Demonstrating Leadership Through Innovation, Creativity, 
And Community Building.

Leaders are most often valued and respected for their knowledge, experience, passion, and vision. The most effective leaders also demonstrate a strong sense of responsibility, have a relatively high tolerance for risk, and lead by example. They tend to think strategically, plan for the short and long term, have the innate ability to inspire others, and serve as standard bearers for their organizations and industries.

Innovation is another primary hallmark of a strong leader. They not only create new concepts and trends and serve as change agents, they also figure out new ways to generate value for their organizations and constituents and generously and consistently share that value with others around them. And they excel at creating vibrant, growing communities that connect people with their brands—and each other.

The most successful social media leaders are no different, whether they are individuals or brands.

Impact By – And On – The Brand

Dr. David Aaker is a world-renowned brand strategist and author and has often been called “the father of branding.” When I was writing my latest book about marketing last year, I asked David for his thoughts on the importance of innovation, creativity, and community in demonstrating leadership in the social space. He said, “To impact using social media going forward, it is necessary to first be focused on what the audience is interested in and wants to talk about, and second, to be creative in providing content.”

David added that the best way to trigger community involvement is by “providing new information like BettyCrocker.com, entertaining like RedBull.com, having compelling promotions like P&G, or connecting to common interests like PampersVillage.com. All this will only happen to brands that lead, that get out in front.”

The Corporate View

Innovation is the fuel that powers leadership in the social media revolution.A similar sentiment about leadership on social media seems to be prevalent within B2C and B2B organizations alike. From small mom-and-pop businesses to mid-market companies to large Fortune 500 corporations, a consistent refrain centres around the same three topics: innovation, creativity, and community. For example, Mark Addicks, the CMO at General Mills, put it to me very simply: “Innovation is the fuel that powers leadership in the social media revolution.”

Connect is the largest community of HP business technology customers around the world. Connect’s CMO, Nina Buik, said that you “must allow your network to freely share its views while ensuring your content is creative and relevant. To be a social media leader, you must do just that—lead.”

Brian Kardon, the CMO at Lattice Engines, told me that true leaders “demonstrate their leadership every day by engaging in social media. They are quick to comment on a blog post, tweet, or update on Facebook. They are willing to try a new sharing app, upload their presentation to SlideShare, and be part of the never-ending conversation. Their organizations are watching them. They need to lead by example.”

Academia’s Take

So what is being taught by professors at the leading universities about the impact of innovation, creativity, and community on social media leadership? Johanna Skilling, a noted branding and strategy professor at NYU, is a great example. She told me that “before there was ‘social media,’ there was a public conversation—led by writers and artists, protestors and politicians, scientists and social workers, advertisers and advocates. People who created change through the power of ideas. People whose words and actions motivated millions.”

Johanna went on to say, “The public conversation is still alive and well—and being fuelled by social media. But just as the public conversation has always been influenced by leaders with ideas, imagination, and dedication, social media success depends on those very same factors. Because people who can lead in social media can also lead the public conversation—and that is where real change can happen.”

The Common Threads Of Leadership

Innovation, creativity, imagination, ideas, conversations, community. Today’s social media standard bearers undoubtedly share all these qualities.Did you notice the common threads in the comments from all these marketing and branding professionals? Innovation. Creativity. Imagination. Ideas. Conversations. Community. Today’s social media standard bearers undoubtedly share all those qualities.

But why is it so important to be a standard bearer?

Whether online or offline, brands that lead and set the standard in their industries are often admired and imitated. Brands that lead are generally viewed as more progressive, innovative, and authoritative. Brands that lead tend to be more profitable in good times and more stable in tough times. Brands that lead usually attract more investors, smarter employees, and stronger partners. Brands that lead tend to have more loyal customers. And brands that lead typically have more success and longevity in the marketplace.

That sounds like exactly the place I want my brand to be. What about yours?