end of @’s and DMs and selectively responding.
And while there is no shortage of information out there on strategies and tactics for content and presence in a leader’s professional social media account, I’ve often found it to be a bit ungrounded. Like it’s built on shifting sand.
I was excited to come across a research article that offers a solid framework for strategic leaders’ engagement with social media (Heavey et al. 2020)1.
The framework details six approaches to social media and gives tons of examples from the real world.
It’s focused on social media use in the professional context as opposed to personal.
Awareness of the six types of social media engagement approaches immediately gives leaders insight into what combination of styles they tend to use or shy away from. They’ll also see the tactical value of various styles for different circumstances.
It’s important for executive coaches to understand this framework since social media can be a source of stress for leaders. This is one more tool to offer clients and can be a shared language for future growth or dissecting current conflicts.
The article is a nontechnical read so give it a look-see if you’ve got the bandwidth. Otherwise, read on for a quick overview.
The researchers define strategic leaders as those with “overall responsibility for the strategic direction of the organization” such as
They define their social media engagement as “a set of behaviors through which strategic leaders seek to leverage social media affordances to communicate with stakeholders in developing and executing strategy”.
Three dimensions of “engagement behaviors” underpin the framework.
Whether the purpose is for information processing (inform, update, exchange knowledge) versus social influence (align around a vision, values, issues, priorities).
Whether the exchanges are reciprocal or non-reciprocal.
Whether the intent is to promote convergence or create divergence.
Whether you are a strategic leader, aspire to be one, or serve them with coaching, here are six approaches to social media engagement.
Use of social media to garner attention, seek acclaim, and/or evoke positive emotional responses to their organizations’, and their own, activities and decisions.
Use of social media for one-way dissemination of strategic information, developments, and results to stakeholders.
Use of social media for interactive and collaborative communication with stakeholders including soliciting feedback, ideation, crowdsourcing of solutions, and knowledge co-creation.
Use of social media for aligning stakeholders around a common vision, set of values, strategy, interpretations, and/or frame of reference.
Use of social media to establish a community around common strategic themes, causes and movements, ultimately mobilizing stakeholders to act, advocate, and contribute on the firm’s behalf.
Use of social media to under- or over-inform, as well as to mis- or dis-inform stakeholders.
The approaches can also be combined. There isn’t a best one, rather, choose the tactic that suits the aim you have for the situation at hand. Even obfuscation has a strategic role.
In addition to defining the six engagement behaviors, the researchers contextualize them in a framework that starts with two antecedents to social media engagement (attributes of the leader and demands of their job), includes stakeholder attributes and platform choices, and offers three mechanisms (building cognitive and affective trust, decision-making variety, stakeholder identification) for shaping organization-level outcomes (reputation, repertoire complexity, resource access).
The researchers include 30 propositions for future research, for example “strategic leaders facing novel problems, opportunities, or situations engage in social media for dialogue.”
1Research Citation: Tracy L. Dumas, Sarah P. Doyle, Robert B. Lount. Self-Disclosure and Respect: Understanding the Engagement of Value Minorities. Organization Science, 2023; DOI: 10.1287/orsc.2021.15768
Subscribe to our free emails on leadership, well-being, and healthy connection to purpose.