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Our Message Is Our Brand

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It doesn't matter if you're a political leader, an entrepreneur, or a corporate CEO. Regardless of title or industry, your message matters. All leaders must communicate the right message at all times.

From the start, corporate America's efforts to embrace social media have led to some embarrassing moments. Even one of the nation's most popular nonprofit charitable organizations fell victim to a maddening mistake by an apparently intoxicated social media maven.

At 11:24 p.m. on Feb. 15, 2011, @RedCross posted an obviously unintended-for-work tweet: "Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head's Midas Touch beer... when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd"

"Getting Slizzered," which has its own Facebook page and earned 1,110 "likes," is slag for getting drunk. @RedCross responded quickly with another tweet: "We've deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we've confiscated the keys."

The flub had an unintended positive consequence: @dogfishbeer's followers claimed the #gettngslizzerd hashtag, and breweries and bars across the country that sell Dogfish started a beer-for-blood campaign.

But don't expect your gaffe to generate similar goodness. In most cases, even well-intended but ill-conceived messages sent sans shame can be image killers.

The Red Cross took to its blog the next day to acknowledge an "honest mistake" and thanked the Twitter community "for turning our faux pas into something good." The action proves that quick response and honesty are effective, but only if the message has been mastered. There was no word on the job status of the late-night tweeter, but suffice it to serve as a warning to any enterprise that hiring someone with alleged expertise in managing myriad social media platforms doesn't mean he or she has any ability to understand and communicate the right message, even without a tipsy tweet.

Leadership requires many qualities, including focus, passion, confidence, and integrity. But success depends on our ability to effectively, honestly, and directly communicate our message. The digital age makes it easier than ever to get our message out immediately via myriad platforms. But we can't lose sight of our goals and your message, which must be consistent and clear whether we're breaking budget for a glossy spread or tweeting for free.

Regardless of what format we choose, we need to make sure we adhere to the same principles that drive dissemination of our message. Here are some basic rules for communicating to connect, shape, influence, and lead.

Be Direct to Connect

Strong leaders have the ability to direct others on a new or different path. This can't be done quickly or easily, and any step along the way must be thought out before it can be communicated.

Don't be tempted to reach out without direction. If you can't say something clearly and directly, don't say it all. No amount of social media savvy will can compensate for a lack of direction. Take time to craft every message you send. Don't let accessibility ruin your message. You wouldn't take to the podium at a conference or make a TV appearance without carefully crafting your message, so don't lose direction just because your smartphone lets you. A direct message is priceless. A misdirected one, even if it's free to deliver, can cost you customers and loyalty from everyone from your team to your supply chain.

Think Ahead

Be aware of the shape of things to come -- and I'm not referring to the 1933 science fiction novel by H. G. Wells, which speculates on future events until the year 2106. Every leader needs to look ahead, anticipate, and predict how the marketplace will change and be ready for any unexpected events. Every leader needs the flexibility to help shape the future, both for his or her enterprise and the larger landscape and community. Every message we send, must be crafted with the future in mind. We can shape the future with the right message. We can also veer off track with the wrong one. As leaders, we are charged with communicating to shape our organizations and the world around us. In a hyper-connected global world, we can have a tremendous impact.

Inspire and Influence

Leadership comes in many forms, but the most successful leaders are able to inspire and influence everyone from their executive team, employees, customers, clients, partners, investors, and people outside of their enterprise. Communication is key for inspiration. The right message can have a major impact, especially in a digital age where a viral tweet or YouTube video can add far more value than the priciest ad campaign. An inspirational message is far more influential than one that just makes a point. As leaders, it doesn't matter how smart or confident or talented we are. If we can't offer inspiration with every message, we won't influence the people involved in building and growing our enterprises and communities.

Lead Through Communication

Leadership is a constant battle to stay on top of your staff, in tune with the markets, and ahead of the competition by anticipating and preparing for change and advancements. It requires an ability to communicate every step of the process to everyone you meet or may meet. There are two things to keep in mind when communicating to lead:

-- Be yourself: A top executive's ego can easily inflate with a rise in profits, a nod from the media, acknowledgment of an industry group, or public admiration. But those larger-than-life personalities can grow a pumped-up voice of their own and come off as an unauthentic, insincere, or arrogant. The same goes for attempts to compensate for failures or setbacks. You have to be yourself, regardless of the circumstances. In times of turmoil, triumph, or just tedium, don't lose your voice, and remember how you convey your message is always paramount to continued growth and success.

-- Know When to Stop: Sometimes less is more, especially in a world where social media and other digital platforms allow us to chatter and banter and sometimes babble aimlessly 24 hours a day. You wouldn't step back to the podium an hour after your keynote, or reconvene a board meeting to utter a random thought that just floated into your consciousness. Exercise the same kind of control at all times, and make sure you're sending the right message, rather than just any messages, just because you can.