Social media is a mess. It has become a destructive and divisive force in our societies, and its incredible potential has been squandered by bad actors. The social media companies appear to lack the willingness to take full responsibility for the problems this has created, even when war is being raged on these platforms. Yes war. Please watch Russian Misinformation Is “A Military Assault” on the West. Profits at the expense of humanity are on display for all to see.
Social media continues to divide us all over the world. Those divisions are getting deeper, creating a world of shouting, hatred, and terrible anger towards those we oppose. Few are listening anymore. It’s frustrating and heartbreaking. It’s also a very sad indictment for our collective humanity.
United we stand, divided we fall. A common thread throughout history, and here we are, allowing it to happen again, and again, and again. Have we really forgotten our history?
The bigger question must always be – who wins and who benefits when we are divided?
Most importantly, who profits?
These are the questions we must ask first. The answers are always here. Hot tip, it’s not you and I.
Instead, we hunker down in our tribes, our defenses up against anyone who has a different point of view, or lifestyle, religion, skin color, sexuality and on it goes. It is definitely time to question all we think we know. We have definitely been played by a master in Putin.
With that said, we must always be willing to confront the idea that the tools of our time – social media in this case – is 100 per cent responsible for the challenges we face. What is happening has happened before throughout history, and we didn’t have social media then. So while the tools are definitely part of the problem, the essential truth is WE are the problem, the societies we have built are the problem, and it’s long overdue we address that.
Today, social media is where it is happening, but I do not believe it’s the root cause. It doesn’t mean we can’t correct what is happening on social media.
Deep distrust is the outcome
Edelman’s 22 Trust Barometer, released in January 2022, officially says we are in The Cycle of Distrust. The world has erupted into the fury of war since this report was released, and the results in the trust barometer will change dramatically because of this. I advise keeping an eye on report updates throughout 2022.
Even while we are in this dark time for the world, there is great potential for positive momentum in regaining trust, especially if government leaders around the world step into this moment and do a great job handling this crisis.
The media are working harder than ever to make sure no misinformation is being spread as well – perhaps they have understood it is time to seize their moment and regain trust? A possible good outcome of this time.
However let’s focus on the data released, even though everything has changed, because there is still much to learn from this report. The two groups highlighted as driving the cycle of distrust are government and media.
To provide a sense of media, it’s important to reference this chart, with social media companies ranking way down at the bottom of trust in the category of news sources – and yes, they do not consider themselves news sources. Owned and traditional media fairs less well than search engines.
Source: Edelman Trust Barometer 2022
Thankfully, business and charitable organizations have regained our trust, but as we have seen in years before, it’s something fragile and easily lost. Just look at the conversation around sanctions or withdrawing businesses from Russia. Or even in Florida, with the Don’t Say Gay bill. Businesses are in a delicate position right now.
Distrust is now our default emotion, with nearly 60 percent of people inclined towards distrust.
A depressing number, and a terrible position to be in when we have so many complex issues to overcome. When you have little trust, life is less. When you have little trust, the global challenges seem more impossible to overcome. It is little wonder mental health issues are reaching unprecedented levels in modern times, a crisis that goes way beyond the pandemic.
The truth of this moment in time is people are running out of hope. We cannot allow that to continue and must face it. Hopelessness is destructive. We need to show people that hope is the way forward, otherwise, we let those who have been trying to divide us win.
So where do we go from here?
According to Edelman, we are looking towards business leaders to get us out of the multiple global crises we face. CEOs and the businesses they represent are expected to play a bigger role in the issues of our day. To break it down.
According to Edelman, we are looking towards business leaders to get us out of the multiple global crises we face, with CEOs and the businesses they represent seen as not doing enough for climate change (52%), economic inequality (49%), workforce reskilling (46%) and trustworthy information (42%).
These challenges call for societal leadership (Edelman’s term),and on social media, I call it social leadership. Both are intertwined. The role of leadership now is to speak up on the biggest issues that matter. Business needs profit, yes. It also needs a world of social prosperity in order to function. This means having views and taking action on climate change, equality, discrimination and all the other issues and crises we are facing.
Leaders must take a stand for humanity – beyond profits, beyond business as usual – because we are facing a deeply uncertain future. We must meet this challenge head on, and we must then work together to overcome this challenge. Edelman lays out the situation. Business is seen as a critical player in reducing disinformation and division. Time to unite and move forward.
