What Is Leadership In Social Media?

Author’s note: What originally sparked this article were two posts.  One was on the nature of intent by Amber Naslund, and the other on measuring social media.  This month has been a focus on leadership on the Finding Answers Blog.  In business, as in every other factor of life, leadership is sought after.  It is almost like a quest for a holy grail to understand it, replicate it, and define it. I initially thought about how one may measure it in social media.  That spawned this blog post.  As you will read, the leadership grail defies being found even in social media.  I look forward to your comments!





How do you define leadership in social media?

How do you measure leadership in social media?

Why would you want to?

I ask these questions because in the rush to embrace social media leadership has not been adequately discussed.  Instead there is talk about personalities, brand awareness, followers, and impact.  Granted those are components of leadership but in the end they are measurements used by businesses to track conversions and the overall important purchase.  So, what is leadership in the social media realm?


An argument can be made that leadership in social media is akin to a cult of personality.  The true measurement of worth and power is in the numbers behind one’s network.  People choose to follow this person because they seem to have a power over them, an attraction per se, that says, “Follow me.”  They tend to have a personality that screams popularity.

I follow some people on Twitter and have a few Facebook friends that have a tremendous amount of connections.  A lot.  They are so popular that they complain about the chore it is to “shed” or “thin the heard” monthly.  (Oh! the humanity of it all!)  Yet, they do not lead all of those that follow/friend them.  They tend to struggle to get their pet causes of the ground, increase fan page membership, or even get online petitions signed.

In all those numbers that are associated with their networks, these people do not seem to have the power to leverage it.  Instead they are great at connecting others and ideas through them.

What is lacking is their ability to project an authenticity behind their personality that makes you feel truly connected to them.  If you are intellectually honest with yourself is it really possible for a person to have a deep connection with 35,000+ followers/friends?


I have heard of leadership described as getting others to do what they normally would not do on their own.  In other words: influencing others.  It seems that personality alone cannot define leadership in social media.  Influence then must come into play.

Savvy businesspeople look for those individuals, causes, and beliefs that have a powerful influence on their customers.  These forces can be the tipping point that will help a customer purchase or not.  Businesses that engage in social media search far and wide for people that have influence.  They woo them, engage them, and do everything they can to have this person comment, write, or apostatize about their products/services.  These businesspeople understand the power of influence and how it can affect their bottom line.

Yet… influence only goes so far.  For example, certain individuals who are heavy users of social media influence me1.  Their power of influence is limited to very specific subjects and only because I have found their information to be consistently valuable.  They do not, on the other hand, influence what I purchase when it comes to electronics or other areas of my life.  These individuals have an influence on a specific niche or subject matter that they have made themselves experts of.

When you look at influencers in the real world, they too tend to have an impact on specific areas that they have honed their knowledge base in.  These individuals tend to be in roles that allow them to maximize their effectiveness with leaders, followers, and all the in betweens.  Sometimes they are personalities and leaders themselves.  Most of the time these influencers are behind the scenes making the day-to-day world work.


If a leader is not just a personality or a person of influence then they must be people who leave their marks.  In social media a leader must be someone of impact.  That makes sense because leaders tend to impact the lives of those they lead, whether intentionally or not.

There are plenty of examples of people making an impact in social media.  Think of when Bill Gates joined Twitter, when Kevin Smith complained about Southwest Airlines booting him off the plane, when the Iranian Reform movement posted the violence by the regime on YouTube, or when your co-worker revealed too much online.  All of those items had impact.  They made you stand up and notice or judge positively/negatively.

Upon deeper reflection most items that have impact do not lead.  Alone they are moments in time that can create an echo across social networks.  “Hey look at this!” “Did you see what she did?”  While a leader must have an impact, as a stand-alone concept it is not enough to lead others in real life or in social media.

Measuring Leadership In Social Media

I recently read an interesting post about measuring on a longitude scale social media.  The basic concept is:  measuring sentiment, trends, tastes, and attitudes compared to your efforts to respond, change, or influence them over time.  In essence measuring the impact/ROI of a PR/media campaign.

Take that approach and apply it to leadership.  Look at individuals and groups that get ahead of an issue or subject and how they shape the debate or perceptions over time.  I am talking about measuring their personality, influence, and impact in the social media realm; measuring their leadership.

Currently we have farms upon farms of servers capturing and holding all this information we are posting, liking, sharing, and tweeting.  If we can identify intent and the unintended consequences of specific actions taken in social media, there is much we can learn about the nature of leadership in that realm.  Questions like:

  • Who moved you to join the protest?
  • When you asked your friends to support cause x,y,z what did you expect?
  • How were you able to get everyone to storm the coliseum?

A business would want to measure the impact of leadership in social media to determine if it is getting a return on its investment in messaging.  Governments and non-profits would want to measure leadership to know if they are shaping opinion or completely going against the majority.  Individuals would want to know if they are leaders, could be leaders, or are merely followers.  There are plenty of reasons to measure leadership in social media.

The most important is to learn about the nature of leadership itself.

Definition of Social Media Leadership

Since I have yet to find a definition, I am going to take a stab it myself.

To be a leader in social media one must also have all the traits of a leader in real life.  You must have an authentic personality that attracts others to you.  Even tyrants are well liked.  You have to be able to influence others.  People feel best following when they choose to; as opposed to being told to.  You have to make an impact.  People do not follow wallflowers, no matter how talented they may be.

These traits are just the beginning.  Bad leadership is easily defined.  You and I both know it when we see it.  Good and/or great leadership… well… that is where passionate debate comes into play.  Currently as it stands leadership in social media is evolving.

Lingering Questions

There is so much talk about how new social media is as a medium.  It is not anything really new.  People have been networking, joining societies/groups, and finding ways to communicate about their ideas (sometimes over sharing) since the beginning of the species.

Leadership itself is not new either.  What is new is the combination of the new technological communication platforms and the users’ interactions with them.  Both are rapidly evolving.  They keep changing faster than previously known mediums.  That means that the concept of leadership will change as well.

So my questions to you from above still remain.  I have given my humble attempt to define leadership in social media.

  • What is your definition?
  • Who do you identify as leaders in social media and why?
  • How do you measure the impact of leadership in social media?
  • What would you do with the information if you could measure leadership?

About the author:

Erroin A. Martin is a Business Advocate with the Von Gehr Consulting Group, LLC, a business coaching and consultancy provider for business owners, executives, and entrepreneurs. He has fifteen years experience working within the pharmaceutical, manufacturing, natural resources, medical devices, software, technology, business services, and agriculture industries in various levels of leadership across six continents. He has led diverse teams in sales, marketing, planning, and in the Army.  He currently coaches business leaders and physicians in the tools needed, like social media, to plan for their success. Learn more about the Von Gehr Consulting Group, LLC at www.vongehrconsulting.com or call +1 203 433 8079.  You can follow him on Twitter at @Erroin

The Von Gehr Consulting Group, LLC, was founded by Erroin A. Martin to provide business coaching, business consulting, and other services to companies both large and small.  The primary goal is to have his clients be passionate about their business and reach the unachievable.

1 Users of social media that influence me are:  Shelly Kramer @ShellyKramer and V3 Integrated Marketing; Erika Napoletano @RedHeadWriting; Amber Naslund @ambercadabra; Molly Cantrell-Kraig @mckra1g; Writing staff at the Social Media Examiner

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