You’ve heard it: If you’re a leader today, you have to be online.
But what does that mean?
And how do you gain influence without, well, losing your soul or stepping into all kinds of traps you never saw coming?
It’s a significant question for leaders who love being online, those are are hesitant, and those who resist it like crazy.
Beyond being canceled for saying or not saying something, developing an online platform has so many nuances it can be overwhelming, complicated and fraught with a lack of momentum or the wrong kind of momentum.
Just a note: This post will make the most sense for leaders. And by leaders, I mean people who are leading a company, a church or an organization and who are not seeking to be online influencers as a full time profession.
There’s a difference between influencers and leaders. All leaders need influence. But not all influencers are leaders.
The online world is a different world for those of us who lead physical, digital or hybrid organizations, churches or businesses.
So why does online influence matter, you ask? Because leadership is influence, and online influence, as a result, is an expression of your leadership.
So, with that said, here are 5 traps to avoid while trying to expand your online influence.
Trap 1: Mimicking All the Latest Fads
Social media is trendy and full of fads. If you’re a wanna-be-influencer, jumping in on the latest dances on TikTok or lip-syncing audio on Reels can be a great way to gain followers.
But for most of us who lead, those hyper trends are not things we would normally or naturally do. (People who have seen me dance end up in therapy).
Not only are most of the trends (like pointing at words that pop onto the screen or jump-cutting five wardrobe changes in 10 seconds) unnatural, they also change about every few weeks or months. Your February strategy that got you all that attention is dead in the water and looks weird by July.
And, of course, what you won them with is what you have to keep them with. Which turns you into a performer and a follower even more than it does a leader.
In addition, the incongruence between how you’re showing up online who you really are in real life can cause deeper identity and integrity issues down the road.
Hear me: If your natural personality is to do those things, then go ahead. And if you jump in on something that’s natural to you from time to time, great.
But for most of us, well, the ever-changing trends are not natural at all.
The closer you integrate your leadership online with your leadership in real life, the easier and more enjoyable things becomes.
Trap 2: Trendjacking
Trendjacking happens when leaders and organizations see something that is gaining a lot of attention online and then interject themselves into the conversation.
You’ve seen it 1000 times. On most platforms, hashtags show you what’s popular and by using a series of hashtags, you have the potential to boost your reach and followers by inserting yourself into the conversation.
The trends can range from political conversations and outrageous scandals to celebrity gossip and the latest trendy social justice issue.
If you have a normal voice in that area, that might be a great opportunity. For example, if you run a sports company it’s natural to talk about the Super Bowl, or if love barbecue it’s natural to share that online (sadly, barbecue rarely trends).
As you may have already figured out, it’s rare that your area of expertise will trend (leadership, while sorely needed, rarely if ever trends), so trend jacking will take most leaders off-message and off-mission.
In addition, jumping onto too many trends not only makes you inconsistent in the content you’re posting, but ultimately it creates confusion in your followers. What are you about?
In the same way that the fastest way to date yourself is to be trendy, trendjacking as a regular online strategy will likely lose you more than you gain.
Your Mission Is Too Important To Go Unheard.
Engaging an audience and inspiring change is an essential part of any mission. If you’re finding it difficult to do that online, then it’s time to start using strategies that get people engaged and excited to follow you.
Your mission will become far more effective when you have a proven digital strategy and can produce meaningful content that people love to receive.
Trap 3: Commenting On Everything
Most leaders who are active online will find an unspoken pressure to comment on just about everything: Driven largely by politics and the news cycle.
While it’s important to have values, choosing what to comment on is something every leader has to think twice about.
Your constant editorials on what’s wrong with the White House, who the next Supreme Court appointee should be, what’s wrong with the way the government is handling COVID is likely losing you influence not gaining it.
Not only are you alienating about 50% of your audience (have you checked the polls lately?), but my guess is you don’t have a degree in history or political science.
Ask yourself, is your ongoing online commentary on everything that’s wrong (or right) politically really helping you accomplish your mission? For most leaders, the answer is that it’s likely hindering it.
I actually have a degree in history and political science, and perhaps that’s what keeps me from issuing an endless political/news cycle commentary on my channels.
And if you think, “Well, I’m doing this from my personal account,” remember, people don’t see that distinction. They think of you as a leader. And in all likelihood more people follow you personally than the organization you lead. That’s just the way it works.
I will sometimes offer the odd point on historic events or justice issues (something close to my heart), but a far wiser strategy is to stick to your lane: your expertise.
Expressing an opinion on everything cheapens your opinions on anything, including your area of expertise.
Trap 4: Posting Too Little
The last two traps are not for leaders who over-post, trendjack, or in on all the latest fads. Just the opposite.
Instead, they’re for the vast majority of leaders online who don’t post too much, but too little.The vast majority of leaders online don’t post too much. They post too little.CLICK TO TWEET
It’s understandable why many leaders post too infrequently.
It can be intimidating to be online regularly. Even beyond the fear of losing followers or getting cancelled, knowing what to say or how to say it can be paralyzing. What do you have to share, right?
Well, quite a lot. You’re a leader, and posting content is about adding value to the people you lead.
When fear doesn’t get in the way of posting regularly, the every day grind of running your organization can easily mean you never make the time.
But here’s what you should keep in mind: Leaders who rarely post online shouldn’t be mystified at why they have little influence online.
Trap 5: Being Wildly Inconsistent
A final trap to watch out for as a leader is showing up online inconsistently. In other words, posting in fits and spurts.
Posting inconsistently online usually happens because leaders are either just starting out and, as a result, show up all the time, only to trail off. Or because they’ve been online for years, realize they’ve been inactive, resolve to show up, post regularly for a season, and then get distracted or drift off once again into account dormancy.
Then they repeat the cycle: Deciding that this time FOR REAL I’m going to post regularly. And once again, they publish or post online for a short spurt, and then fall off.
Podcasts, blogs, and YouTube channels die every day from leaders who post inconsistently. Social media accounts stagnate from the same phenomenon.
So how often should you post or publish content?
It matters less how often than it matters that you pick a rhythm and stick to it. Monthly can work when it comes to podcasts or blog and so can bi-weekly or weekly. You definitely do not need to show up every day. You just need to show up consistently.
Even showing up a few times a week on social is better than posting every day for two weeks and then disappearing for four months.
So why does this matter, again?
Simple. Your online presence as a leader is an unspoken promise to your followers. Every time you disappear, you break that promise, and your followers learn to go somewhere else.