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Are you paying lip-service to social media? Do you think that social media will help you better communicate with your customers only to establish strict guidelines that prevent your employees from reaching out to them? Or are you an employee who so desperately wants to better shape the way conversations happen and can see opportunities for increasing sales and trust, but are only hindered because your supervisors fail to see the benefits of social media?

If you fit the bill for any of the above questions, then you should go out to a bookstore and buy Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform The Way You Lead. Written by Charlene Li, co-author of the bestselling book Groundswell and founding partner of the Altimeter Group, Open Leadership is a book meant for the leaders of a company to help them change the way they view social media and the Internet. If you’d like, you can consider Li’s new book to be a self-help book, but from a more company-wide benefit.

This book was written to help executives understand the strategic importance of looking at social media and realizing that people who complain online these days have a much powerful voice than those that complained verbally. It’s also to help put into their frame of mind that doing public relations is fine and well, but helping a customer through a press release or a simple FAQ page isn’t going to amount to anything. Instead, it’s about investing time and resources into letting your employees help the customers. After all, no product is 100% perfect and you’ll need to address any customer complaints, feedbacks or suggestions. If you don’t empower your employees, then how do you expect your customers to like your brand? After all, the web has changed the way we communicate. It’s a B2C2B world – business to consumer to business…are you really paying attention?

In Open Leadership, Li advocates that you take a less hands-on approach and be more open on how your employees will respond to customers online. Will some people set up Twitter accounts? Blogs? Facebook pages? And how will they identify themselves? And what if there is someone who has created a social profile? Do you have systems and policies in place to help guide what is being written and posted without impeding on them talking freely?

Freedom and transparency are two big things that I have taken away from reading Open Leadership. If you’re an effective leader, you’re going to be able to allow your employees to represent the brand online without any reservations – you’re going to trust them to do the right thing and not jeopardize the relationship the brand has with its customers. But let’s not think that rules shouldn’t always be in place. On the contrary, Li agrees that companies do need to establish some policies depending on the company and the industry, especially when it comes to confidential, proprietary and private data that may be illegal if shared.

Currently available for purchase, Open Leadership is a very strategic and thought-provoking book that is a successful sequel to Groundswell. This book will not teach you about how to use social networks like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, AIM or any other service to reach out to your market, but rather gives you more of a 50,000 ft view on what to do with it. You’re going to be exposed to successful case studies and understand what other brands (maybe even those in your industry) have done and how you can mimic or avoid their behavior.  And don’t think that you won’t be subjected to useful data from Li. For those in your company’s executive department, there are charts and graphs and computations that would be very beneficial for employees to use to show the number & dollar value on what opening up would do for the business.

Open Leadership is filled with good examples and points that every business, large and small, should look into implementing for their brands. In each chapter, Li highlights her point of view and thoughts and proves it through her use of examples by Intel, Cisco, Dell, Ford, United Airlines and many others – some you may have heard of and others you might not. At the end, she sets aside an action plan that you can take, almost like the exercises you had in your school textbooks, as a way to help drill the point in.

If you’re looking to find a way to be more open and relaxed around your customers and understand the goals of social media, then you should get Open Leadership. It’s not just for the average employee, but also for those vice-presidents, CMOs, CEOs, CIOs, CTOs, and anyone else in a role of leadership who thinks that the only way they can get by is pitching an ad on tv or in the magazine.

Open Leadership is available online by going to Amazon.com or at your nearest bookstore.

Disclosure: I was given a review copy of Open Leadership, but I have not been paid or instructed on how to write this review. These words are my own.

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