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Sizohlangana kuFacebook (meet you on Facebook)

In the last instalment, we looked at the notion that internet access is a basic human right.

Sam Hlabati

We discussed the fact that it is futile to control employees from accessing the internet, rather it would be prudent to look at the need to regulate the behaviour of these employees on social media which they can access anytime in their life.

You may have noticed that senior leaders in organisations tend to shy away from the use of social media.

Some of them do not even attempt to use social media at all, the reason they give is that social media is a minefield, and that they fear making mistakes that could be costly to their careers.

Okay I accept that excuse; but grudgingly so. Such an excuse could be equated to someone who says that they do not want to drive because they fear getting involved in an accident.

Ironically, these same guys who shun social media drive some of the fastest cars on the road and are known for speed outbursts and have files full of traffic fines for speeding. Why then are they not risk averse when speeding on the pot hole filled roads.

It is hard to be passionate about driving if you do not know how to drive, that should be true of the use of social media I believe.

Senior leaders are using some of the fastest internet connections; I mean superfast.

In a considerable number of instances the internet connections at home are paid for by their organisations and the data usage is unlimited.

These leaders own high tech gadgets, such as tablets and the latest smartphones.

They use their tablets for lame operations like taking pictures of their children performing in the school play, in the meantime blocking the view of all other parents sitting behind them in the hall.

Hey guys, just use that expensive camera that you bought the last time you were on holiday, it has a higher resolution and does the job better. Eish, these fellows are like hunters carrying out rocket grenades to hunt little rock rabbits, it’s a waste of ammunition.

Recent research has shown that a minute of internet traffic equates to the transmission of 240 million emails; 4 million Google searches; 48000 applications downloads 277,000 tweets, and the list is endless with astronomical statistics. The big question is then why are the executives shying away from social media.

I mean why are the senior guys not on networking for such as LinkedIn; tweeting about business issues; and “Googling” the thought leadership that is out there that could help them increase their knowledge.

When I talk of the executive in the context of this instalment, I am referring to the crew in the C- Suite; that’s all the fellows whose job role titles starts with “Chief”, or the other crew that is closer to them.

I was of the opinion that the major contributor to such social media phobia was because of the incapacity to distinguish between left and right click on that gadget called a mouse, however I have come to realise that even the relatively younger and reasonably computer literate executives tend to shy away too.

As for the older generation, I was the one who conceded that they are next to clueless in handling any devices more complicated that the standard calculator.

However the younger generations seems to have been groomed into the mediaeval business etiquette of staying unpenetrable. In Shona they would say unojairirwa ne povho (meaning the masses would take you for granted) if you get onto social media.

Many executives tend to be risk averse in respect of their public profiles, fearing potential negative criticism or feedback hence they avoid social media totally. Staying away from social media is not doing executives any good. The thinking of hiding one’s public profile is rather primitive, for it is better to carefully build one’s profile than to preserve a relatively unknown profile by hiding in a shell like a turtle.

Hey leaders, the business world has changed. It changed at a very fast rate in the recent years, and it continues to change at quantum leaps, all the while you are locked up in your offices behind the façade of a personal assistant whose gate keeping skills could earn them a top goalkeeper award in international soccer leagues, for they do not let anything pass to the leader who is supposed to be busy. Let us be serious guys, let us hope that the leaders is not busy reading classifieds in the print media that comes every morning to your desk.

Leaders no longer need to be remote figures in this current world dispensation.

The days are gone when the only time leaders could be seen by the public is when they appear in the middle pages of a local newspaper donating blankets to an orphanage somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

I remember funny stories of politicians who refuse to start speaking at gatherings in the remote rural areas in the instance that the press crew had not arrived.

A few days later they would be rushing to the courts to sue journalists who they will be blaming for quoting them out of context.

Social media offers every leader an immediate forum to “publish what they need to publish”, not be published at the mercy of other people. Astute political leaders such as Barack Obama know the power of social media.

He knows that when he wants to send a direct message to the world, he would have to tweet, post a message on Facebook, and paste a link to an important article on LinkedIn. Journalists are the ones who have to report about what he tweets about.

Leaders no longer have to be remote figures seen only on television channels or in the pages of print media.

They should be real people who the masses can reach out to, people who also make mistakes, because that is what makes leaders real. A key skill of a present day leader is the ability to have conversations in real time.

People enjoy seeing leaders who can engage a variety of stakeholders and have the ability to be challenged. That shows everyone that such leaders are secure enough not to hide behind scripted responses. Leadership today is all about real people having real conversations in real time.

According to Hubspot, an organisation that specialises in social media based marketing, 82% of consumers are more likely to trust a company whose leadership team engage on social media. Consumers are looking for the companies with executives they can engage with directly, executives who a have a realistic view of the world.

Despite this fundamental business truth, only very few executives have social media accounts. I would salute Strive Masiyiwa for realising the need to talk to the world, by opening his philanthropy Facebook page. Where are the other leaders in our midst from all spheres of society?

The notion of public engagement for some business executives is to chat with other executives from other organisations at the club house on a Friday or Saturday late afternoon after a round of golf.

Nothing wrong with high — level networking, but those are not the general consumers; they are your few buddies and just that.

Leaders should begin to engage on social media fora, which is good for their personal profiles and the profiles of their organisation.

The messages that leaders send out in press releases tend to be so unnatural, as they are the product of extensive editing by the PR team.

I do follow Barack Obama on Facebook, I have seen him being more natural than most political leaders, people get to like his posts and add their comments. His post on Facebook on Mother’s Day generated over 700,000 Likes and over 14 00 comments.

He is building brand Obama and enhancing brand USA. Every leader should be building their personal brand and that of their organisation.

Barak has realised one key issue about communication, communication today is supposed to shorter but more frequent. In this global world, communication has become more visual, which is readily afforded by social media.

Leaders should always take note that everyone who has a smartphone is a media house. Employees are talking about the brand, the workplace, company policies and everything that was thought to be discussed in low tones by a few.

The line between what is private and what is public has blurred. So instead of staying away, it is important for the leaders to get the right information and data into the open.

Should you choose not to engage in the conversations on social media that will not stop the conversations that will have an impact on the profiles of both yourself and your organisation? The business landscape has changed.

Organisations’ employees, customers, analysts and all other stakeholders are on social media, why then are the executives burying their heads in the sand.

South African musician DJ Cleo has a popular song Sizohlangana kuFacebook (we will meet on Facebook).

Social Media is not for your teenage children and Generation Y employees only; it’s the space where communication happens. Happy tweeting colleagues, a toast to your Facebook pages. In later instalments we shall be discussing how one can build a clean social media profile.

Sam Hlabati is a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR®), a Certified Compensation Professional (CCP®) and a Global Remuneration Professional (GRP®). Email: samhlabati@gmail.com; twitter handle; @samhlabati.

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