The chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer, who has made the inaugural list of top 30 charity CEOs on social media, says it is essential now that when a charity hires a new CEO, that it is sure they are social-media savvy.
Mark Flannagan made the comments at an event to unveil the list of the top 30 charity CEOs on social media.
Flannagan argued that social media is now part of what every chief executive needs to do. “I’d argue that when a charity recruits a new CEO, it asks about their social media strategy experience,” he said.
Also speaking at the event, Simon Blake, chief executive of sexual health charity Brook, who was on the judging panel for the top 30 list, said social media was operating at a breakneck speed.
“Sometimes it can be doing what we’re told by someone who understands it a bit better than us. Sometimes it is intuition and that sense that something is right or wrong. Sometimes it’s fussing too much – it can get too structured and systematic and you end up putting policy statements on social media when it should have a human touch.”
Blake admitted that it was easier for him and his charity to engage with social media as he worked for a young people's organisation, so by default it and he had to be interested, but said when he started it was “frightening”.
“I worried that staff would say something not preordained; something different to me. To begin with I found it really discombobulating – where is the risk assessment on someone contradicting the chief executive?
“But in the end I decided a realised it lets you stimulate dialogue, debate and reach a range of different organisations and individuals.”
He continued: “Three years ago I didn’t know where I was going with social media. And I still have sort of no idea now. But I know the principles of good communication while using it remain.”
Help to small charities
Alexander Swallow, chief executive of the Small Charities Coalition, who was also in the top 30 list, said he wouldn’t have his current job if it was not for social media.
“I wouldn’t be speaking to you today if it wasn’t for social media,” he said. “I came from a small charity which got me to fire up their social media activity and it made me see the wider charity world.
“Young Charity Trustees, which I founded, was developed solely through social media. And I heard about my current role through social media.”
Swallow said social media was helping smaller organisations “punch above their weight”.
Zoe Amar, a consultant who developed the social media list with fellow consultant Matt Collins, said that charity leaders who are cautious about starting on social media, had to trust themselves and develop a social media policy to help them manage concerns.
But Blake suggested that social media policies were not a good approach to take: “An online and offline persona is merging for young people,” he said. “Social media guidelines will be a thing of the past soon. It’s just about good communication.”
Amar and Collins have also released a social media for charity leaders how-to guide.
She used as an example of good practice Peter Wanless, chief executive of NSPCC, whose tweeting made him appear approachable because alongside his work, he tweeted about his interests such as cricket, music and family.
CEOs such as Julie Bentley from Girlguiding used Twitter to talk to her membership, while Jeremy Swain, chief executive of Thames Reach uses it to provide compelling insights about homelessness.
'A democratising force'
Adding to this, Collins said social media was becoming a democratising force for charities.
The top 30 Social CEOs list, which is not ranked, was selected by a judging panel from 117 nominations. The panel was made up of "digital leaders" from the sector including Simon Blake and Lucy Caldicott, director of fundraising at Clic Sargent.
Judging criteria included to what extent they were good at listening, whether they were good champions for their cause or organisation, and whether they had a social identity distinct from their charity.
Twitter was the predominant social platform used by the top 30 chief executives, with LinkedIn and Facebook next.
The list was not based on quantitative measures such as the number of followers, but the quality of conversations.
The top 30 Social CEOs are:
- Mark Flannagan, Beating Bowel Cancer, @MarkFlannCEO
- Julia Unwin, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, @JuliaUnwin
- Thea Stein, Carers Trust, @Thea_Stein
- Emma-Jane Cross, The BB Group, @EnmmaJaneCross
- Jeremy Taylor, National Voices, @JeremyTaylorNV
- Alex Swallow, Small Charities Coalotion, @Alex Swallow
- Paul Jenkins, Rethink, @PaulJRethink
- Deborah Alsina, Bowel Cancer UK, @DeborahAlsina
- HelenaHolt, Devon Air Ambulance, @HGHolt
- Dalton Leong, The Children’s Trust, @DaltonLeong
- Neeta Patel, New Entrepreneurs Foundation, @NeetaPatel
- Gary Buxton, Young Advisors, @YoungAdvisors
- Chris Ham, King’s Fund, @ProfChrisHam
- Caron Bradshaw, CFG, @CaronLB
- Stephen Cornish, Medicins sans Frontieres Canada, @Stephen_Cornish
- John May, The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, @JohnCCMay
- Polly Neate, Women’s Aid, @PollyN1
- Peter Wanless, NSPCC, @PeterWanless
- Julie Bentley, Girlguiding, @JulieBentley
- Tony Hamilton, Celtic FC Foundation, @PolishTurnstile
- Ben Summerskill, Stonewall, @BenSummerskill
- Matt Hyde, Scout Association. @MattHyde
- Karen Ingala Smith, nia, @K_Ingalasmith
- Jeremy Swain, Thames Reach, @JeremySwain
- Charlotte Hill, UK Youth;@LotteUKYouth
- Louise Macdonald, Young Scot, @LouiseMac
- Vicky Browning, Charity Comms, @Browning_Vicky
- Kevin Kibble, Nurture Group Network, @KevinKibble