Vicky Browning, CEO of CharityComms
I’m a big fan of the power of networks.
I don’t mean the cliché of the predatory businessman working the room, glad-handing and making small-talk, always with one eye over your shoulder to see if someone more important’s come on the scene. I mean the power of people connecting with people.
Our network is our organisation
I head up CharityComms, the membership organisation for communications professionals working in charities. What lies at the heart of our operation – and is our biggest strength – is our network, the interlocking web of people who share, support, ask, offer, inform, empower and inspire each other to be the best they can.
For me, social media is a key component of making our network possible. It not only enables me to connect with people I know, but also people they know that I couldn’t possibly reach otherwise. In turn, it allows me to make connections for others – to point them to helpful people or useful information or resources.
Social media connects our members
And the combination of online and offline networks is especially powerful. I was MC at CharityComms’ recent pub quiz, where 20 crack charity teams battle it out for possibly the smallest trophy lack of money can buy.
One of my highlights of the evening was seeing a couple of people who’d previously interacted via Twitter come face to face and realise that they’d already connected. They were both part of the CharityComms network – through membership, through social media and now through sharing a pint.
It was a satisfying example of one of the key roles I believe I have as a chief executive – making connections: facilitating conversations and forging relationships.
Engaging with a wider audience
Through social media I can introduce colleagues, share information and flag up issues. Social media helps me be an ambassador for my charity, for my cause and for the sector as a whole.
It lets me engage with a wide audience, gain insight and find content. It helps me listen, ask questions and share. And above all it helps me keep connected to my network. Do join me there at @browning_vicky or on LinkedIn (or just buy me a pint of course).
Polly Neate, CEO of Women’s Aid
When I started tweeting I couldn’t imagine how my deep and profound thoughts could possibly be conveyed in just 140 characters (arrogance is hardly unknown among charity CEOs is it?).
Seriously, it shows how far I’ve come that a few months ago, when Twitter mooted the idea of unlimited characters, I felt this would mean Twitter no longer had any place in my life.
Less is more. A good tweet is a “thing” in itself, not a cut down version of something you’d prefer to say at great length. If you must have complexity, loads of detail, or cover off every side to an argument, do it somewhere else.
We need leaders who convey their values
We are living in uncertain times: it’s the cliché of the year because it’s true. That means charity beneficiaries, staff and stakeholders need leaders who convey their values in all they do, and who communicate authentically and clearly.
Public trust in charities – and in charity CEOs specifically – is suffering. Frankly, I’m not surprised. We should be out there in public, accountable, showing what we do, giving an approachable face to our organisations.
Dealing with criticism
This doesn’t mean put your whole life on Twitter. I don’t. It doesn’t mean you always have to engage with those who disagree.
But if you can’t deal with the inevitable level of inappropriately worded criticism (as opposed to abuse, which you can report) then you probably aren’t ready for Twitter. And are you ready to run a charity?
Connecting with our audience
I knew my organisation needed me to tweet when I started this job. But the benefits are far greater than I expected. I’ve engaged with, and even met in real life in some cases, a supportive, funny, clever group of feminists without whom I would undoubtedly be worse at what I do.
Twitter has given me a platform to learn from and share ideas with survivors of domestic abuse – and if they are brave enough for Twitter after what they’ve been through, there’s little excuse for anyone else. I’ve “met”, and then actually met, many people who have helped Women’s Aid in ways from funding to policy to campaigning to advice on everything under the sun.
Social media takes time
It does take time, which is something I know worries a lot of CEOs. I guess my view is that this job is bonkers anyway. And this is important, so you have to fit it in.
Twitter has taken over from the Today Programme as my main morning companion (you can get the running order on Twitter just in case), and I tweet away while drinking my tea, between waking and the onset of parental duties.
A popularity contest?
The other objection I’ve heard from fellow CEOs is that Twitter is a shallow popularity contest. If you’re advertising yourself as a feminist, a cyclist and a charity CEO (see @pollyn1), popularity can’t worry you that much. We’re not paid to be popular, are we?
But we are paid to be the approachable, honest face of our organisation, driven by its values. In 2016, I’d say one inescapable channel for that is Twitter.
Julie Bentley, CEO of Girlguiding
Amongst all the debate on Brexit, one overly simple take-away is that everyone wants to have their say. We’ve seen clear affirmation that making our voices heard is important to us Brits.
