Ideas for Leaders #070

Communicating Multiple Roles through Social Media

This is one of our free-to-access content pieces. To gain access to all Ideas for Leaders content please Log In Here or if you are not already a Subscriber then Subscribe Here.

Key Concept

Communications executives are surely the experts on using social media to create value in large organizations. This Idea shares the results of a large survey on social media use in the communication profession, specifically looking at the increasingly common practice of executives using multiple social media profiles or personas to achieve diverse goals.

Idea Summary

With multiple social media outlets in existence, should executives spend time maintaining different profiles simultaneously, and how can this help their communication teams in general? Especially now that social media are no longer a uniquely private playground; instead, professional and private purposes have merged to create a valuable space for communicators.

European communication practitioners frequently maintain four separate yet complementary online personas: the online leader, the help-seeker, the digital care-giver and the self-promoter. This new finding is based on the 2011 University of St. Gallen/European Association of Communication Directors (EACD) Social Media and the Communication Profession survey, in which 1,383 professionals from 30 different European countries participated to look into how social media affect and change the way communication professionals conduct their daily work.

But why do executives take on more than one profile? Diversification allows for safe experimentation with different audiences and approaches:

  • The Online Leader: formal hierarchies are not in contradiction with social media use. Leadership can be translated online as well. Online leaders are able to guide and correct peer behaviour, and involve others in deep conversation. Digital exposure gives them the chance to extend their audience and establish informal, down-to-earth, digital leadership.
  • The Help Seeker: these executives use social media to find the support they need for daily work-related activities, requesting information from not only colleagues but also from other connections and acquaintances.
  • The Digital Care-Giver: using social media as an opportunity to share knowledge and to make sure network members are provided with assistance and support at any time they need it is the role of the digital care-giver.
  • The Self-Promoter: self-promoters use social media to make their colleagues aware of their successes, of the progression of their projects, and of what goes on in their work. Such reinforcement can be a way to foster the confidence of the whole team.

Business Application

It is important to stress that interaction through social media is widely shaped by the personal attributes of those involved, much like in real life. The difference is; social media offers the opportunity to share a wider array of personal traits through the different roles executives cover throughout their days. Crucially, social media allows progress to be known or for support to be asked for without losing credibility and authority.

Pooling results from the University of St. Gallen/EACD survey, we can share the following top ten pointers for becoming more social media savvy:

  1. Start today;
  2. Be enthusiastic;
  3. Inspire non-users;
  4. Tackle overload;
  5. Get out of the cubicle;
  6. Embrace the ‘social’ in your work;
  7. Learn from the frontrunners;
  8. Develop goal-orientated competencies;
  9. Experiment at home; and
  10. Have a structured approach at hand.

Above all; take the time to establish a climate of digital tolerance and openness, it will eventually bring unexpected resources, and can lead to previously unconceivable objectives.

Contact Us




Idea conceived

  • 2012

Idea posted

  • January 2013

DOI number



Real Time Analytics