A charity CEO's top ten social media tips

15 Apr 2014 Voices

There are ups and downs to being a charity chief executive on social media, says Simon Blake, but it's essential to be part of the conversation.

Simon Blake, chief executive of Brook

There are ups and downs to being a charity chief executive on social media, says Simon Blake, but it's essential to be part of the conversation.

I had an interesting Twitter exchange earlier this week about whether and if we should be 'making a fuss' and celebrating and encouraging social CEOs. I understood their point that it isn't rocket science and it got me thinking. So here, my thoughts on being a charity CEO and why we have to get to grips to social media.

Using social media means much more for CEOs and organisations than a Twitter account or a blog, it challenges long-held traditions and orthodoxies in communication.

It shifts how we connect and communicate with those around us and has huge potential to amplify our voice with and on behalf of users. It has created new boundaries between us and our staff, trustees, funders, service users, friends and between our personal, social, private and work interests and lives. It makes us more open to scrutiny, challenge and praise. It potentially makes us 'fair game' for the media, for partners, our objectors and our supporters for more hours each day, more days each week and more weeks each year.

Social media also makes it less possible or desirable for us to rely on well-polished press releases, sentences well-crafted by others with perfectly formed opinions. It makes it much more likely differences of opinion within your organisation are discussed in public (and potentially exposed) and it makes every speech you do, every swear word that slips out potentially public. Others demand more of us, and in return we demand more of ourselves and of others, including our staff and our suppliers.

For all those reasons and many more social media is revolutionising the way we lead, the way we live and the way we connect with ourselves and others. It is changing the way we in the voluntary sector expect to achieve change and create the better world we seek. That makes it a big deal.

And that is why we must embrace social media as CEOs - leading our organisations to maximise the benefits it brings in helping us achieve the change we seek. Who better to experiment, make mistakes and give others in our organisation the permission to do so themselves?

At Brook, it is my responsibility to experience what it means to redefine personal, professional and organisational boundaries and to recreate the rules of the game with brave and bold exploration. I understand it is my job, along with others at Brook, to learn what works and how to get it right for ourselves and for our organisation. In learning those lessons - some publicly - there is of course potential for ego bruising. Good humour and humility are vital.

What it means, of course, to get it right and wrong will be different for all of us and it is very clear that now, perhaps more than ever, it is an organisation’s values that are the glue.

If we get it right we have the opportunity to do at least the following ten things;

  1. Give voice to our service users - we have @besexpositive run by young volunteers
  2. Shine a light on different parts of your work in bite size pieces - through @brookcharity and my personal blog we try to do this
  3. Connect with our staff teams, service users and others
  4. Communicate informally with trustees, funders and others who want to keep up with your work between formal reports
  5. Identify and talk with new people, find and learn from supporters and fellow travellers across the globe
  6. Create interest in what you are trying to achieve, get people’s stories (as we do through www.wecantgobackwards.org.uk) and enable people to support your goals and your organisation
  7. Join people into an event or occasions when they can't be there,  as we do with the UK Sexual Health Awards (@shukawards)
  8. Profile and thank those who work hard to help us and the young people we serve
  9. Reach large groups of people in cost effective, timely ways
  10. Help people know and trust you as a person and an organisation - vital in leadership

And much much more. Social media is not an optional extra for CEOs. It cannot be the job of a young intern who gets 'this stuff'. Social media is overwhelmingly a force for good. The world we live in has changed forever. Leadership is the number one responsibility of all CEOs. If you haven't already, I hope this article will encourage you to put social media on your to-do list.  

Follow me @simonablake 

Simon Blake is chief executive of sexual health charity Brook and chair of Compact Voice