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The 5 'Ls' of leadership on Twitter

There are some secrets to self-perpetuating social sustainability.

As I have tried to both persuade and coach corporate and NGO sustainability leaders of the beauty of social media engagement these past few years, a simple five-phase theory has emerged. I call it my 5 Ls of Social Leadership: Listen, Learn, Love Up, Leverage and Lead. 

These Ls have evolved from the need for a map that could convince all sorts of people. 

Due to stakeholders’ resistance around time constraints and not quite seeing the point, I’ve had to use a lot of human psychology in my consulting methods. 

That’s why the first thing I do is give people permission to not really engage at all, but to merely observe. The leaders most likely to ultimately thrive at social media tend to self-perpetuate their evolution through the Ls. By just listening, they start noticing interesting articles, for example, that they never otherwise would have come across. They then get the "buzz" of sharing because they are so psyched. It’s less about a frantic, continual content stream and more about the fun of knowing this valuable insight might help their peers.

It’s less about a frantic, continual content stream and more about the fun of knowing this valuable insight might help their peers.
When you Listen, you can’t help but start to Learn, which likely will speed you to a path of Loving Up. What happens by default is that you have then built a solid platform from which to Leverage. How this helps you Lead is up to your own definition, but it will help (trust me).  

One big caveat: Some people are so not at all inclined toward the interactions and flow of conversation on social media that I definitely recommend they not bother. Each organization is likely to have at least two or three leaders who are intrigued enough to grow their social media practices. Those folks are the ones you point to as you try to get even more of your team involved.

Here are the five Ls defined:

1. Listen

When you just commit to getting on the platform and scrolling through conversations in your own field a few times a week for five minutes, you likely will gain knowledge/insight, regardless whether you realize it. Monitor a few lists or hashtags, and start to notice how fun it seems to have such valuable articles from far-off publications pop into your view.

2. Learn

When you gain enough "ah ha!" from the previous step, you’ll easily become more intentional about what you are taking in. In this way, you’ll also get much clearer on why to continue to use the tool or if it’s worth continuing. Simply discovering that this or that publication or a spot-on writer tends to be enough to keep people on the platform, let alone finding out that you have peers across the globe that you can swap and share with.

No one needs to force you, but you most likely will feel compelled to take it to the next level. Alternatively, just feel fine stopping at this point. What you gain by Listening and Learning will be benefit enough (seriously).

3. Love up

This tends to develop organically, after you’ve been learning a bit  and often within just a few weeks. It is only human to get pumped about the cool things you’ve discovered, so you’ll naturally start thanking, supporting and cheering on others. This is where you can also make intentional connections, even if superficial (for now), with journalists, conference planners and influencers among whom you’d one day aspire to be seen.

Plus, it is a joy to have opportunity to cheer on others along the way. Conferences become meetings of "old friends" simply because you’ve all stayed in touch through this easy, socially supportive mechanism. 

Worth note: There are definitely ways to not get bogged down in the latest political tweets, and to refine how/where/what tags you use in order to stay substantive, and truly add value, contribute and learn. Read up, via Wired, on making lists, to fine-tune your own process.   

4. Leverage

If you have built on the previous phases of the 5Ls, you’ve become much more aware of how and where you can amplify your own expertise without being obnoxious. By watching others, you’ve also become more comfortable with expressing your natural "voice" in tweet copy.

You also can pinpoint which conversations or streams most serve your purposes, and which leaders you’d like to position yourself among (for your own unique reasons, I’ll keep repeating). This is where the journalist you’ve built a connection to can be directly contacted to share your most recent applicable blog post, or where you’ve connected the dots with an upcoming conference and want to let that audience know you’ve got a valuable backgrounder piece for the community. 

5. Lead

Because so few are paying attention enough to do the above, the potential for being seen as a leader, and serving as one, via your social stream curation is incredible. As I wrote recently in my recent piece on sustainability "Twitterati," the field to step into your own digital voice and impact is still wide open. There is only upside to building an influential platform you can leverage later. 

Social capital anticipates opportunity

At the very basic level, I suggest folks think of a 70/30 rule. If 70 percent of the time you are curating amazing links and other content that truly helps your peers and sector learn collectively, you have the social capital to talk about your own company’s news and big sustainability steps 30 percent of the time. It is completely allowed, expected and polite to do.

Of course, all of this is unique to your own situation, timing and needs. While a nonprofit might want a few key leaders on the radar of strategic media members or policy-making folks for a future event or announcement, an individual corporate leader might want to "warm" relationships with, say, investor or supply chain stakeholders toward building a future collaboration. Do you see what I mean?

By doing the work of listening, learning and loving up, I feel 95 percent comfortable guaranteeing that you’ll start to anticipate amazing opportunities. You will be ready for them as they arise.

Hootsuite's version of the Maslow hierarchy

Social media influence

As this helpful Maslow-style hierarchy from Hootsuite reflects, you can progress from simple social media presence to influence. Very few may reach that point, but all the work you do toward that goal only grows your own leadership foundation, which amplifies your brand’s as well.

I love that my 5Ls approach has helped my NGO, nonprofit and corporate clients think "why not?" rather than "why bother?" The benefits usually become obvious within a couple of weeks, when the learnings start to affect their communications team’s content development plans and conference or speaking platforms too.

Resistance to social leadership may be futile. There’s too much good that comes of it.

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