7 habits of highly effective ‘Social Leaders’

Back in the late 90’s I studied leadership during my postgrad at Birkbeck College, Uni of London.
The models we learned were ‘classic’ approaches to leadership, with a stress on the importance of differentiating it from management.

These approaches are well suited to an organizational structure but the longer I am around the people in my industry the more I see them as lacking. The online leaders of today could have followings of tens of thousands of engaged members yet we tend to think in term of their influence more than their leadership. And ‘thought leader’ simply seem inadequate.

These people, and I am talking about Mike Stelzner, Chris Brogan, David Amerland, Eric Enge and Mark Traphagen, Joe Pulizzi, Jay Baer, Joel Comm, Mark Schaefer, Ted Rubin, Pam Moore, Rebekah Radice, Lynnete Young…, understand it is not about leading ‘thoughts’ but about building and serving a community.

It is the concept of community that has changed the role of a social leader, with people listening and being influenced from all walks of life and throughout every type of organization.

Here are a few observations of what it now takes to lead in a digital world, very loosely based on Stephen Covey’s classic 7 habits.

Self Mastery

1. Personal empowerment

Life is not about ‘cause and effect’. It is about the mechanisms of ‘perception’ and ‘response’.

The old way of thinking tends to remove personal responsibility, and the new way empowers an individual one thought, one decision point at a time. They get this, and they choose how to respond.

2. Patience

The leaders in this space are not in a hurry.
There is no rush to building relationships, and with 24/7 of attention to share around the ‘view’ is much more about the benefits of extending and overlapping network membership as a whole.

And they ‘listen’ – not just “yeah, I’m listening, but really I am waiting to give my view.” I mean, the properly listen, and when you experience the difference you’ll know it for yourself.

3. Swearing, or lack there of

With one notable exception of Gary Veynerchuk who really doesn’t give a f*ck about this, the Social Leaders tend not to swear much at all. Why? In my view it is mainly because swearing will turn some people off (as Mike Stelzner once said) but not swearing won’t.

When it comes to comment threads, swearing can easily be decontexualized e.g. a screenshot taken and added to a ‘Best swearing moments’ page on someone’s website.

Putting it simply – they have a map of the online world and know better the consequences of their actions.

p.s. they may well swear like troopers offline, or in private, but then you know much better who is ‘there’ – and if you ever see me do stand-up comedy live then you’ll know what I mean.


4. They engage with the community

To build a community you need to connect with people. This is not manicured TV broadcasting, people want to be part of the story.
They want to hear their name. Every plus one and like matters, to that person.

Engagement goes beyond just quick clicks and comments though. People want to feel part of something and it is a leader’s role to bring them into the community.

5. They build alliances

They seek collaboration more than competition.

I’ve had a few people ask why I am sharing ‘Social Media Examiner’ and ‘Convince and Convert’s content via my business, almost daily. “Surely they are competing?” But my view is that if the community that follows me can be served by information that I don’t have available, it is my duty to do so. Divide and conquer is so 1870’s (Otto von Bismarck reference for the historian’s out there). More on that here.

6. Platform Literacy

Put simply, you need to know the tools with which you are seeking to communicate.
If you can learn notification systems, for instance, you will ‘get’ when your messages are received or not – think ‘email open rates’ but for social, then you can look at engagement, and actions taken from there.

The community now has mobility so their presence on social extends beyond one platform.
Wherever people are paying attention is where the leader’s community is based.

You look at the new platform ‘Blab.im’ as an example and you’ll see people like Tyler Anderson are creating an engaged audience, who are participating in the live event – and reaching out and telling their network via Twitter, with a couple of clicks of the mouse.

Continuous improvement

7. An attitude of Lifelong learning

Learn, and teach. This is what increases your following, and when you teach ‘around a subject’ e.g. digital marketing, then you begin to be known as a leader in that space.

The willingness to take risks and learn something new. Sometimes you will be wrong, but that’s ok.


The other aspect I am seeing is the willingness to be vulnerable – allowing the technology to make us more human, rather than less.
(Check out Joel Comm’s TEDx talk around this here.)
Recently I’ve been telling my own story over the past few months too – it has been quite a ride!

All in all, Social Media is about relationships, and Social leadership extends very much into every aspect of our lives now.
Increasingly, these people, alongside our family, are our lives.

Find your tribe, build alliances, and together we can lift everyone up, one conversation at a time.

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