Kate Collins, in conversation, laughing

Q&A with Kate Collins – 2019’s Best Social CEO

I was lucky enough to grab a few minutes of Kate’s time recently to chat about all things social, winning the coveted Best Social CEO trophy last year, and being your authentic self. Grab a cuppa and enjoy.

Congratulations on your Social CEOs victory last year! You looked delighted on the night. What did winning Best Social CEO mean to you?

Thank you! I was thrilled – and really surprised – which I think was indicated by my garbled speech where I just said how chuffed I was and how proud my mum would be (she was!).  Quite simply it hadn’t occurred to me that I would win, I’ve followed the awards since they started – and used ‘The List’ as my ‘people to follow and learn from who clearly get social’. Kate Collins smiling holding her award

So to not only make ‘The List’ but to win felt very leftfield, especially in my first year as a Chief Executive when I felt I was finding my feet Chief Exec-ing. To get such positive feedback in an unprompted way from people who’d found value in something I was doing instinctively – my tweets are very much me – was a lovely thing. 

I have to say though that I got total tweet-fear about my first tweet after winning…suddenly it felt like pressure…until I just got on with thanking people for their lovely nominations and messages of congrats!

Why do you think you were nominated?

Having read the write up it seemed to be that people liked how I was sharing my enthusiasm and passion for not only the work of Teenage Cancer Trust but for the sector more broadly, especially the children & young people’s cancer charity sector where historically things haven’t been as collaborative as they are now. 

My approach is that there should be no difference between the Twitter-me (which is the channel I use, I’m not yet an Insta-adopter and am not a lover of LinkedIn… yuck!) and the in-person-me.  I’m wholehearted & energetic, I like people, I’m proud of my team, Teenage Cancer Trust supporters amaze me, the young people we support need us to do so much more and my family rock my world (and don’t take me too seriously) and that’s the stuff that inspires me to say things – whether in 280 characters or in person – and that seemed to be what people mentioned in their nominations.

You are judging this year – what will you be looking for in the nominations to help you make your decisions?

Well I am glad I am not the only judge as I think it will be tough to decide this year – I see a lot of people using social in a really smart and engaging way now.

Kate Collins, in conversation, laughingPersonally a big stand out for me will be people who are using social as a listening tool. Tuning in to the views of others as well as championing their views/voice. There are some bold leaders out there, using social to speak truth to power as well as share positivity and I am looking forward to learning from the nominations – what a luxury to get to see them all!  

I do suspect that some teams in bigger organisations get really organised now, trying to get their boss listed with lots of coordinated nominations so I won’t be looking for volume of nominations – for me it will be about content.  If one person has one nomination for doing something really engaging, really authentic and totally grounded in purpose and pushing boundaries then that is worth way more than a high volume of nominations where an organisation with the resources to have a comms team has got organised. 

Can you remember when and why you joined Twitter?

I can – and it was because I had to rather than because I was an early adopter!  The work of Teenage Cancer Trust – and more importantly the needs of young people with cancer – had been put into the national spotlight because of the phenomenal fundraising efforts of Stephen Sutton through his campaign ‘Stephen’s Story’ which inspired a huge wave of donations for our work back in 2014.  

Once the peak of Stephen’s Story had passed and we moved into sharing where the funds would help our work we became aware that there were some accounts on Twitter that seemed to be purporting to be me and were randomly sharing bits of erroneous information about cancer in young people and the charity.  Those accounts don’t exist now but they were the prompt for me to realise that you need to own your space, even if it doesn’t feel the most natural when you start. I simply decided I’d sign up and start to learn – and I haven’t looked back, it rapidly became a core element of how I lead and, most importantly, listen and learn.

What does being on social media add to your life – professionally and personally?

