In October 2015, I had the pleasure of
Duvall Leader in Residence
at the University
of Kentucky’s Center for Leadership Development (CFLD)
, part of
UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, in Lexington. My
visit was sponsored by the W. Norris Duvall Leadership Endowment Fund
and the CFLD, and focused on leadership development and community
development and engagement as both relate to the use of online media. It
was a fantastic experience!
Among the many workshops and consultations I presented in my four and a
half days in Lexington was one on leadership online - not only about how
a person can lead a team, but also how a person can demonstrate
leadership online. It was one of the hardest to put together, but it
turned out to be one of the most interesting. Hence why I wanted to
create this new page on my web site.
There is plenty
about leading and supporting a team online, but I wanted to focus
specifically on this new web page on online leadership, on engaging in
activities that influence others online, that create a profile for a
person as someone that provides credible, important, even vital
information about a particular subject. To me, leaders are looked to for
advice, direction, knowledge and opinions on specific subjects, and
their online activities, collectively, influence the thinking of others.
And they engage online - they don't just post information. They discuss,
they acknowledge reactions and feedback, they even debate.
Leaders are Influencers
There's a difference in advertising versus influencing, or leading,
online. Advertising is certainly necessary, but mission-based
organizations need to also be thinking about how they will influence
people online, how they will LEAD online, how they will guide and
inspire others to new understanding, new ways of thinking, even changes
in behavior. A nonprofit or government initiative has a mission, and
their online activities need to educate people about that mission,
create excitement about it, show how it is relevant/vital, and position
themselves as key players in addressing issues related to that mission.
I break it down this way:
ADVERTISING: Announcing the dates and times of events, start dates and
fees for new programs, deadlines, fundraising needs, etc.
INFLUENCING: Build awareness regarding a cause, offering messages and
sharing information that could change minds, commenting on legislation,
national or local news, etc. in such a way as to position an
organization or a person as a key player in addressing that issue.
How people influence online through activities
People that want to influence other people online undertake a number of
-- commenting in the comments section below a newspaper article
-- commenting in the comments section of a blog
-- posting on Facebook (status updates, starting discussions,
asking questions, commenting on the status updates of others, such as
nonprofits, government initiatives, university programs, local
-- tweeting, responding to tweets, participating in tweet chats
-- participating in online discussions via LinkedIn, other online
-- posting videos on YouTube or Vimeo, and commenting in the
comments sections of these sites on other videos
-- using other tools to offer advice, express opinions, ask
questions, etc., such as Snapchat, Vine, Instagram, etc.
-- they post online regularly; it doesn't have to be every day, but
has to be enough to stay on people's minds
-- talk offline about what is happening online
Leaders online aren't just sharing information and opinion through their
own social media profiles; they are doing so on other people and
organization's online spaces.
How people influence online through content
The aforementioned noted where and how influencers post online. But what
content do they post? They (not an intern, not an assistant):
-- provide relevant, even vital, content or perspective related to
the subject with which they want to be identified
-- ask questions that spur thought and discussion
-- confront, even debate
-- provide content in a way that's particularly accessible (for
instance, it's FUNNY, or it eschews jargon)
-- are consistently truthful and credible
-- address online criticism promptly, honestly, sincerely
-- show they are listening to what others say online
-- respond quickly to questions or replies to their comments
-- talk openly online about what is NOT working at their
organization, challenges, etc.
The comment about using humor proved controversial during my discussion
in Kentucky. An attendee said humor was best avoided, particularly in
multi-cultural settings, because it could be misinterpreted. I just
couldn't disagree more; while not every joke is universal, humor most
certainly is. Humor has been vital in my success at working
. Indeed, knowing your audience and its culture is vital;
but to avoid humor is to avoid one of the best ways to connect on a very
It Takes More Than One Message
One message, or one blog, doesn't indicate a person's leadership online.
Rather, it's a body of work and activities online, and how often that
work gets referenced by others. How many followers a person had on
Twitter isn't an indication of leadership; how often their online work
is shared, referenced, retweeted, commented on, etc. is a much better
Examples of Leadership Online
There are a LOT of people that, through their online activities,
influence my work and my thinking. People that I believe are leaders
online, that do most or all of the aforementioned, include the
-- Chris Reardon, @scoop_reardon,
Chief of Content Production for UNHCR/@refugees.
He does a great job of balancing comments with retweets and breaking
information about refugees. His posts aren't just about what is
happening regarding refugees, but why.
-- Mehmet Erdoğan, @mehmeterdoganIV,
digital communications and content specialist for @UNDPEurasia.
Tweets regularly with keyword #tech4peace.
-- Ethan Zuckerman, @EthanZ,
Center for Civic Media, MIT Media Lab, Global Voices, Berkman Center.
He provides good insight into global trends in online communication.
-- Chris Kluwe, @ChrisWarcraft,
former kicker for the Minnesota Vikings who has been a strong advocate
for gay football players and women online gamers. I'm fascinated at
how he advocates these causes with intelligence and humor, and how he
responds to critics online.