Source: Edelman Trust Barometer 2022
No question, this change is a HUGE challenge for leaders to undertake, because it requires a significant mindset shift. You cannot succeed remaining behind carefully crafted PR walls anymore. No, this is a radical change. When it comes to social media, how you participate matters.
Edelman’s data finds that CEOs are expected to shape conversation and policy on jobs and the economy (76%), wage inequality (73%), technology and automation (74%) and global warming and climate change (68%).
Business leaders are expected to be active and powerful participants in the global conversations happening around the world, leading on the issues that matter to all of us. This requires a deep commitment to positive change. It won’t be simple, it won’t be fast, and everyone needs to get involved.
You can and do make a difference
You are a leader in your business. You are a trusted co-worker. You may also be ‘My CEO’ to your organization. This makes you significantly more trusted than CEOs (as a collective), journalists or governments leaders.
Source: Edelman Trust Barometer 2022
However, I do believe there was an error in the Edelman report this year, or perhaps a new team working on the report, and they changed the categories? The chart above from 2022, shows scientists as most trusted, then “My co-workers” and then “My CEO”. In the top right, it says scientists and employers most trusted. But if you look at the categories measured, it’s employees that are higher, not employers or CEOs, and this is important.
This section of the report is very important, because it highlights social leadership as a role all employees can and must embrace. It is not simply the leaders of business whose voice is valuable today, every person working for an organization is of value too.
Business leaders regularly push back on employees speaking up on social media. They do not trust their employees to represent the company in accordance with company rules or values. However, these same people speak to customers, partners and all other stakeholders daily. So trusting them and empowering them to step into their voice on social media lifts your business. It is great for the company. It’s also great for the employees.
This is not a new message. As a leadership team, embrace this opportunity. Empower your people to speak up on the issues they care passionately about. Train them, support them, help them shine, and you will build an army of advocates for your business who will transform it from the inside out.
A social leader is also externally focused. They have to be if they are actively engaged on social media. It helps businesses get out of their own way and integrate the external view – something often lacking. This brings outside insights into the business, and is another critical benefit from establishing a social leadership culture.
Source: Edelman Trust Barometer 2021
Let’s compare the last two years
- In the first data referenced from 2021, academic experts are top, so let’s assume scientists have moved to this category for this year’s version. Whether academics or scientists, I am happy to see both on top.
- Company technical experts are second, and while not in the 2022 study, they are invaluable as social leaders and a focus for all companies to unleash.
- Third is “A person like yourself” which I presume has been replaced by “My co-workers.”
Every single one of us exists in a circle of trust, which means we have the trust of our family, friends, social media connections, influencers in our community and colleagues. The common denominator is we influence and are influenced by the people we know and are connected with in real life. When we speak up, we have the ability to influence this group of people, and if thousands or hundreds of thousands of employees are empowered to do this, the potential for business and society is magnified. That is why all employees must be empowered.
Because, when a person owns their voice, they own their future.
Equally, when a person owns their voice, they have an opportunity to impact our collective future. They are social leaders.
Let’s get social media back in balance
It is time to build a social leadership culture and encourage your employees to embrace the opportunity, for themselves first, the business second.
In this period of the great resignation, along with employee disengagement, social leadership is a powerful opportunity to show employees you care about them and honor their right to have a voice in the world, a voice that creates opportunities for them beyond your business.
But it is also time to unleash your employees as activist and humanists in the world. We need to get the digital conversation back in balance, your employees want to contribute meaningfully in the world, and they want to be part of the necessary change needed to ensure the future for our children and grandchildren is not one of unbearable suffering. Anyone paying attention knows that if we don’t achieve that this decade, we are out of time.
While the world’s eyes are focused on Putin’s war in Ukraine (which is completely right), the latest IPCC Report was released and did not get the attention it deserved. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated: “Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership”.
“Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone – now. Many ecosystems are at the point of no return – now. Unchecked carbon pollution is forcing the world’s most vulnerable on a frog march to destruction – now. The facts are undeniable. This abdication of leadership is criminal. The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home”.
It’s time to unite. It’s time to speak up. It’s time to be a voice for the future of humanity. It’s time.
What’s a manifesto?
A manifesto is a declaration of core values and beliefs, it’s about what you stand for, and how you intend to live your life. It functions both as a statement of principles and as a call to action.
What is social leadership?
It’s what you stand for. What you believe in.
It’s how you think and act.
It is the packaging up of all of you, which you then actively and passionately share with the world online, driven by a goal of creating change – in mindset, behavior or better ways of doing things.