It does what it says on the tin – it’s a network.  It adds depth, connection and insight – and saves me time tussling with things when there will be generous, experienced people out there already sharing their knowledge and perspective but most importantly I try to use it to keep me connected to voices I don’t typically hear in other ways on a daily basis, whether that is our frontline teams in the NHS, young people, their parents or our supporters – the value is immense. 

On a personal note it never fails to top up my motivation and creativity when I see individuals and organisations doing such impactful work and sharing it every day… I do also love a dog video so those make me chuckle too!

Do you ever take a digital detox? (I have tried but usually fail miserably!)

I think the key is balance – Twitter can feel like you ‘have’ to be on it all the time but I tweet when the rhythm of my day gives me the space to do it.  I do check it at weekends and in the evenings because those are times when some of the people I need to connect with and listen to are likely to be active but it’s also important to remember that people really won’t notice if you take a break for a bit!  I always delete Twitter from my personal phone when I go on holiday with my family but that’s as far as I’ve got with switching off or detoxing….

Who are your must-follow accounts on Twitter?

There’s too many to pick just one – especially as it depends what it is you need to use Twitter to tune in to and listen to. Kate with Matt, Zoe and Simon BlakeI’d say start with the Top 25/Top 30 lists from previous Social CEO Awards and follow those – as well as the winners in all the categories – they are all doing things in the way that works for them. 

The approaches differ across people’s personalities and areas of work so some will resonate with you and some won’t – that’s fine.  Listen and tune in – retweet things you like or that have made you think (ideally say why!) and just get going… you’ll find your voice and how it works for you the more you do.

What would your advice be to any charity leader considering making the leap onto social media for the first time?

If someone told you there was a place you could go – for free – where you could become better connected to the voices you need to hear in real-time as well as able to learn from and deepen your network AND be a brilliant advocate for the work of your organisation then I bet you’d go there… that’s what social media can do so my advice would be just join in, listen, find your voice and crack on!

Nominations for the 2019 awards are open until midnight on 27th September so get nominating your social and digital superstars now!

Fairy cakes with Social CEOs toppers

More than social, more than CEOs… (part 2)

In part 1 of this blog post we told you about how we expanded the social categories to be much broader than just CEOs. 

On top of this we recognised the correlation between social and digital leadership – whilst they are emphatically not the same thing, there is a positive relationship between the two – and we also knew that improving the digital landscape within the charity sector would be fundamental to the continued success of organisations operating in the space. So in 2017 we began adding digital categories to the roster of awards too.

Read on to see what was so great about last year’s digital winners – and tell us about your 2019 nominees!

In the digital awards we’d love to have nominations from charity leaders who are blazing a trail in an any area of digital. For example: they could have led a digital transformation project, or helped their organisation increase its digital fundraising, or been a trustee who helped champion digital, getting the rest of their board and the charity to use it more effectively. They’ll have had a clear vision for how their charity could progress in digital and led the way to make it happen. We would be interested to hear about any stats and examples which illustrate this. If possible, we would also be interested to hear where charities may have followed best practice (e.g. frameworks, guidelines, or other resources) although this is not essential. Ideally nominees in the digital categories will have good social media presences as well, but it’s not required as with the social media categories.

Best Digital Trustee

Helen Stokes-Lampard

“Helen is an enthusiastic supporter of new ideas, innovation, new learning and discovery of new ways to do things better to improve our services for our membership and the profession in general. She is the leading figure and at the forefront of the College’s digital transformation programme, playing a central role in helping the College use technology to its full potential for the benefit of our membership and the profession worldwide.”

Nominate a digital trustee today

Best Digital Leader

Julie Dodd

“thenewreality.info [the study that she wrote in 2015] was groundbreaking and still stands as a reference point when trying to explain the difference between digital transformation as core to service delivery and digital as just a channel or set of tools.”

