Why Leaders need to be on Twitter and My Experiences

I’ve meant for a while to write about my Twitter experiences, and after being named earlier this year as a Top 100 Social CIO on Twitter by The Huffington Post, it felt that now was as good a time as any. In short, all technology and business leaders should be embracing social media as a leadership voice and Twitter is a great avenue to learn, engage and promote your brand. Yes, using social media needs focus and an understanding of what you care about, but that’s an important foundation that every leader needs to discover and embrace. Twitter is a great source for news, a place to discover intelligent minds, an avenue for engaging discussions, and an opportunity to grow your professional and personal network.

I made a conscious decision about 2 years ago to dive head first into the social media world. I admit that I had been a laggard, being a very casual Twitter user and taking a stab here and there at blogging.  I had always stayed pretty active on LinkedIn, but more for general networking than collaborating and sharing.  The turning point for me was realizing that as I worked for a B-B company that didn’t embrace social media, I struggled to champion adoption and articulate the business value since I wasn’t a part of it.  I knew that embracing the social world was an important piece to driving innovation and I felt it was important to become an expert and lead by example.

I had always prided myself on being a generally social person, building relationships with professionals across many industries at various levels and roles, but I knew there was more to it.  At the same time, I knew it was time to redefine and articulate my personal brand better than I had been doing, and I realized that upping my game on the social media front was the next frontier.

I set my sights on two fronts that had been ignored; Twitter and Blogging.  With Twitter, I researched suggestions on how to get the most out of it and I quickly understood that to be successful on Twitter, you needed to focus yourself.  Twitter is a vast world with a very wide-range of topics and engagement.  As the suggestion rightly pointed out, without a distinct initial focus, I’d be lost and wouldn’t get the most out of it.

Knowing I wanted to focus on my passion for the intersection of business and technology, and the benefits of using the cloud, I started there.  Following some experts I knew who were heavy twitter users was the start and I never looked back.  I started paying more attention to who was authoring articles that I was interested in.  Almost always the writers were active on Twitter, engaging others while also using Twitter to promote their writings.  Perfect.

It quickly became apparent to me that I had been missing out on connecting with and learning from a huge number of people who were interested in many of the same things I was.

I’ve learned a lot since I started and have connected with and personally met a number of very smart people.  Being social, via Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs or any of the other mechanisms prevalent has really provided the following value, and these are the reasons why every leader should be on Twitter:

  1. Source of news – Twitter is a great source of relevant news stories that are of interest to you.  Most leaders are sponges when it comes to reading and Twitter is a great door for this.  The feed can feel a little overwhelming at times and I find myself starting the day on Feedly or Flipboard more often, but I typically find some new and interesting posts on Twitter every day.
  2. Place to engage and have meaningful conversations – Once you get past just following what people are sharing, you will find there is a large segment that use Twitter for conversations.  I’ve found this to be even more valuable and engaging than just reading posts.  Real conversations can and do happen, but it does take an effort. Not everyone uses Twitter in the same way and some are more interested in responding than others, but it’s great when a meaningful conversation happens.  It’s even better when others are included, which expands the engagement and input.
  3. Professional expansion – Twitter is a great place to connect with professionals who care about similar topics.  Creating and nurturing your network has been demonstrated to be a key factor to long term success and Twitter is a great avenue to expand your network. You can get trolled by sales people and others promoting their ware, but it can be managed if paid attention to.
  4. Personal expansion – Not all learning is professionally based, and many people on Twitter are sharing and conversing about sports, life, faith, food, and many other non-professional topics. l started off only tweeting about professional topics, but my 23 year old son made advised me (via Twitter of course) that I should be spending upwards of 15% of my Twitter time on non-business topics. It took me a bit to get into that rhythm, but the non-business related tweets ended up providing a similar experience to what I found in my professional tweets.  Following sports writers, foodies, locals and others expanded my horizon on another level.  You do need to keep it clean though if you’re using the same Twitter handle for both, so do try to hold back when your team just blew that large lead to lose the game!
  5. Research – I’ve used Twitter a few times now to do research on a specific topic.  Using TweetDeck, I can easily add columns for specific hashtags (#) if I’m looking for articles or blogs on a topic. This has helped tremendously when needed for a presentation or just for following a topic that has an ongoing interest.  There is a lot of writing out there that shows up with hashtags that you wouldn’t normally find on a Google search.

So, if you’re not on Twitter, now’s a good a time as any to get started.  Send me a note or tweet if you’re looking for any other suggestions.

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