Leadership and (Social Media) Digital Presence

As part of the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme I delivered a short session about Leadership and Social Media. The programme is a pilot, and the first revision is the title of this short blog, reflecting the feeling of the delegates that the following points should apply to all digital presence.

These are the main points from it.

Social Media defn:

“Forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content”

Two important things to get across at the start of the discussion were, firstly that social media is not just Twitter and Facebook; and secondly, neither effective Leadership, nor effective use of social media is a popularity contest. Following on from this I developed four main themes;

  • Individual as Institution
  • Authenticity
  • Credibility
  • Engagement

Individual as Institution

Firstly, developing the idea of how we represent ourselves online;

“Access to a ready means of publishing, social media is being used by a cohort of academics and academic related staff that can be identified and recognised through the online promotion and increased visibility of their work.”

Stewart (2015) places emphasis on the individual rather than their institution;

“Assessments of influence in networks are individually-centered, rather than institutionally-centered.”

As early as possible, leaders and potential leaders need to make a decision about where they are on social media, do they blog at their institution or develop their own domain? Whilst I am not advocating either choice a decision needs to be made about how you tie your identity and your institution together on social media.


In Notes on the Data Self Horning (2012) talks about The Illusion of Unity that social media delivers;

“The capability of social media to document more and more of what a given person does and store that data, make it available for processing and redistribution, makes it harder to sustain the illusion of a unified self.”

Horning goes on to point out a paradox, that all the data activity from our social media accounts gets assigned to the same Profile, unifying it in a sense by default.

However, he argues that the activities of different “selves” are forced to cohere, making the body of data incoherent and “inauthentic”. By imposing a single persistent identity on users, social media companies inevitably confront them with their own inconsistencies.

Our use of social media will inevitably lead to the highlighting of our own inconsistencies. Lanclos and White (2015) highlight those inconsistencies as the interactions that demonstrate that we are human;

“We value those moments where we find the antidote to the uncanniness of the disembodied Web in what we perceive to be indisputably human interactions.”

Leaders gain authenticity by becoming perceived as “human” rather than cloaked by the deliberately de-humanised unemotive management voice.


Stewart (2012) points out “on the internet everybody knows you’re not a dog”, in fact;

“Contrary to much of the digital identity scholarship of the 1990s, which tended to emphasize the fluidity of identity uncoupled from the gendered and signified body – the “on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” theme – the concept of networked publics has given rise to a far more enmeshed notion of reality.”

Because of these enmeshed notions of reality, it is important to remain credible, If you pretend, or try to be something you’re not online, people will find out.


Finally, and probably most importantly, how do we engage with others online? In Leadership is a conversation Groysberg and Slind (2012) discuss how leaders manage communication within their organizations;

“The sound of one person talking is not, obviously, a conversation. The same applies to organizational conversation, in which leaders talk with employees and not just to them. This interactivity makes the conversation open and fluid rather than closed and directive. It entails shunning the simplicity of monologue and embracing the unpredictable vitality of dialogue”

Broadcasting is not the same as engaging. The thing for leaders to remember is that if the idea of leadership as a conversation is important to them, then it doesn’t matter what space you are in, be that physical or digital. In order to be an effective leader you need to talk with people not at them. Sometimes in the online spaces we forget this.



Horning, R. (2012) “Notes on the “data Self.” The New Inquiry. Accessed 8 Oct. 2015. <http://thenewinquiry.com/blogs/marginal-utility/dumb-bullshit/>.

Lanclos, D and White, D (2015) “The Resident Web and Its Impact on the Academy – Hybrid Pedagogy.” Hybrid Pedagogy. Accessed Web. 8 Oct. 2015. <http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/journal/resident-web-and-impact-on-academy/>

Stewart, B. (2012) “Digital Identities: Six Key Selves of Networked Publics.” The Theory blog. Accessed 8 Oct. 2015. <http://theory.cribchronicles.com/2012/05/06/digital-identities-six-key-selves/>.

Stewart, B. (2015) “Contributions and Connections | Higher Ed Beta | Inside Higher Ed.” Contributions and Connections | Higher Ed Beta | Inside Higher Ed. Accessed Web. 8 Oct. 2015. <https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/higher-ed-beta/contributions-and-connections>

Groysberg, B and Slind, M (2012) “Leadership Is a Conversation.” Harvard Business Review. Accessed 8 Oct. 2015. <https://hbr.org/2012/06/leadership-is-a-conversation>

Phipps, L. (2013) Individual as Institution. Educational Developments 14:3



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