We can all be social leaders today. We all have the power to make a positive difference in the world, we just need to step into it and claim our space in the digital world.
In fact, if you have something valuable to offer and are not joining the global conversation, are you doing humanity a disservice by not contributing your message? Are you absconding your obligation to your fellow humans and all life on earth?
If you are intelligent, passionate, caring, and have a solution for the challenges our world faces, or are willing to step up and support others who do, then it’s time to join the conversation. We need you. No more excuses for your absence.
It is time to claim your digital voice as a social leader.
The journey into social leadership
Since social media exploded into the world in the first decade of this century, I’ve been an active participant and avid observer of the conversations taking place. I recognized its beautiful potential right from the start. But I’ve also watched that potential get hijacked, turning it into something ugly, impacting our world in terrible ways on far too many occasions.
But this is really important – its beautiful potential has never gone away. Bad actors have just taken control. And the more they do this digitally, the more the rest of us pull back. We must not do this. It’s a challenge and we have to accept this challenge, because we are the majority. Our voice matters. We have to become the majority voice, and we must understand that we do this while accepting those actors will remain, spreading their division.
There are more of us. Many more, and it’s time to reclaim the global conversation.
We also need to protect this valuable tool. For the first time in human history, information has been democratized. We can be all publishers now. We can all have a say. Are we willing to allow a small few to control information again, as they have throughout history? I hope you say NO!
To overcome, we must all play our part and it takes participation from you, me, and everyone we know.
So, let’s do it. Let’s redirect the conversation and focus on creating the beautiful potential social media has always been capable of delivering to our world. Let’s take on the ownership of this.
As Dolly Parton always says: timing is everything and I have excellent timing. I hope to model Dolly with my timing. I believe the world needs to hear this message right now, because it is time for all of the great people to stand up, speak up and show up, because we need your voice.
For these reasons, and many more, now is the time for The Social Leadership Manifesto.
As a social leader, I recommend you craft your presence around these four categories – who I am, action taker, committed to mastery, and what I give.
The Social Leadership Manifesto, © Andrea T Edwards and Courageous Publishing.
Who I am
As a social leader, I am…
- Respectful – social leaders appreciate the complexity of the digital world and honor the global diversity participating across all social media channels. Equally, they demand respect in return, seeing it as a minimum expectation.
- Authentic –they appreciate that authenticity is the pixie dust of social leadership. They are in tune with who they really are, and all that they stand for. They dig deep into their inner truth and anchor themselves in their authentic presence. They participate in alignment with their core values.
- Deeply committed to integrity – because a social leader has a strong desire to contribute to a better world, they operate at a higher standard. They do this regardless of any external factors. They are a beacon of integrity in a world struggling to find its moral code.
- Humble – they know no one person alive has all the answers. They are humble before that essential truth. Regardless of how confident they are in their point of view; they are always humble when sharing their thoughts. They know humility is at the core of success.
- Not pompous – and certainly not a pontificator. They know this turns people off engaging with them. Why would their audience feel welcome to engage, when they position themselves as the messiah of all knowledge? They are strong but never domineering.
- Patient – they are committed to not going in all-guns-blazing until they have looked at the bigger story – something that can take time to emerge. They know it is right to wait, to understand all views, before sharing their own. They are not premature. They see the misplaced emphasis on speed over quality.
- Empathetic and sensitive – with extreme emotions and divisive rhetoric everywhere on social media (and in society), social leaders operate on a deeper level of empathy and sensitivity than most. By tuning into a deeper understanding of the human diaspora, they are able to reach people who would typically be closed off to other ideas.
- Non-judgmental – because of the diversity of participation, a social leader does not mock or scorn someone with less experience or intelligence than them. They are especially sensitive towards anyone communicating in a language other than their mother tongue. They are a champion of the community, raising people up, and their support helps others shine and grow.
- Vulnerable – the truest strength of all is vulnerability, which may be perceived as a weakness by those who don’t know better. The social leader knows how wrong this is. By tapping into their deepest vulnerability, with deep pride in this quality, they inspire others to follow their lead.
- Uncynical – in a world full of cynics and people lost to hope, they understand that they can help lift people out of the dark hole of cynicism. They know cynicism is inherently defeatist. It doesn’t serve anyone, or make a positive difference in the world. They are determined to rescue as many as they can from its clutches.