Nominate a digital leader 

Best Digital Champion

Liz Green

“Great at bringing together a range of partners on projects, always being enthusiastic, finding examples of best practice from across Scotland and showcasing them and keen to use new types of technology in her own work. She’s also been working with other colleagues on improving staff knowledge on a range of digital tools like Basecamp and on cyber security internally. [She] is an advocate for STEM in Scotland, as well as being involved in the 5Rights programme in Scotland. She sits on a range of groups to help progress digital in youth work.“

In the ‘best digital champion’ category, we are looking for people in any role who not only champion digital within their organisation but across the broader sector too. Nominate a digital champion 

Best Digital CEO

This category was not awarded in 2018 – but check out our 2017 Winner Steve Ford’s twitter account. We want to hear about CEOs who are really driving the digital agenda within their organisation – championing change, and encouraging an environment of digital growth and development. Nominate a Digital CEO for this year’s awards.

Social CEOs badges in a white bowl

More than social, more than CEOs… (part 1)

When the Social CEO Awards were started, way back in 2013, we wanted to recognise the strengths that having a social CEO brought to a charity – and celebrate those who were doing it well. But over the years the awards have evolved. We recognised that influence can come from everywhere, and good practice radiates in all direction. Social media has made the world more open, and everyone more connected, and so in 2015 we broadened the categories to recognise how valuable a strong social presence can be at any level. We now have 4 categories of social awards.

We kept the name “Social CEOs”, because “Social CEOs (and other people)” didn’t have the same ring to it.

So while we might be best known for the initial award that gave us our moniker, the other categories are equally as important to us – and we can only award if you bring brilliant people to our attention.

Not sure what sort of thing might qualify someone for a category? No problem: read on for snippets of the winning 2018 social nominations and check out the winners’ accounts for inspiration! And look out for our upcoming part 2 where we’ll tell you all about the digital categories.

For the social media awards we’re looking for people who have a great social media presence. They use social platforms to drive change; to move the conversation on; to amplify the voice of their cause.

Best Trustee on Social Media

Helen Stokes-Lampard

“Helen’s online presence across all social media channels continues to grow in size and scope which makes her one of the notable social influencers in health care. She continues to establish thought leadership through generating debates and discussions, sharing ideas, experiences, expertise and a lot more on health care and policies through the RCGP’s twitter and her weekly online blog which goes out to over 52,000 GP members.”

Nominate someone for best trustee on social media.

Best Rising Star on Social Media

Nikki Bell

“Her social media approach has changed how we approach digital community fundraising at the BHF and she’s progressed rapidly within the sector by using social media as a strong relationship building tool, connecting and engaging with supporters, BHF staff and sector colleagues.”

As a guide, we generally expect nominees to be around manager level. Nominate your rising star.

Best Leader on Social Media

Caroline Price

“Engaging with followers she harnesses social media audience to co-create and develop our services and training incorporating their views and ideas. Caroline has introduced social media for the services team at Beat as a way of beneficiaries engaging with the services team directly and seeking support through a direct messaging on Twitter & Instagram. This innovation has lead to more young people (under 25’s) accessing our services.”

For the “leader” categories nominees should be around Director / Head Of level. Nominate for this category.

Part 2 – which looks at the digital categories – is coming soon!

Shining a light on trolling

While Social CEOs was created to celebrate what’s great about social media, we are also only too aware that it has its dark sides too. Trolling – “the act of leaving an insulting message on the internet in order to annoy someone” – is rife. Social media offers direct channels to contact people in a way that simply wasn’t possible just a few years ago, and as Twitter in particular becomes more polarised, the problem of trolling continues to grow.

We are working with ACEVO this year to do some research into this. Initially we are focussing on female charity CEOs’ experiences – not because it doesn’t happen to others too, but because our initial research suggested that this group has experienced particularly distressing trolling.

Already we have heard troubling stories – like the charity chief whose charity was on the receiving end of a vicious bout of trolling, and became suicidal.

This is a serious issue and can do so much harm. By seeking the experiences of female leaders, we will be able to shine a light on these experiences, understand how participants would like things to change – and, ultimately, start looking at what could be done in the sector to support people who are experiencing these problems.