As CEO of Girlguiding, I’ve heard repeatedly that girls and young women don’t feel their voices are heard enough on the decisions that affect their lives. We know young people as a group voted differently to older in the referendum and the whys and whereforalls merit more debate – Brexit after all affects their futures more than anyone’s. But what I want to say isn’t about the politics of Brexit but the message it sends about voice.
Twitter-phobe to fanatic
I’ve blogged here before about how I started my Twitter journey – I’ve gone from Twitter phobe to Twitter with breakfast, lunch and dinner!
I continue to use it so I’m accessible and transparent as a leader and to share important messages with our young members, volunteers, partners and sector colleagues (and sometimes sharing totally random and meaningless musings).
Social media is still used to silence people
As empowering as it can be, social media is also used as powerful way to attempt to silence certain people and groups often in the most unacceptable of ways – women, whilst not exclusively, are often targeted explicitly.
It’s not good enough. Everyone should feel able to engage and contribute their views, as long as it’s within a context of respectful challenge and constructive debate.
Social media enables debate
We are living in uncertain and changing times, and social media is a space that allows us all to hear the range of different perspective on key issues that are affecting our lives.
Being part of discussion through social media allows us to focus on the things that really matter to us.
For me, high up on my list of interests are young people, social justice issues and the charity sector. I am especially interested in how the voluntary sector gets the voices of their beneficiaries heard in discussion. Social media is a simple and cost effective means to doing that.
It is also a great way to share special and inspiring moments. The moving speech from @alex_brooker in his Paralympics coverage certainly brought a lump to my throat.
Social media can be such a powerful way to bring people together around shared interests and goals.
As a charity CEOs, let’s harness that potential to further awareness of and support for the causes we feel so passionate about.
If you aren’t on twitter yet, come join us and say hi – I’m @juliebentley.
Mark Flannagan, CEO of Beating Bowel Cancer
Within my staff team and the wider supporter base I think that being an active and available Chief Executive brings a deal of credit. Supporters particularly appreciate you always being “on” and available. They want you to be a visible advocate for the cause and to show your passion and personal motivation.
This, for me, has never been a problem, or an intrusion. Being directly connected through social media brings insight and immediacy. It allows me to see sides of people and their stories that I might not otherwise get in the office, or mediated through other forms of communications.
In their turn, supporters appreciate seeing the ‘real me’ behind the CEO – whether that’s my cycling or baking.
Social media is part of our service
As a charity Chief Executive I see every day that social media is a central and vital medium to connect people with our services. Our unique bowel cancer helpline is signposted through Twitter and Facebook.
Our information and support booklets are routinely advertised and links to download are highlighted as well. We promote and sign up individuals to our successful Patient and Carer Days through social media.
All of this is now business as usual. In many ways Twitter has replaced the mass mailing, as the means of reaching people and, crucially, we can now receive an almost instantaneous response and direct feedback.
My Twitter feed connects me to patients, their family and friends
Beyond this, in my role I am conscious that what I say, when I say it and how I say it via Twitter or Facebook is also a symbol of the charity’s ability to be there when people need it most.
My Twitter feed (@MarkFlannCEO) is a direct link to patients, their family and friends. Through Twitter I can be there for them and let them know that the whole charity is there to help them. I can thank people for their fundraising and celebrate when people connect with others going through the same experiences.
Unusually, I think, I am also available on Facebook. I don’t see Facebook as my closed personal space, but think that it is not unreasonable that supporters can see and engage with me on a personal basis, albeit in much smaller numbers.
My Facebook connections are usually those with who I have had prior personal contact and who I know are individuals who want to have a closer relationship. Real friendships are also formed, as well as Facebook Friends! Instant messages are exchanged when people want an answer and I don’t see this as a problem or an inconvenience.
Being a charity Chief Executive is never a nine-to-five job and in my view it is necessary to be aware and connected outside of these hours. Social media is the best way to do this.
Of course, there is a risk that you can be swamped and work-life balance tilts the wrong way. That said, in the times when I have needed motivation, being connected with individuals who are what we are all about has been a source of inspiration.
Mandy Johnson, Director of Partnerships at Change.org
When I became a non-exec director at Change.org I was told that it was a vital part of my role to check Twitter every day and to follow the “right” people and organisations to ensure I didn’t miss out on key events within the sector. I think, in the back of my head, I knew this advice was right but I was angry because I had been hired without this skill. I had worked for some of the biggest companies and charities in the UK, broken records for the amount of money I’d helped to fundraise and been headhunted into my role. In short, I thought I could do my job without it.