A social leader is an action taker who is…
- Focused – they stand for something meaningful to them, with a strong and clear voice. The people in their community know what they stand for – this is their why, their passion and their power. They do not get distracted. They are clear on the reason they are showing up as a social leader.
- Intentional and purposeful – the intentions behind their participation matters, it’s what gives their presence power. They are purposeful, knowing why they are there. They cannot be put off-track, especially by the narcissists, dividers, or trolls.
- Quality focused – a social leader isn’t chasing numbers or basking in the glow of vanity metrics. They are participating for a reason. They show up consistently to ensure the message they are there to share builds momentum and impact with their audience.
- Engaged in conversation – they know social media is not broadcast media. While putting their own point of view out there is important, engaging with their community is even more important to a social leader. They know this is the true power of social media, where the magic lies.
- Observant – they don’t just participate by sharing content and engaging in conversation, they pay attention to the rhythms of information and the conversations it attracts. They listen to opposing views and observe the language being used. This insight gives their participation more strength. They are trusted as someone who knows what is going on in the world.
- Unique – they are inspired by others but find their own way, their own style. With so many copying successful formulas, they know the only path to success is to be unique in how they participate. They stand tall, and they are never bland.
- In alignment with company values – when they are employed by a company (or organization), they know their obligation as social leaders is to participate in alignment with the company’s core values. They respect that working for a company is not the same as being a citizen in a democracy.
- In tune with the world – they are on the pulse of the world’s moments and participate accordingly, especially during moments that matter to their audience. They are not clumsy or out of alignment with what is going on around them. They know what is important and consuming their audience’s attention.
- Troll-smart – they can spot a troll, bully, or bot anywhere and they do not engage. They know no one wins a social media argument, especially with someone (or something) dedicated to rage. Block, delete, report, move on. They do not let those things under their skin. They will never let a troll silence their voice.
- Protective – because they are not ‘in it’ for themselves, they keep an eye on their community and help whenever they can. They also keep an eye on the bullies and negative participants, recognizing the power and influence they have. They are fierce protectors of the people they value in their community, taking any action they can to stop this behavior in its tracks.
- A recruiter – a social leader knows that to change the social media landscape and to create more balance in the digital conversation, they must inspire powerful people in their community to become social leaders, too. They lift, share knowledge, teach, and empower those around them to step into their voice!
- Involved – they know that to truly succeed as a social leader, while they can get help in having an active presence, they are always the central player in their digital voice. Success as a social leader cannot be achieved, nor can the true value of social media be uncovered, if you outsource your voice.
Committed to mastery
A social leader is committed to mastery…
- Storytelling – they know stories run the world. It is the language of legends, business, and success. A social leader embraces the mindset of a storyteller, investing in learning these skills. Mastery of storytelling is a core social leadership skill.
- Delivering world-class content – their own and others….
- Their own – they are not afraid to put their thought leadership out into the world – written, video, audio, visual. They are driven to create change and the art of crafting their own content helps them master their ability to make a bigger impact. They see content creation as an investment in themselves, because it’s part of knowledge mastery. It also calms a brain bursting with ideas.
- Others aligned to their voice – they seek other leaders in their area of expertise, actively sharing their powerful and impactful thought leadership too. They support these voices, giving their audience access to wider perspectives on the issues they care about. They are a one-stop-shop for their area of expertise and focus. They share more of other people’s content than their own.
- Massively curious – they never stop seeking, never stop asking questions, never stop challenging themselves. When it comes to their area of focus, they follow the information to the end and then start again. They challenge the truth and their biases, because nothing remains stagnant, especially information.
- Steadfastly verifying information – they work hard to ensure they never share misinformation. They check multiple sources. They seek to verify and take that extra step of cross-checking before sharing. They respect the scientists and researchers who have spent decades mastering their craft, so they make sure the research is peer-reviewed or highlight when it’s not.
- Seeking knowledge– they have multiple go-to resources for information in their area of expertise or passion. They are not afraid to listen to the other “side.” They are continually reading, watching, and learning. They monitor the trends that matter. They stay on the pulse and go deep in their area of expertise.
- Audience focused – they are clear on the audience they are speaking to. They can easily put themselves in the shoes of their audience. Strongly empathetic, they are where they need to be – where their audience is, as well as where they enjoy participating.
- Open and accepting – a social leader is deeply committed to their message. They support others in their space, even when the others are communicating differently. As a leader, they appreciate it doesn’t have to make sense to them personally, because different audiences respond to the same message in different ways. They are all about the impact of the message, not in being the messenger.
