Digital Leadership: Q&A with Social Media Strategist Ted Rubin

In this series, I chat with various industry experts on the intricacies of business and discover what advice they can offer to both seasoned and emerging leaders. 

I sat with Ted Rubin, a leading social media strategist, author and the chief marketing officer of Photofy. Photofy is a content creation platform that provides tools to both businesses and consumers looking to strengthen their brand. With years of experience under his belt, Rubin has seen the power of social media and is a vocal advocate for its benefits in business. During our discussion, he emphasized the need for leaders to build and, more importantly, nurture relationships at all levels for ultimate return — the basis of his philosophy. For more on the value of relationships from Rubin, check out his books “Return on Relationship” and “How to Look People in the Eye Digitally”.

How would you define leadership? 

A true leader inspires people. Leaders don’t preach but instead lead by example. I lead by example through the content I share and the level of engagement I offer. I tell people to reach out to me anytime and stay away from those who manage with fear and believe leadership is about control. 

How would you define inclusion? What is your opinion on inclusion in the workplace? 

I think diversity and inclusion are two sides of a coin. On the one hand, diversity is about having people from different walks of life. I think that’s really important depending on the kind of business or product you have, but the value is always there. On the other hand, inclusion, for me at least, is about including people in the process of building, defining your brand and operating your business. It’s about being open to listening to those around you. 

It’s a very different world out there now because your employees watch your leadership style and take cues from it. If they never hear a word from the C-Suite outside of the executive office or if they feel there’s a disparity between your stated values and what you actually do then watch out. Social media plays a big part because the word spreads so much faster now. It’s very hard to rally the troops if they don’t feel connected to you or your ideals. That’s especially important now during the pandemic when you want people to stand up and stand out. I like to say that your brand or your business is what you do, but your reputation is what people remember and share. 

What role does social media play in inclusion and leadership? 

Today’s executive has to know what’s going on in and around their company as well as in their industry. The only way to do a good job of that is to learn how to navigate the digital and social landscape and use those tools to listen, learn and engage with people at every level. I like to say relationships are like muscle tissue — the more you engage them, the stronger they become. 

During the pandemic, I think a lot of leaders said, ‘Social media is not for me’ or ‘Oh, I don’t need to do that.’ However, they quickly learned that it’s an incredibly valuable way to communicate. You can give people a window into your life and it can show others that you’re stuck at home just like they are. Sure, you might live in a bigger house, but you’ve got that same chair in that same desk with that same background that they’re working under. 

One thing to note is that many who are thought to be in leadership roles are actually simply managers. Now, don’t get me wrong, managing is valuable, but people truly rally behind leaders and simply listen to managers. Before the pandemic, many thought that by walking around the office, hosting big company meetings and sending out a weekly email that they were leading and engaging employees. Today, that’s clearly impossible. So leaders have to actively engage using tools that they simply can’t gloss over and assume people know they are there. 

One of the biggest things I think people have learned is how effective people can be working remotely. By the way, all these tools were available a few years ago, but businesses didn’t want people working from home. The world has obviously changed and it’s not going back.

What would be the one key piece of advice you would give a younger Ted Rubin? 

Don’t give up so easily. One of my regrets is that I let things go too soon and very often you have to let your emotions carry you a little bit more than your intellectual side. Don’t look at things by just their value or what you’ve accomplished so far. 

The other major piece of advice I would give is to create relationships every step along the way and, of course, nurture those relationships.

This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

For my full interview with Ted Rubin, head over to my Youtube channel. There you’ll find other leadership interviews as well as countless bite-size videos on all things related to business, negotiation, and learning to thrive both during and after the pandemic.

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