-- Liza Dyer, @lizaface:
"volunteer engagement, nonprofit stuff (communications &
technology)." She does a great job of balancing information and humor
to make important points about community engagement.
-- Sue Jones, @suevjones,
tweetchat, a Thursday online event where managers of volunteers all
over the world discuss a different topic each week.
-- Dan Savage, @fakedansavage:
Columnist, Savage Love, which discusses sex-related questions and
frequently delves into politics, and the co-created of the It
Gets Better campaign. He literally redefined a politician's last
name in response to that politicians views regarding gay people.
-- Hend @LibyaLiberty
“I am East and West, citizen and refugee. The melting pot is a failed
paradigm-maybe more like a tossed salad. I am an international
crouton.” Commentary and insights on the Middle East that is mostly
overlooked by mass media.
-- Susan Ellis, Energizeinc, “Hot
Topic of the Month,” a provocative monthly online column
regarding some aspect of volunteerism.
These are people that influence me and my work in a number of ways, that
I feel compelled to seek out and read regularly, and that often change
the way I'm thinking about a particular topic, and they influence me
mostly through their online activities. Your list of leaders online will
A key to leadership online is knowing what people are saying about you
and your organization online, and responding appropriately, as well as
knowing what is being said about a particular topic. The Internet makes
finding this out super easy. For instance, you can use GoogleAlerts
or a similar tool to track what is being said about you, your
organization, subjects that are most important to you, etc. Also, ask
your volunteers, staff and others to let you know, as a courtesy, what's
I also take time at least three times a week to read Twitter for at
least 30 minutes at a time. I read through the tweets of those I follow,
and I pick at least one of my
to review. I don't wait for time to do this; I make the time
to do it.
I used to participate much more in
online discussion groups devoted to topics in which I am most
. My participation in these groups has dropped hugely.
But I do still check in with these groups periodically, and it's worth
noting that I have been seen as a leader online largely because of my
participation in such online groups. Online
discussion groups devoted to specific topics
are much harder to
find than they were in the 1990s, but they are still worth looking for
and participating in.
A work in progress
All pages on my web site are a work in progress, including this one. I
would love to add more to this page, particularly references to others
that have written about leadership online, but I'm having quite a lot of
trouble finding such. As I find materials, I will expand this page. Your
contributions are welcomed.
If you found this page helpful, let others know:
- -- How
to Handle Online Criticism
Online criticism of your organization, even by its own supporters,
is inevitable. In fact, your nonprofit is probably going to be
criticized on other people's blogs, Facebook profiles, etc. You
can't prevent it, but you can be prepared to respond to such in a
timely manner, in a way that could increase your credibility with
- -- Why
Every Staff Person Should Regularly Read At Least One Online
Each and every employee of your mission-based organization should be
a part of at least one online discussion group, and subscribe to at
least one email newsletter, relating to their job. Why? It offers a
simple, easy way to get employees connected to important news and
resources they need in their jobs, It's professional development
right from their desktops! .
Virtue & reputation in the developing world
A caution to humanitarian and development workers wanting NGOs and
government agencies to engage more on social media; you need to
provide guidance for the women who would be expected to manage
online activities on how to stay safe and protect their personal
reputations. For them, online activities can be a matter of life and
- -- Myths
About Online Volunteering (Virtual Volunteering)
Online volunteering means unpaid service that is given by volunteers
via the Internet. It's also known as virtual volunteering, online
mentoring, ementoring, evolunteering, cyber volunteering, cyber
service, telementoring, online engagement, and on and on. Here is a
list of common myths about online volunteering, and my attempt to
- -- Studies
and Research Regarding Online Volunteering / Virtual
While there is a plethora of articles and information about online
volunteering, there has been very little research published
regarding the subject. This is a compilation of publicly-available
research regarding online volunteering, and a list of suggested
possible angles for researching online volunteering. New
contributions to this page are welcomed, including regarding online
- -- Incorporating
virtual volunteering into a corporate employee volunteer program
(a resource for businesses / for-profit companies)
Virtual volunteering - volunteers providing service via a computer,
smart phone, tablet or other networked advice - presents a great
opportunity for companies to expand their employee philanthropic
offerings. Through virtual volunteering, some employees will choose
to help organizations online that they are already helping onsite.
Other employees who are unable to volunteer onsite at a nonprofit or
school will choose to volunteer online because of the convenience.
- -- Recognizing
Online Volunteers & Using the Internet to Honor ALL
Recognition helps volunteers stay committed to your organization,
and gets the attention of potential volunteers -- and donors -- as
well. Organizations need to fully recognize the efforts of remote,
online volunteers, as well as those onsite, and not differentiate
the value of these two forms of service. Organizations should also
incorporate use of the Internet to recognize the efforts of ALL
volunteers, both online and onsite. With cyberspace, it's never been
easier to show volunteers -- and the world -- that volunteers are a
key part of your organization's successes. This new resource
provides a long list of suggestions for both honoring online
volunteers and using the Internet to recognize ALL volunteers that
contribute to your organization.
My academic / research work at my
profile on academia.edu
. Most of the academic articles that have
cited my work regarding virtual volunteering are listed at my
Google Scholar account