Even social media needs leaders to herd cats. One of those top cats is human leadership coach Gene Petrov, who helps marketers become leaders. He believes leaders cultivate and nurture community. That builds an effective community for great marketing results.
Petrov talked with digital marketing strategist Madalyn Sklar about the role of leadership in social media communities.
“In its most basic form, a community is a group of people,” Petrov said. “In the physical world, the community connects people within a certain geographic area — a neighborhood, town or city. On social media, that’s not the case. Communities are global.
“What connects people on social is passion, interests, profession, values, hobbies and more,” he said. “The connection would not be complete without a sense of camaraderie and desire to support each other. Community is active and built on trust.”
This leads to special moments.
“Magic happens when you gather like-minded people together to share a common interest,” Sklar said.
Creating a community cannot be haphazard.
“First, the community has to be about something,” Petrov said. “What connects a disparate group of people together? Topics? Values? A TV show? A brand? If the last one is the case, the brand needs to establish a time, space and way for people to identify with that brand.
“Many times, a community will have written guidelines about behavior enforced by the community manager and the rest of the community,” he said. “If not, here are unwritten basic principles for community: kindness, respect, civility, dignity, humanity, decency, generosity and selflessness.”
A successful community is gratifying if not instant.
“It takes time and energy to create a community,” Petrov said. “Don’t expect this to be an overnight success. Show up with consistency, service and enthusiasm, and it will attract the right people.
“Showing the personal side helps create an emotional connection,” he said. “Start slowly, and then build up to sharing more vulnerability. Don’t get impatient in the process. It will happen. Keep trying. It took me a while before I got connected into the Twitter chat tribe, but I am so glad I did”
Ears also play a central role.
“Creating a community requires you to listen,” Sklar said. “You need to know what people want and be able to fill the need. Start with polls and surveys. Talk to as many people as you can. Emails and direct messages are your best friend for this.”
It’s important for a brand or business to have a community on social media.
“We are in an age where simply using social media as a tool to blast sales pitches doesn’t work,” Petrov said. “It gets drowned out by the cumulative noise, lost in an algorithm, or ignored and rejected. The best way to reach people is by being in a community with them.
“Community members actively seek out each other,” he said. “They are not affected by algorithm changes. The deep personal bond overcomes the technology. Humanity draws people in and keeps them connected. It’s called belonging. Isn’t that something we all crave?”
Smart entrepreneurs will take the hint to build relationships.
“When brands do that, they don’t have to use over-the-top sales pitches,” Petrov said. “They have people who desire to do business with them and have avid supporters to promote them to others.
Sklar naturally favors starting relationships online.
“Social media has become the best place to build, grow and connect with your community,” she said. “It’s so easy to set up a Facebook group or Twitter chat. When I started my GoGirlsMusic community in 1996, it was far more challenging to connect my members together.”
Although they have the designation, not all brands or businesses are leaders.
“Many brands have an old-school business philosophy,” Petrov said. “They believe that ‘faster, cheaper, better’ work will inspire customers to spread the word. I’m a fan of word of mouth, but this approach is too passive and ineffective in our day of hyper-competition.
“For that approach to work, the brand has to be faster, cheaper, better than everyone else in the world,” he said. “That is really hard to do in this global and connected economy. Even then, is that a race a brand wants to win? It’s not sustainable. It’s not leadership.”
Many notable and effective brands are advocates.
“The brands that are leaders stand for something,” Petrov said. “They take a position on a controversial topic. They have to be willing to be hated by some in order to be loved by others. That is how they differentiate themselves and draw people together in a community.”
Social media brings a new aspect to leadership.
“To lead means to serve,” Petrov said. “This is especially true for social media. It means helping others be their best. It means encouraging, supporting and empathizing with others. It means having a voice but being aware of the responsibility of that voice.
“Leading on social also means acting with discipline and self-control,” he said. “It’s about responding versus reacting. It’s about showing up consistently and genuinely. It’s about inspiring people to come along on a journey that is bigger than them.”
Sklar added that leading on social media “gives you the opportunity to provide a voice to your community. It’s about you, your thoughts and your insights.”
Petrov gave a litany of traits a leader brings to the community:
- Expertise and insight
- Relationship building
- Willingness to help
- Desire to serve
- The heart of a teacher or coach
- A teachable spirit
- Humility: They don’t have all the answers
- They give recognition
- The ability to understand multiple perspectives
- A cause to rally around
- The ability to forgive and be forgiven
The same qualities that make a good leader in real life lend themselves to social media.
“The difference between a good leader and a bad one comes down to these questions:
Why are they leading people? What’s the motive? Is it for their own glory or for their team’s?” Petrov said.
“Truly good leaders know why they lead,” he said. “It has to come from a place of outward focus. But it doesn’t stop with articulating that reason. They live it out in their actions. Being congruent is important. It sends the right message to followers.”
Being flexible and agile also sets leaders apart.
“Adaptability is an important piece of the puzzle for leaders on social media,” Petrov said. “They understand how to adapt their message for the platform and various people. It’s not changing the core message but making it easier to understand and connect.”
Leadership tips in any venue are deceptively simple.
“It doesn’t matter what we do,” Petrov said. “It matters how we do it. We lose trust by taking morally grey shortcuts to success. That trust may never be recovered. Choose to focus on integrity.”