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Leadership in the Digital World

Leadership in the Digital World

A few months ago, I read with interest an article about social media and how we measure our “place” in it.  The article reported the results of a study about the degree to which Klout and other social media measurement tools actually measure influence (Skelton, 2012).

Through interviews, analysis of social media impact services, and review of brands that have social media influence programs, the researchers investigated the success of those programs and the degree to which services like Klout measure that success.  “Understanding the potential of digital influence, the question is, do these new services that capture social media scores equate to influence? The answer is no. But that doesn’t mean they’re not useful.” They went on to discuss how they can be useful  (Solis, 2012).

The study dealt with business brands, but I believe it is equally relevant for leaders.  Brian Solis, the author of the study, defined influence as “the ability to cause effect, change behavior, and drive measurable outcomes online (Skelton, 2012).”  He differentiated between “influence” and the “capacity to influence.”  This discussion suggested a question that has been slinking around in my mind about what makes a leader in an increasingly digital world and how to measure that leadership.  These are real concerns for leaders.

In this age of LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and many others, I see enormous attention given to how much social media influence people have, and I have wondered what that supposed influence really means, particularly for leaders. My definition of leadership includes the idea of influence, but I also believe that unless influence turns into action, it means little. If the capacity to influence does not generate change or measurable outcomes, it serves only to make us feel better about ourselves.

I believe that unless action contributes to a better life, improved relationships, thriving enterprises or healthier planet, it is not worthy of our effort. Is social media influence too often directed toward gaining visibility, or is it directed toward achieving a mission or clearing a path that makes a difference? Certainly, it feels good to see follower ranks increase on Twitter or to see more “likes” on Facebook, but if that comes at the expense of significantly accomplishing our mission or enhancing our relationships at work or at home, what have we gained?

As I consider how much time and effort leaders can spend adding “followers” and how much attention they/we pay to measures of online success such as Twitter re-tweets or Facebook “Likes,” I wonder if the focus is sometimes misplaced. The authors of the report stated, “Brands that spend time up front thinking through actions and outcomes rather than first developing campaigns around “the score” will better understand cause and effect (Solis, 2012).”

Just as brand leaders must look first at intended audiences and proposed actions, digital leaders who look first at their audiences and their missions will ultimately be more successful in making the difference they want to make.

As I spend time on social media activities, I for one want to continue asking myself the question: For the sake of what? Is the time I spend on social media worthwhile? Does it benefit me? Does it benefit other people? How can I use that time most productively?


  • Skelton, A. (2012, March 23). Klout Doesn’t Really Measure Influence [STUDY]. Retrieved from Mashable Social Media:
  • Solis, B. (2012, March 20). Altimeter Group: Rise of Digital Influence. Retrieved from

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This article first appeared March 26, 2012, but the topic remains just as relevant today.