Zoe Amar: Five lessons from the 2020 Social CEOs winners

12 Nov 2020 Voices

Zoe Amar offers some top tips for charity leaders on social media using examples from this year's Social CEO winners

2020 has been a year of change - and that’s reflected in how social sector leaders are using digital. The winners of the Social CEOs awards were announced at a special online ceremony earlier today, hosted by Fundraising Everywhere. The leaders who excelled this year spanned a range of social sector organisations, from small to large charities, social enterprises and other organisations working in this space. All of them show how digital can help more people engage with leaders and their organisations during Covid-19, provided that they have a vision, compelling ideas and passion for their cause. 

Digital spaces became crowded during the pandemic but our winners have been bold and creative about how they use social media and digital. Despite the many challenges this year has brought, they’re ambitious about how they and their organisations use digital, tackling difficult topics, creating safe spaces online to support others and campaigning to get the sector’s voice heard. We must hold onto this courageous and innovative approach if we are to remain relevant as a sector post coronavirus. 

Here are the key learnings from the class of 2020. It’s been a hell of a year, but I hope we will look back on this as a time when leaders truly embraced digital, opening up a path to opportunities. 

Bold voices stand out 

Alongside Coronavirus, diversity and inclusion has been one of the biggest stories of the year. Our judges chose Dr Wanda Wyporska, executive director of The Equality Trust, as the overall winner of the top CEOs for the fearless way in which she calls out social injustice on social media and uses her platform to highlight those who need support and recognition. Wyporska’s Twitter presence in particular offers commentary on topical issues and breaking news stories, encouraging her followers to question their assumptions. 

As a sector we need to lean into the online conversation about how we make our organisations more inclusive, even if it feels uncomfortable. Wyporksa makes this challenging topic accessible whilst never pretending it is easy. Her nomination praised her for how during the "Black Lives Matter protests and attention this summer, Wanda cut through the white noise with important commentary and sharing useful information on protesting and education."

Don’t limit yourself to one channel 

Some of the most interesting social media presences that the judges saw this year had branched out beyond Twitter. These leaders were on several different social media channels and had a strategy for using them to get their message in front of the right people in engaging ways. 

For example Dalton Leong, CEO of The Children’s Trust, is active on Twitter and also uses Instagram to help followers  go behind the scenes so they get a different perspective on his charity’s work. 

Leong’s approach shows that you don’t always need glossy, highly curated content to be successful on social media, just something interesting and useful to share and a willingness to be transparent about your role. He also uses LinkedIn to recognise staff and volunteers as well as discussing leadership and organisational issues. 

A multichannel strategy can help get leaders and their organisations in front of more people, drawing attention to their cause and connecting with key stakeholders. However you’ll need to tweak your content, tone of voice and message for different platforms so that it meets the needs of your followers. 

Mental health needs to be a priority 

As we settle into a second lockdown, leaders need to put their and their colleagues’ wellbeing high up the agenda, supporting everyone with their resilience and health. 

Claire Warner, a fundraising consultant who specialises in wellbeing, and winner of Best Digital Leader, uses digital to encourage leaders to discuss mental health, embrace their vulnerability and make time for self care when they need it.  

Leaders now need to think of  themselves as convenors and community managers. Claire’s use of virtual lunches, online courses and Facebook groups create spaces for fundraisers and other charity professionals to focus on their wellbeing, which is much needed during a tumultuous year. 

Think big

Kiran Kaur, founder and CEO of Girldreamer was selected by the judges as Best Digital CEO. Our judges praised her for her digital ambition and vision which has achieved fantastic results. Under Kiran’s leadership Girldreamer has led crowdfunding efforts to raise £30,000 in 30 days, helped her organisation build a global community and grown their social media following to over 10,000 across Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Her colleagues say, "She knows how to leverage digital and has done so by turning our tiny organisation into an internationally recognised name." This shows how small organisations can maximise their impact by embracing digital. 

Be authentic

The pandemic has stripped away the corporate armour of leaders, providing a window into their lives via Zoom. Yet if we embrace who we really are that can become a superpower, giving others the courage to face uncomfortable truths. Founder and CEO of Bossing It, Saba Shafi, was one of the top CEOs on social media and shares frank discussions about how the charity sector is tackling racism. 

Martha Awojobi, who was highly commended in the Best Leader on Social Media Category also impressed the judges with her high energy, direct style and championing of diversity issues.

Both Martha and Saba’s social media presences show that digital leadership isn’t about dominating a platform - it’s about taking a step back to make space for others, creating a collective voice. 

2020’s winners demonstrate that social sector leaders are gaining in confidence and skill as digital became essential to their work during the pandemic. We hope that 2021 will bring even more examples of leaders with great stories and evidence of the impact they have achieved by using digital. 

Zoe Amar is a charity marketing and digital communications expert and freelance consultant, to see the winners and get more resources to help charity leaders with social media see http://www.socialceos.org/ 

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