Social Media Leadership- It’s All About Purpose

Social Media Leadership- It’s All About Purpose

-Written by Dr. Pressley Rankin-

Joseph Rost defines leadership as “an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes” (Rost, 1991, p. 102).

Rost’s definition suggests that those who wish to be leaders in social media need three things:

  1. Followers (an audience)
  2. The desire to create change (influence others)
  3. A purpose that is shared with your followers.

Facebook, as one of the more popular social media outlets, offers a good example. Facebook gives you a way to have an audiencethe first part of the definition of leadership– by having “followers” or “friends” who read the content that you post.

Next, you need the desire to create change or influence people. On social media, what you are posting is being seen by your friends and followers. It has an impact on them and depending on their relationship with you it may influence the way they think or feel when they are interacting with your posts.

Of course, we all have the friends who post their politics or opinions on Facebook regularly. If they stay our friends, it is usually because we agree with or tolerate what they post. Others may keep their news feed light with comedy or family pictures. Thus, whether your post is designed to make people laugh, to make them vote your way, or even to make them like cats you are having an influence on them satisfying the second definition of leadership.

Finally, you need to have a shared purpose. This is where many people may fall short in their social media leadership. When Facebook was created, the purpose of the site was to connect people so they could share information about their life with their friends. With the addition of the “like” button and “comments” feature, Facebook became a place where your life could be celebrated or judged instantly. Many people responded by either consciously or unconsciously crafting their own personal way of using the site based on this feedback. In essence, that became a shared purpose for that account.

Having a purpose for your social media is the third part of the definition of leadership, but when it is not a conscious choice it can prove to be problematic and can miss the opportunity for everyday leadership.

It may seem odd to many of you to think about your social media in this way. I can hear people saying, “I am just on Facebook to share photos with my family or to keep up with friends. I’m not a leader.” My assertion is that you may not be now, but you could be…all you need is purpose.

In my LinkedIn blog post- Boundaries on Social Media: People are Watching, I talk about the need to be intentional with your social media. Know what you want the world to think, what your purpose is, when they interact with your online persona. By taking that level of intention and control, you can begin to make choices about how you want to influence the people who follow you and how they are influencing you in return. You can also think about the purpose of your online presence and how you can use that to be a leader in your everyday life.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not advocating that you have to change the world, but I am saying that if you make your friends laugh because the purpose of your Facebook is to be funny then you are a leader! Social media gives you the opportunity to practice that everyday leadership on a regular basis.

Dr. Pressley Rankin is an associate professor and the Doctoral Student Administrator for the School of Applied Leadership and City University of Seattle.

Dr. Rankin