I was intimidated at first
I was also intimidated. Posting good and engaging content on social media was always something that I wanted to be able to do well but, until a couple of years ago, I thought it was only possible to achieve this if you were famous, hilariously funny or someone who spent their life finding great videos to share from YouTube. I remember asking a colleague whether it was possible for me to get more than 100 followers on Twitter and not really believing him when he told me it was.
Would people forget me?
A couple of years later I had my first child and was worried that my peers, clients and colleagues would forget who I was, and what I was capable of, whilst I was on maternity leave. To overcome this I attended one of Zoe Amar’s courses entitled “How to improve your personal brand on social media”. At the time, social media felt like the one thing I could do whilst lying in bed breastfeeding a constantly hungry little boy.
Zoe’s course was wonderful. It made me realise that social media isn’t as scary as I’d thought. Even I, as a non-famous, not particularly funny, non-YouTube-obsessed person had something to say that was relevant on social media. Suddenly this scary form of communication was not so scary AND I was starting to achieve things I hadn’t expected.
I set myself the goal of being approached by someone I didn’t know because of my social media presence within three months…within three weeks I had been approached by a fundraiser from the NSPCC who wanted me to be their mentor and a few months later I was offered some freelance work by someone who found me through the same channel. I’m now used to interesting and valuable strangers wanting to connect with me because they’ve seen my presence on social media. It has led to so many interesting opportunities.
Social media opened doors for me
I have learnt that we all have something to say that someone else will be interested in…even me. Since Zoe’s course, I have acquired over 2,000 followers on Twitter, become the 7th most influential fundraiser in the UK (according to the readers of Fundraising Magazine) and now I’m working my way through a bucket list of people I wouldn’t previously have believed would meet me for coffee…one of whom is now my mentor!
Give it a go
I would encourage everyone to try out social media – try posting a blog on LinkedIn, or share an article you’ve found interesting on Twitter. It really is not as difficult or scary as you may think and I promise you, if you invest a few minutes every day or so, you will be paid back in bucket loads of new connections, opportunities and information that you would not have thought possible.
To get you started, why not say hello to me on Twitter – @MsMandyJ – I promise to say hi back!
Social media is by its very nature a personal business. You need to share your own thoughts, feelings and details about how you spend your spare time. But you’re the CEO, don’t you have to be careful with how much of that stuff you share with those who work for you?
Watercooler chat matters
Think of social media as an enormous watercooler, with millions gathered round it. We all indulge in that idle chit chat and gossip. Some of the most important morsels are discovered here, the scraps that help you get things done, even if they’re just ideas.
The difference with this watercooler though is that it has the most influential and most important stakeholders sharing their most intimate thoughts around it. If you don’t pay your dues by getting personal, who will share those mission-critical scraps with you?
Should I connect to my staff on social media?
Connect to your staff on social and one of two things happens:
- You share updates and snaps from your personal life – now your staff know about your personal life.
- They share updates and snaps from their personal life – now you know about your staff’s personal lives.
Either way, the dynamic between you changes, even if imperceptibly. So the culture at your organisation changes. Now, this is only a problem if this doesn’t align with the organisational culture you want to build (assuming you have a clear idea about that). If you want a tight-knit vibe, connect away. If you want a more distant one, stay separate.
On Twitter, you can always follow and not always reply to their updates if you do read personal ones – depending what they’re like, your staff may feel snooped on if they know the boss reads everything they put out there.
How much should I share on social media?
Remember, you’re not an RSS feed. If you just churn out organisational news stories on social media, nobody will bother engaging with you.
If you are sharing news from your organisation, always add a feeling layer on top of the fact – are you delighted, excited, outraged? Tell us!
Finally, to whatever extent you feel comfortable, talk about your personal life and thoughts. The only rule you need to apply here is instinct – if something in you is stopping you pressing ‘tweet’ on an update, don’t do it.
Remember, being personal gives you personality. And it’s a rare leader who gets far without a fair dose of that
To help you get the most out of social media, we’ve teamed up with JustGiving to put together a guide packed full of insights to help leaders develop confidence in digital, whether you’re a total beginner or a true digital native. Download the full guide here: