A conundrum. Social media has shifted the power dynamics and challenges the very core of what leadership is deemed to be.
One of the big challenges leaders face today is what the meaning of leadership is in a technology-mediated sphere, and how they manage online and offline versions of themselves.
In the digital community there is no clear delineation between the professional ‘you’ and the personal version of yourself, between the public and personal spheres. This is the all-important subject of personal branding in the digital age, where determining whether our online presence and profile aligns with our values and tells the story we want told.
Advancement in digital technologies have disrupted leadership styles and created virtual leaders who interact with and use digital technologies with increasing frequency. In so doing, they have magnified, in speed and depth, their leadership shortcomings and to an even lesser degree, their brilliance. It was so much easier to manage leaders’ behaviours and thoughts sans social media and now many are called into question as their personal brands are embedded in their use of social media platforms.
I want to focus this conversation on our politicians
We are in electioneering mode as a country; everywhere you look there are baseless promises of a better life for all. Our esteemed leaders are on social media streets, doing all sorts of things to be done and not to be done. These streets have become the equaliser, the relevance-maker, the bypass mainstream media lane, the quick-punch ring and the ‘I speak what I like’ arena – often without thought or vetting by the pros.
While we all know the profound effect that social media has on political campaigns, let us not overlook the greater importance it has on the leaders’ social media interactions in their personal capacity and therefore as personal brands. Each time they do anything on social media, they are adding layers to these personal brands and are not deliberate about the narrative there are curating.
Political leaders’ use social media as a one-dimensional space where they can dish out information in the form of monologues and updates with little to no room for interaction. They therefore think they should be listened to because of some network, social or recognition ‘proof’ that they possess.
This is a lazy, even fear-mongering way of using social media and looking for acceptance and influence by virtue of the power of their position. In my mind, politicians can take learnings from brands and here are some that I think are important.
All things to all people
Our politicians try to be all things to all people and have not identified their singularity of stardom. I don’t know that they’ve ever asked themselves what they actually want to be known for. I’m certain they haven’t quite figured out what they stand for or what they value. If they did, their followers on social media would play back that very quality they’d like to believe emanates out to others. In other words, they would exude their brand.
I’m not fully convinced that they understand their own value. This is not about who their party is, what colours they wear nor their number on the parliamentary candidate list. This really is about what they bring to the table, what they do well and who it best serves. Cue Panyaza Lesufi.
The very important lesson of impact is completely lost on our leadership. They, through driving their message on social channels as an exercise of mere information dissemination, miss the all-important trick of leading through influence and actually having something valuable to add in a consistent and believable manner.
I’m also of the view that they have to show that they get this social media thing and build their social media proficiency where they can optimise their network and their messaging.
By putting their personalities online, they are bound to stumble upon some negativity and in their case as politicians, it is even more brutal. They can show their personal responsibility by employing empathy mapping when they respond and in fact account for their words.
Success in this digital economy takes a different level of engagement and deliberate action on their part to pay attention to the real conversation behind the interactions they find themselves in.
Core to social media channels is engagement.
Core to personal branding is seeing social media as the modern-day testimonial.
Therefore being deeply aware of how they think and behave and how other perceive them is an all-star factor.
As we count down to 8 May, the brands that resonate with us will be those who have managed to sway us because akere (isn’t it…) we are not voting with our hearts this time?
Kagiso Musi is the group managing director of Meta Media South Africa, a new data-led media player in the country. She leads the Johannesburg and Cape Town offices with a list of blue-chip clients. The agency focuses on analysing and uncovering insights from the most granular forms of data and utilising that data to help clients win.
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