- Deeply reflective – they consider the power of what they share every time, using positive language. They are conscious of negative and divisive words, being very careful not to use them. They get help from those who have mastered words and communications if they need it.
- Nuanced – they understand what each social media platform is designed to do and participate in a way appropriate to the platform. They bring the whole person to work, while participating appropriately where they show up.
- Committed for the long term – they know that grit is their superpower and the journey isn’t easy. But they’re in this world to do something meaningful. They will do what it takes for as long as it takes to the best of their ability. Their resilience is off the charts.
What I give
A social leader, my gift to the world is…
- Inspiring – with so much fear and panic ricocheting around the world, they know they have a role to play in delivering hope to a bruised world. They are part of the movement to rebuild trust. They are ready to inspire their audience and create ripples of change, to help our world get back on track.
- Adding value – they don’t just share content; they tell people why it’s important to invest in it (this is microblogging – introducing the content being shared). In a world suffering ‘content shock’ and overload, they know the importance of directing people’s attention to important knowledge.
- Earning the right to their audience’s time – they know that people’s attention is valuable and limited, so they take the role seriously, understanding anything they produce or share must be worth their audience’s time. It is never a given.
- Service – they have a mindset of service and are there to serve their audience! They serve because they always know it’s not about themselves. It’s about delivering massive value to the audience they want to reach. Service is the core driver behind their participation, not their own ego.
- Earning and keeping trust –it’s the age of distrust, so earning and keeping trust is critical. And losing it is all too easy. A social leader is aware of the importance of trust and does not take it for granted. They never take their eye off earning and keeping the trust of their audience.
- Calmness – when the news shocks happen, they understand strong emotional responses to news and information is a sign to step back and reflect. They detach emotionally. They don’t react or respond if they are in an emotional state because they know they are incapable of being objective. Detaching from strong emotions is critical to a social leader, especially in a world overrun by strong emotions. They are the calm in the storm.
- Part of the #GivingEconomy – they know that shining a light on others and helping their community succeed, is a core part of being a social leader. They fully embrace this mindset, because in the Giving Economy, everyone rises together. They are not selfish in their own pursuits. They focus on supporting their community as a priority, especially if they are senior leaders. Elevating others is a central tenet of social leadership. It’s not about us.
- Courage – to step fully into their power, their heart beats with great courage, more so for females and people from minority groups. Being a social leader is not always comfortable. They know the reason for being there is more important than any fear that could hold them back. No one will silence them nor anyone they care about. They respect fear and step into their voice.
Are you ready to lead? Can you understand why it’s so important now?
It is time for the great people in the world – like you – to step into your voice and get the digital conversation back in balance. Are you ready to join the conversation and help us redirect the world towards the priorities we must face together?
Together, by following the principles in The Social Leadership Manifesto, we can achieve what some people think is impossible right now. A united world, working towards overcoming the biggest issues facing our world right now. While there is much we cannot do to drive the change needed in the world, one responsibility we can take ownership of is to tackle the divisions on the digital platforms.
The hope our world is looking for is with us, and we must step into our collective future, appreciating that responsibility lies on all of our shoulders. Are you ready to take your place at this important moment for humanity? Are you ready to seize your moment? I hope you are.
Note: The Social Leadership Manifesto is my latest keynote speech and training program. Reach out to book me to speak at your business events – online and in-person.
About Andrea T Edwards, CSP, The Digital Conversationalist
Andrea is a globally award-winning B2B communications professional, who works with the world’s largest companies on the transformation needed within to maximize business growth in our digital future. A change agent, provocateur, author, passionate communicator and social leader, Andrea is all about helping businesses understand how they can empower employees to delight customers, grow personal career opportunities and build brand success. Andrea’s book – Uncommon Courage – is a deeper reflection on life, plus an invitation to courage, so we can tackle the biggest issues the world is facing, together. Her first book ‘18 Steps to an All-Star LinkedIn Profile’ is on two Book Authority’s listings as the ‘100 Best LinkedIn Books of All Time’ and ‘22 Best New LinkedIn eBooks To Read In 2021 and 2022.’
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The Know Show a weekly livestream. The Know Show, with Tim Wade, Joe Augustin and guests, is based on Andrea T Edwards Weekend Reads, which are published every Saturday on andreatedwards.com, and covers the climate crisis, Covid 19, topical moments in the world, global politics, business, social issues and passion/humor/history.
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