We think this is really important research – and the more people who contribute, the better equipped we will be to take this forward into something meaningful. So if you are a charity CEO who identifies as female and has any experience of this – please do fill out the survey. And if not, then please share with your networks so we can reach the broadest group possible.

The survey will be open until midnight on Tuesday 17th September.

Why I Love Social Media – Brita Schmidt – Women For Women

I love social media. It has given me many connections, both personally and professionally. I have used Facebook for a long time to stay in touch with friends and family, but I only started using Instagram and Twitter 3 years ago.

My team at Women for Women International showed me research (including one of the Social CEOs reports!) proving that people are more likely to trust an organisation if they follow its CEO. To begin with, this was my incentive. I looked at how other CEOs used Twitter and Instagram to understand what I wanted my presence to be.

From the beginning, I decided that I was going to show all sides of myself. I wanted my social media to be as real as possible because, after all, I am looking for the same in the accounts I follow. When someone talks about their daily routine or shares a video of their family, I feel a deeper understanding of them, as well as a closer connection. That is why my focus for social media became to provide day-to-day, real-life inspiration. This also made sense for me, because the work I do with women in countries affected by conflict is deeply inspiring, and I see it as my role to share this inspiration – and to share the incredible stories of the women who I meet.

I make a conscious effort to share my feelings, open myself as much as I can, and make myself vulnerable on what can feel like a very removed social platform. It is my purpose to do what I can to inspire others to overcome fear, so that they can fulfill their potential. Social media is an amazing tool for achieving this. I know that by sharing inspiration, we are led to be bold and to create change in our lives. I have seen how posts have inspired people to start caring for more than their own lives. Social media makes our world bigger and more connected.

The power of connection with people across the world through social media continues to surprise me. I have received such wonderful, motivating feedback and comments from strangers, often on the other side of the world. Even just a little heart on my Instagram story spurs me on. It has made me realise that if your purpose is clear, the right people will find you. I have several strong Women for Women International supporters, project collaborators and close friends who all got to know me via social media.

Every so often, I get sidetracked and start to worry about my number of followers, because that is how the world is rolling, isn’t it? Your worth is determined by how many followers you have. It is hard not to buy into this. I am currently writing a book, and a few of the top publishers I have approached liked the content of the book but mentioned that I don’t have enough followers. Wow.

That was hard to swallow. It took me a few months to sort this out in my head and remind myself of my purpose. I don’t want to be defined by the number of followers I have. That is easier said than done, though. Like many, I regularly get messages from people saying that they can help me grow my following, but I am not interested. I love the fact that my followers have grown organically. They found me, and follow me because they are really interested in what I share. I am more interested in the quality, rather than the quantity, of my followers.

I love social media and sharing experiences on it, but for me, social media is a means, not an end, and in my value system, I don’t measure people’s worth by the number of followers they have.

5 Key Ways Social Media Can Help You Lead Better – Sophie Livingstone – Trustees Unlimited

Social media is a way of sharing and telling stories. As the leader of a charity, I believe that it’s one of the most powerful tools you have to connect with a range of people, and to give yourself the energy you need to be and do your best. Here are five key ways I think social media can help you lead better:

Showcasing what you do

Part of your job as a not for profit leader is visibility – people want to understand what you’re up to, what you care about and your approach.  

This can range from sharing pictures of a Ministerial visit to posting about your agenda for the day, what you’re looking forward to most, or even frustrations about train travel.

The audience is both internal and external – funders, prospective funders, policy makers, sector colleagues, trustees – virtually the whole community of stakeholders you aim to reach in real life can be found and connected with online.

As well as the day to day of your role, social media can help with showing leadership in other ways.  For example, my husband, who just happens to be the deputy CEO of Plan International UK, blogged and tweeted about taking Shared Parental Leave. There was a positive response (not just from me!)  from people internally and externally to a senior sector leader taking Parental Leave.

