Ask the Board: In the age of social media, what is the value of an in-person connection?

Kelvin Roth

Kelvin Roth

Social media plays a role in your professional life by helping in the development of a personal brand. Even if you’re not looking for a job, personal branding is critical. It lets people know what’s important to you, it lets people know where you stand on things and it helps you remain fresh and relevant.  It certainly can also create the branding for your organization, not in terms of the corporate brand but it can put a face on your industry or your company.  I think Sandy Nessing with AEP  is a tremendous example of this. She’s not necessarily doing branding for AEP, but with her in social media, people feel that they have a contact or friend at AEP. They feel that there is some warmth in the company.

The value of in-person connection, on the other hand, is that it gives context to the social media interactions. You can talk to someone and you might get a sense of that person’s job and their skills as an EHS person, but what you don’t know is the context of where they are. You don’t understand the local culture, you don’t understand the location culture, you don’t understand the location priorities. And all of those shape reaction to the social media or to the non-‘in-person’ conversation.

This is even more important when you go international. Little things like how to interpret certain words can be confused when English is not a first language; that also messes with the communication and the interaction that only happens online.

Another reason you need the face-to-face is to understand which media is most appropriate to future communications with that individual. I don’t think that there’s a single answer that is applicable in every situation. You reach people in different ways. Some people respond much better to email. Some people respond much better to phone calls. Part of being a leader is understanding how people communicate—not only in which language, but through which means, which media.

To know if you’ve reached someone effectively, you have to listen. That simple… You listen. If you’ve put out a message and and you’re having a conversation with someone and the information you’re getting back is not the message you’re sending, then you know that you’ve not reached them.

One of the really proud moments of my career was when I recently went to China for our Asia-Pacific team meeting. The meeting was being run by our AP Regional Manager and  and he asked the team leaders from each location start out with a brief summary of what’s going on at their location, what their challenges are and what their opportunities are. It was very satisfying to hear them all talking—even though some of it was in broken English, some of it in Thai, some of it in Korean, some of it in Chinese—they were using similar phrases, words and concepts to the messaging and the communications that we did from a corporate level. They got it. The communication loop had been completed. They understood what was happening, they had adopted it, they had their own words for it in their own languages but the key message was the same.

While we use email, phone, video and all of that to communicate with Asia— what really made the communication effective was going out to Asia on a regular enough basis and meeting with them. It really made them feel like it was about the company that they were a part of it. It wasn’t just about what we did in ‘America’ or at ‘corporate’. It made them feel like they had a voice in the company because going out there, I understood where they were coming from… I had context.

About Kelvin Roth

Kelvin Roth is Past President of the NAEM Board of Directors. Follow him on Twitter at @Oenodog.

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