Gut Check: Are You Using Social Media Responsibly?

March 3, 2015 Vince Molinaro
Gut Check: Are You Using Social Media Responsibly?Not a week goes by where I read something on how important it is for leaders to engage in social media. By now, most leaders understand that it can be a great tool for engagement and communication. But as we’ve also seen it can be an insidious and destructive force when used in an irresponsible manner.

What is also becoming apparent to me is that social media can also function as a barometer for assessing leaders. We judge leaders – who they are, what they believe based on what they communicate on various social media platforms.

For example, let’s look at T-Mobile CEO John Legere.

As head of one of the most recognizable telecommunications companies in the United States, Legere has tremendous drawing power. At last count @JohnLegere has more than one million followers on Twitter, making him one of the most followed business executives in the world. He’s also been successful in driving the financial performance of his company.

He’s done this while building a controversial social media brand. Legere is known to broadcast some pretty extreme thoughts and ideas.

For example, Legere often tweets profanity-laced tirades against the people and the companies he dislikes. He has taunted his rivals, particularly AT&T and Verizon, accusing them of “raping” their customers. (He later apologized for that tweet.)

The Legere twitter assault made headlines again last month when he sent out a message disparaging Sprint, another major competitor, for a “half-assed” TV commercial. Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure broke tradition of Legere’s targets and tweeted a photo with the message “Never sacrifice your class to get even with someone who has none.”


Never sacrifice your class to get even with someone that has none. – Marcelo Claure
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On the one side, Legere’s no-holds barred persona has helped raise the profile, and market share, of his company. In interviews, he said that he believes his unfiltered remarks are essential to connect with his customers and employees. He acknowledges he comes close to, and often over, the line of good taste in his tweets. But he is generally unapologetic.

“I am T-Mobile and visa versa,” told Mashable.com. “That means I say it like it is, and I am not afraid to take a position on things and stand up for what’s right. I don’t worry about listening to critics.”

Many industry watchers and leadership commentators have weighed in on Legere’s manner and tone, and the conclusions are mixed. Many have celebrated his brashness and willingness to connect to the outside world; others have ripped into him for potentially alienating as many people as he may attract with his rants.

It occurs to me that Legere is right about one thing. Leaders need to step outside their corner office from time to time and engage with their employees and customers. He’s a great example of this.


Leaders: Step outside your office and engage with employees and customers more often with social…
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However, leaders need to also understand the broad impact they can have when they do this. With more than one million Twitter followers, Legere has a lot of influence. He can mobilize those followers and shape decisions they make about where they spend their money. In today’s marketplace, that is tremendous power.

But how you show up on social media is becoming more critical for leaders.

Personally I struggle with Legere’s approach and I’m confident that many of the business leaders and executives I work with would share the same point of view.

Taunting competitors or using profanity to disparage their products is behavior not worthy of a great leader.

Leaders can and should speak frankly on issues that are important to them. But when profanity-laced rants and tweets become the norm, then I believe one’s reputation gets damaged.

To lead is to earn and sustain the faith and trust of your followers – whether they are in your company or online.

Legere has many followers, but I wonder how many of them are only there because they want to see the next crazy words out of his mouth. It’s not because they are engaged or inspired by what he has to say, but more interested in the intrigue his comments create.

So there’s a lesson here for leaders: misusing a powerful tool like social media will not cement your reputation as a good leader. It will, however, make it clear you don’t know how to wield power responsibly.

This week’s gut check ask: are you using social media in a responsible manner?

 

About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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