Staying connected within your own organisation

As City Year UK grew from London to the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, I found it invaluable to connect with staff and volunteers via social media.  

We encouraged our volunteers to use social media to help raise the profile of their work, and I found it really useful to know what they were up to, so that I could share it online and in conversation, and to congratulate and encourage them.

As a trustee, when you’re sometimes even more removed, it’s even more useful to read about the latest events and successes, such as Little Village highlighting coverage on Channel 4 News.

Connecting with other leaders

Being a charity CEO can be pretty lonely. It can be hard to find time to get together with other leaders regularly, so I really like tracking my peers on social media.

I can see how they’re going about tackling issues, debate things, and champion their successes, such as Tessy Ojo, CEO of the Diana Awards (and fellow Generation Change trustee) on television during the recent Royal Wedding with two young Diana Award winners.

Quick, up-to-date access to policy news, research and intel

From congratulating Danny Kruger on his appointment as new DCMS special adviser on civil society, to finding out what NCVO thinks should be in the Government’s civil society strategy, Twitteris an easy way of connecting sector leaders with developments.   

At City Year, we also encouraged our volunteers to share their stories about the benefits of full time social action for them, and the impact that they were having on children’s progress in school, which was useful to raise awareness with decision makers.

I get most of my policy news and information from Twitter these days, and it has made me more informed in half the time.

Personal news and connections with staff, volunteers and beneficiaries

The most powerful for me is the personal., such as two alumna from City Year in the West Midlands, Amna Akhtar and Kiran Kaur, who have created their own programme, Girl Dreamer. Seeing that they were presenting at the Women for Women She Inspires Me event made me incredibly proud.  

I recently reconnected on LinkedIn with a young man I’d worked with on an advocacy campaign about benefits at the Foyer Federation about ten years ago. He’s made such a success of his life, and it was wonderful to hear how well he’s doing – I’m not sure I’d have found out any other way.

Social media might be newfangled technology, but at its best we use it to do what we humans are wired for – making personal connections and telling stories. We should be claiming that space for the good our organisations do, and by shining a light on that work, helping to build back public trust in our collective impact.   

Sophie Livingstone was CEO of City Year UK from November 2009 – December 2017 and featured on the Social CEOs list in 2016 and 2017.   She is the Chair of trustees at Little Village, is a trustee and co-founder of Generation Change and a trustee of the Royal Voluntary Service. Sophie Livingstone is Managing Director of Trustees Unlimited.

Twitter has given us a voice in the cancer community – Frank Fletcher Ellen Macarthur Cancer Trust

Being part of the extremely active teenage and young adult cancer (#TYAC #teenagecancer #TYACancer) Twitter community has helped us to reach people we never could have otherwise.

We’re a small national charity that works with young people aged 8-24 to rebuild confidence after cancer through sailing.

When we launched in 2003, Twitter wasn’t a thing. That year we worked with 10 young people in recovery, this year we will work with over 660. Being part of the online #TYAC community has absolutely played a part in our growth, both in terms of the numbers we now take sailing, but also the funding partners we work with and the voice we have in much wider post-cancer care conversations.

We can engage with partners much larger than us

The big organisations in our sphere, such as the Teenage Cancer Trust and CLIC Sargent, do what they do really well. We do something different yet complementary.

The services they deliver, the issues they campaign for and the research they undertake make a life-changing difference to young people with cancer. We are there to help support those young people after treatment.

Nurturing Twitter relationships with key people within these organisations – both decision makers and frontline service providers – enables more young people to hear about what we do through their networks but also helps us stay abreast of the major issues in young people’s cancer care so we can shape our approach accordingly.

The heightened profile being part of this network provides has also put the Trust on the radar of funding bodies we might otherwise have struggled to access.

