More Than Ever, Leadership Must Set the Tone In Digital

There are several themes among people in the digital/social industry that I often hear over and over again. And, they are concerning. The themes revolve around the pressure to produce. The need to always be on. Having a hard time prioritizing. Comparing work to others and getting discouraged. A lack of resources relative to the output. The list goes on and on and on.

The challenges in this industry used to be how to tackle a “platform strategy”. But now the issues in this industry are much bigger and more problematic than that. As expectations increase with digital, the issues are about resources, employee burnout, lack of vision, etc.

There are a lot of things to improve and a lot of solutions to put forth. It’s going to take time. One thing that I keep coming back to though is the need for strong digital leadership. More than ever, we need people leading digital teams to set the tone and be firm in their approach.

I agree that most digital teams are understaffed. I agree that this industry can be exhausting. I agree we have a long way to go before organizations are making the true investment digital needs. But, I also believe we in this industry have created our own frenzy.

Teams scramble to jump on every trending topic. They believe they need to be on 24-7 and tweet every single day. Not to mention, it’s always important to be first to the newest platform party. But, why? Teams do these things because of internal pressure. Not because fans expect it and want it. And even worse, not because it’s right for the organization.

The reality is we operate in a world with small teams (typically) and already endless amounts of pressure. If you want to survive the long game in digital, you have to learn that there is, in fact, a balance. We don’t have to create false frenzies and false pressures. We have to make the conscious effort to prioritize.

And this is why we need digital leaders who know how to set the tone. It’s not about micromanaging. It’s about being an active leader who empowers your team to focus and act on a meaningful vision.

While this list could go on and on, here are five things digital leaders need to do to set the tone …

Set the North Star.
Working in social media for a team without a vision will drive anyone crazy. You end up throwing a bunch of things at the wall hoping they stick. It’s fruitless and exhausting.

Leaders need to collaborate with their teams on an actual vision. What are we trying to do? What does our brand stand for? What’s our focus and our priorities?

When a North Star is set it gives the work a reason for being. It helps teams come together for a common goal and gives focus. And when we work with small teams and resources, having focus is a beautiful thing.

Put up guardrails.
We talk a lot about what to do, but we don’t spend enough time talking about what not to do. And, in order for digital teams to stay sane, having candid conversations where to spend your time is key. This should not be a guessing game.

Digital leaders need to put up guardrails. What is worth our team’s energy, time and resources? Is it every trending topic of the day? Probably not. Is it the new platform that launched 30 seconds ago? Probably not. Is it a race to put out more volume than everyone else? Probably not.

Guardrails of what not to do help your team channel their energy where it matters. It helps them get rid of the false pressures we have created in this industry. Of course sometimes these guardrails will bend, but for the most part, it lets your team know that it’s okay to not focus efforts here or there (even if it feels like everyone else is).

Be clear (and realistic) about expectations.
With the always on and changing nature of digital, it takes a certain personality type to work in the industry. Often, you’ll find people who have a hard time turning work off. Yes, we get addicted to this thing called the internet.

Because of this, it’s important that people leading digital teams set expectations about work and office hours. And, actually, enforce it. If your team worked until midnight, are they allowed some flex time the next morning? Does your team feel comfortable coming to you if they’re feeling a little burnt out (a very real thing)? Leadership must set clear expectations, welcome honest conversations and celebrate some kind of balance.

Be engaged.
People leading digital teams can not sit in a corner office and never come out. They need to be engaged with their team to understand the changing dynamics. They need to understand the workflow, process, all the internal asks and the hiccups.

Too often digital leadership is disconnected from the work. They don’t know what it takes to do the job, how many hours their team is putting in (or on what) and the struggles that they face.

Being an engaged leader does not mean you micromanage. It means you have a pulse on your team. You know how to advocate for their work. You can spot issues before they arrive. It means you are present to help your team prioritize. Digital leaders, you must be engaged.

Have a backbone & be firm in your beliefs.
Too often organizations and leaders put to paper their strategy, vision and expectations in digital/social only to allow it derail. And, for not so good reasons.

You know the drill. Someone in the organization wants x up on social, even though it doesn’t add value to the brand or the fans. So, your team scrambles to get it done even though it’s not part of the vision. These fire drills for the sake of fire drills have to stop.

Digital leaders must have a backbone. They must be firm in their beliefs and know how to map back to the why — both with their team and also others in the organization. Digital leaders must be able to articulate the value that digital brings to the organization and celebrate the team’s success to build trust. Building trust helps people buy into the vision. And when people buy into the vision, it’s easy to push back because you can map back to the why.

Have a voice. Stand up for your team. Be a champion and advocate. Give the team focus and purpose. Digital leadership must set the tone for the organization.

We might not be able to do it all with small and nimble teams. But with focus, every team can do good work and have big wins, while remaining somewhat sane. What a novelty!

There are many issues to solve and work through in this industry, but digital leaders can play a large part in helping teams set the tone. We decide what’s important and what’s worth our time. Make sure your team knows that it’s not just okay to focus and prioritize, but that it’s expected.

Interested in more reads like this? Check out What Digital Teams Need to Thrive. As always, thanks for reading! 

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