This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
Many business professionals believe social media platforms – especially Facebook – are simply entertainment and ways to share pictures of family, kids birthdays, fancy food plates, or the latest cat or lion video. They also worry about Facebook privacy settings, preferring to use LinkedIn or Twitter, which seem to encroach less on their personal life and protect their reputation. Yet, this attitude may be causing you to miss out on leveraging one of the top social media tools to maximize your presence on social media.
The fact is, Facebook itself has come to recognize how it could become the leading platform for business professionals. Already in closed beta, Facebook at Work, a nearly identical version of the social network designed specifically for communicating with colleagues as well as the public, will likely launch by the end of the year, according to Julien Codorniou, head of the endeavour.
Why is Facebook doing this? The answer is simple. Statistics prove it offers the best social media platform for businesses to reach profitable audiences:
- 62 per cent of Facebook users are older than 35 years
- 75 per cent of those earning $80,000-$100,000 use Facebook.
- A 2015 study conducted by Forum Research indicates that Facebook is still the top social network in Canada, followed by LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.
So if you have ruled out Facebook or have not been aggressively mining its capabilities, it's time to reconsider the benefits it offers you. Here are five that I've come to appreciate and use.
Connect with your team.
Think of Facebook as the replacement for office coffee break conversations. And because it's virtual, it's like an office chat without geographic boundaries or time differences. Without taking much time, you can keep up to date with latest discoveries, life events and passions of your people, no matter where they are located. You can even stay connected with former teammates, which in today's world of job-shifting can be invaluable to maintain relationships that could be useful in the future.
Cultivate authenticity to connect with customers and the public.
In many ways, Facebook has an aura of being the most "authentic" platform, perhaps because people share both personal and professional happenings. Adrian Monck, a managing director for the World Economic Forum and head of media, says: "People are more comfortable with digital identities now. Facebook feels more authentic than LinkedIn, less confrontational than Twitter."
Ironically, CEOs and executives who expose themselves personally via Facebook earn points with customers and the public who follow them without the barrier of an intermediary PR agency or communications manager. Ricardo Larrivée, chair of Ricardo Media, uses Facebook to share even personal things with his customers, such as one post in which he showed a picture of his teenage daughter's disorganized room, with the comment "trying to enter my daughter's room ... I am told it will be better." He got more than 3,000 comments, and close to 14,000 likes in a few hours. That's hard to beat for free visibility – all in an authentic voice.
Bill George, management professor at Harvard Business School and author of The True North, says: "People want CEOs who are real. They want to know what you think. "Can you think of a more cost-effective way of getting to your customers and employees?"
Expand business globally.
More than any other platform, Facebook's reach is global, with more than 1.3 billion subscribers in 196 countries on all seven continents. This a true richness of diversity of potential customer interactions.
Learn new ideas and stay abreast of trends.
Using Facebook groups, one is able to connect with people from everywhere to learn and grow. I use the "Tech Leaders and Influencers" group to get the pulse on new developments in the tech industry, especially in Silicon Valley. In Canada, the group "StartUpNorth" offers a rich and trusted network of peers in the Canadian startup scene. For future trends, I check in on the insightful postings of the 12,000 members of FutureTimeline.
Recharge and balance yourself.
Facebook is also a way to have some fun and recharge your own batteries. I find it useful to re-anchor myself in reality and get some time for reflection about my professional goals. Even the noted professor Henry Mintzberg agrees that social media can be fun: "I get a great kick out of the photos people post – the variety is terrific, whether it comes from Thailand or Toronto, Montreal or Mombasa. We are the world." At the end of a long day, it is refreshing to think beyond balance sheets and market shares.
I am convinced that Facebook will become an invaluable business tool for business managers and leaders. Of course, a CEO or senior executive has to be careful to balance being open while protecting privacy and reputation. You have to be authentic, but vigilant not to go overboard in sharing or accidentally leaking confidential information. Social media can be risky: A comment made in anger can easily backfire, spread like a wildfire and anger customers. But it's possible to find the way to open up on Facebook and leverage its benefits. A good goal to develop your "persona" is to share 80-per-cent professional and 20-per-cent personal content.
Experiment with Facebook. Connect with peers. Say hello to let me know you read this post. Let's see where it takes you.
Estelle Metayer is president of Montreal-based Competia and an adjunct professor at McGill University.