Greater care for our young people

Young people that sail with us face a multitude of challenges to re-engage with education, employment, relationships and society after cancer.

Our trips are proven in helping young people rediscover the confidence to face these challenges, but there are certain practicalities we can’t provide. Being able to Tweet something like “We’ve got a young person who needs support with X, they live in Y, can any of our #TYAC friends help?”, knowing that they will, is of huge benefit.

Power of peer support

Feeling isolated is a massive issue for young people with cancer.

For so many Trust trips are the first time they get to talk, and I mean really share their most personal feelings, experience, fears and hopes, with other young people who have been through similar experiences to them. This is a key part of the recovery process and why making new friends is such a valued part of our trips.

But our trips last four or five days. How do they sustain these friendships when they leave? Where can they continue to explore the cathartic benefits of talking about their experiences? How do they help other young people realise they aren’t alone?

Through social media. This is why Twitter is so valuable to them as well as us.

A human face

Being human and credible is essential for charities especially smaller ones like ours, so it’s really important people can see who we are and what we stand for. I enjoy Twitter and being part of the genuine social collaboration and kindness of the #TYAC community. Even if the occasional football tweet does sneak through 😉

Today is the last day you can nominate someone for a Social CEO award. You have until midnight on the 28th September to nominate. Nominate here

Honorary #SocialCEOs

There’s no better way to explain what makes a good social CEO than by real-life demonstration. But of course we wouldn’t want to sway your nominations. So we took a look outside of the sector to see who is out there behaving like dream #SocialCEOs.

David Lammy MP

The Labour MP for Tottenham is, as backbench MPs go, a prominent voice on Twitter. He’s passionate, and he’s not afraid to say what he really thinks – even if that means being critical of his own party. His personal commitment to his role and the people he serves shines through. He speaks from his heart, about issues that matter to him and his constituents, and doesn’t hide behind rehearsed, press-friendly soundbites.  

Jameela Jamil

Jameela is now a successful American TV star but she hasn’t lost the groundedness that she exuded as a fledgling star on T4 back in the day. She’s been open about her struggles with anxiety as a younger woman, and has this year launched a campaign (and Instagram channel) called “I Weigh”, calling out the press for fixating on women’s weights and encouraging women to value themselves as a whole person.

Sathnam Sanghera

Sathnam brings his whole self to Twitter. An author and journalist, he discovered while writing a memoir that his father had been living with schizophrenia. He has since used his platform to talk about this often misunderstood illness, along with other mental health conditions. His Twitter feed is a wonderful mixture of politics, current affairs, football chat and RTd nonsense. Definitely worth a follow.

Kris Hallenga

Ok, this one’s not outside the sector at all – but as Kris has stepped away from her CEO role at Coppafeel, she’s technically not eligible for selection this year. Kris founded Coppafeel after her own diagnosis of incurable, stage 4, breast cancer at 23. In the 9 years since then she has continued to defy the odds, and use her platform to promote the early detection message and encourage young people to be proactive about their health. While her official role with the charity has drawn to a close she remains close to them, and a fierce advocate for their work. Her positivity and determination to live well are inspirational. Tweets may also contain cats, because, Twitter.

James Timpson

Not just a great social CEO but an all round excellent leader of Timpsons. James shows through his tweets his dedication to and passion for being the very best leader he can. He regularly uses his account to celebrate and thank his colleagues, and shares the extra lengths his company goes to for them (this year all parents with a child going in to reception year got an extra day off to help the settling in process). He also has a fantastic social responsibility ethos. You can tell that he’s an extremely present CEO – visiting stores around the country all the time, and sharing pictures and stories from them. A shining star in corporate world.

All of these Twitter folk bring a sense of openness to their feeds. They talk about challenging topics, using their platform to raise awareness of important issues and connect with people. We think they are all worthy of honorary #SocialCEOs awards – but we need you to nominate for this year’s awards! Tell us which charity CEOs, leaders, trustees and rising stars are doing great things with social media. And while you’re at it, check out the digital categories too! Nominate by midnight on 28th September 2018.

