I had an interesting Twitter chat with the General Manager of an oil company recently. He was taking his first ‘baby steps’ in social media and was keen to explain why he was doing it.

“I want to get a head start on the competition by embracing social media now.”

What a great explanation. I jotted it down in my notebook, filed under ‘possible blog posts.’

Unfortunately, most business leaders still don’t get social media. They treat it as a distraction — essentially, something kids do. (That’s why you see a lot of CMOs tasked with social saying they “just want a millennial” to run it.) They don’t look beyond the hype to see the enormous business opportunities it offers.

The General Manager above is ahead of his time. Seriously, he is. He’s that rare breed of leader — what @JimClaussen calls a ‘Blue Unicorn’ — who has, metaphorically, moved from the corner office into the lobby. By relocating, he can now see his customers, partners, employees and competitors come and go; he can hear their conversations, their gripes, their needs, their aspirations. You don’t get that kind of exposure if you’re locked away from the real world with an executive assistant guarding the door (and your e-mail). Remember: one of the benefits of social was the removal of gatekeepers. Celebrities have embraced that to great profit (think of the Kardashians). Business leaders? Not so much.

Not enough leaders understand social media and its power. They assume they’re somehow unique, that their ideas are more valid than anyone else’s. They work harder, for longer hours, so they know best. No — they don’t know best. Not any more.

Today’s most effective leaders throw open the door and listen to buzz around them. Don’t get me wrong — they need to have filters in place, but they still need to listen. Social media has changed everything, and those leaders who start tapping into it now will reap the benefit.

But take note, establishing a presence on social media — and I don’t just mean LinkedIn, which should be a given — I’m talking about Twitter and other platforms, takes time. Time to find the right people to follow. Time to build up a following. Time to find your voice. Time to see the benefits. So don’t put it off.

Start now.

Stealing a march on the competition is what you, as a leader, do in every other aspect of business. So why not with the biggest revolution to happen in business since the invention of the telegraph?

I’ll finish with a quote from Stephen Kelly, CEO of The Sage Group plc, who is further along the social media journey than most leaders. Where did I get the quote? Directly from him, on Twitter:

“Social is vital to me to engage with customers, partners & colleagues.”

Simple. It’s about leaving the corner office, stepping into the lobby, and engaging with the people that affect your business: your customers, partners and colleagues. The effect can be exhilarating.

About Damian Corbet

With almost 20 years’ experience in B2B PR and communications and, more recently, social media, Damian helps organizations and leaders connect with stakeholders.

He’s especially interested in the impact of social media on the C-Suite. He recently founded The Social C-Suite (http://thesocialcsuite.net/) to help leaders get the most out of social media for personal branding, networking and business intelligence. As well as the website he also manages The Social C-Suite LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook groups and @TheSocialCsuite Twitter account.

Damian was born and raised in Zimbabwe but now lives in London. Follow him on Twitter at @DamianCorbet.

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