Some call him a hero. Others say he’s a traitor. Opinions are divided over Edward Snowdon, the former intelligence contractor who leaked secrets about the extent of US and British government surveillance of telephone data and Internet usage. However, whatever you think of Snowden, one thing is for sure … he reminded us that we all leave a digital stamp. Whether it’s a website, email, online shopping, data storage, social media or your mobile phone, we actively put information about ourselves and our habits “out there”. And if we don’t, someone else will … a friend will tag us on Facebook or a family member will buy a gift online and have it posted to our address. Whether we like it or not, anonymity is no longer an option. As small business owners especially, digital technology now defines how we spend our time, form relationships and, in essence, do business. This is a world we can’t escape, so our task is to accept, understand, harness and use our digital knowledge for good. It’s about becoming a digital leader.
What is digital leadership?
As with anything new, the experts are still trying to define digital leadership. For some, it’s not new at all … just plain old leadership applied to new technology. For others, it’s a whole new skill set required to stay relevant in a new business environment. Then a few, such as George Couros from Parkland School Division in Alberta, say digital leadership is a part of good corporate citizenship, using and teaching others, especially children, how to use technology “to improve the lives, well-being and circumstances of others.” My definition includes all three:
Digital leadership is understanding and harnessing the power of digital technology to manage the digital stamp of your business in a way that is successful, safe and has integrity.
To elucidate, I’ve come up with seven characteristics of digital leaders.
- Accept new technology
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers,” said IBM chair Thomas Watson in 1943. We laugh at such comments now, but the sceptics are still here — just look at all the small business owners who continue to dismiss “Stalkbook” or “Idiotbook” as frivolous or a fad.
Digital leaders accept that technology is here to stay and has changed the face of business. We recognise that customers expect us to engage in new ways and we must do so to stay relevant.
- Understand new technology
Digital leaders are up-to-date with the suite of tools available and explore the business opportunities each one presents. Of course, we may not use every tool available, but we know what’s out there and how it works.
What’s more, digital leaders understand content … we know what works and the online experiences customers and other stakeholders seek. It goes without saying that we must also understand privacy and copyright laws!
- See the bigger picture Digital leaders realise they leave a stamp and write a plan to manage the content, effect and integrity of that stamp. While we accept we can’t always be in control, we actively influence the character of that stamp with goals, strategies and measurable outcomes. We aim to minimise risk and create a unified message.
- Make technology work for you
Digital leaders embrace technology, but never become its slaves. We use it efficiently by choosing when, where and how we engage:
- Use technology only in a way that supports our aims and expands our networks.
- Learn shortcut keys
- Schedule blocks of time for checking and responding, especially to email and social media.
- Only answer priority calls and texts … the rest can be answered later.
- Shop, study and host meetings online for convenience and time-saving.
- Use “empty” travel and exercise time to catch up on news and information.
- Periodically review our technology habits and practises.
- Are role models
Digital leaders remember that technology is fickle — communication is instant, yet misunderstanding is rife. We think before we respond and remember that every interaction adds to or detracts from our brand. So we choose to encourage and inspire … and always post like our mothers are watching!
We also remember that our public and private personas are intertwined — we can’t claim to be one thing in business and act a different way in our personal lives without, at some point, tripping up.
- Give back
Digital leaders teach others, especially children, how to manage their own digital stamps. This includes online safety, etiquette, protecting privacy and dealing with bullying.
In a world where it’s so easy to be anonymously cruel or corrupt, we use technology to bring a little sunshine into the lives of others.
Take Iowa high school student Jeremiah Anthony, for example. He created @westhighbros on Twitter to send sincere compliments to fellow students and, thus, counteract cyber bullying.
- Make data work
Digital leaders know how to gather and analyse technological data. We look for patterns, statistics and other insights, which we use to develop marketing plans, meet customer needs, influence their behaviour and measure our success.
Many of these tools are free and right in front of us. For instance, when did you last analyse your blog statistics or Facebook insights? To give you a start, read Blog Analytics 101 by Anne-Marie Nichols and Facebook Insights: Monitor These 8 Ratios by Jon Loomer.