Using social media for social good

I first got involved in HIV charity work in 1999 because I wanted to dispel the ignorance that had resulted in the deaths of so many that I loved. I wanted to give people the knowledge and the skills to empower them in their sexual choices.

I wanted to challenge the stigmatisation of a virus, that chiefly affected those who were already marginalised by society, including gay and bisexual men, migrants, drug-users and trans women. I wanted to challenge those who told me that I was diseased, unclean and a threat to others because I was living with HIV.

Considering my goal was to share knowledge it made sense that I would attempt to harness the power of social media. Social media provides me with a popular platform to reach beyond any core audience and deliver these messages.

Here’s how I use social media to inform and educate about HIV:

Be topical

If there’s a news story that’s connected to something that concerns you, it’s a great opportunity to get your message out, to signpost your resources, promote your organisation or support your fundraising efforts.

Even if you’ve just responded off the bat to a news story, you can provide links to your own content in follow-up tweets. If you can’t say what you need to say in a single tweet, it’s ok to say it in a few.


Add something to the story

If you add something to the story, whether that’s an image, a personal perspective or a feeble attempt at humour, you’ll get a lot more engagement. Twitter will respond better to something that has personality. Think about what makes your standpoint distinctive. You don’t have to go deep into personal revelation to express something in a way that’s distinctive to you.

Stand up for what you believe in

An authentic voice is going to be more interesting than one that is always bland but on message. Be bold. And have fun with it.

Every opportunity

If you do find yourself in the heart of a twitter storm, see if you can turn that into an opportunity to educate.

Be passionate

A lesson I’ve learned working for charities is not to tell people what it is that you do but tell them why it is that you do it. Twitter is ideal for this. They used to say that you should be able to pitch your charity in the time it took to ride an elevator. Now you should be able to explain what it is that you do in a tweet.

Raise the tone, not the volume

Twitter can be hostile and it can be angry. Being a naturally feisty person, I struggle not to fight back if I’m attacked. As a gay man who is open about living with HIV, I’ve enjoyed my share of online abuse, although any hostility I’ve encountered is nothing compared to the misogyny, racism and transphobia that others face.

If we are to make Twitter a better platform, I would urge colleagues to try not to rise to the bait of a deliberately provocative tweet with an equally charged response. Be reasonable, provide information and links to trusted information resources. Back up what you say. Don’t be afraid to debate or defend. Attack an argument but try not to attack an individual.

Make it personal – if you want to

I was diagnosed with HIV in 1998. I reckoned then that I would live until I was about 50. When I approached this age, I wanted to celebrate my survival. I had been living with the virus for almost 20 years and I was still healthy. This was a golden opportunity to counter the images of early death that are still so associated with HIV.

I sent a tweet, thanking people who had wished me a happy birthday via Twitter. And I made reference to the fact that I had reached my goal of 50 and felt good about it.

I wanted people to know the good news about the effectiveness of HIV treatment.

Hundreds of thousands of people saw this tweet, thousands engaged with it. One gay website wrote a story about it, and that news report itself got shared over 1,700 times on social media. It was a lot of impact for something that cost nothing and took hardly any time to do.

Social media is a powerful weapon

The more involved I’ve got into using social media as a platform for my work, the more conscious I am of its harms. Not just potentially to society or to democracy, but also its impact on the mental and emotional health of some of its users.

Twitter appeals to the narcissist. Am I popular? Am I smart, am I funny, am I good-looking enough? If you find yourself judging your worth on the number of retweets you get, you’re in trouble. Twitter is something I use to support and enhance my work. It isn’t my work.

Twitter and other social media platforms don’t always create an environment for better understanding between people. Media can be manipulated, platforms can be used to promulgate hatred or distort the truth. Its power to abuse, and the abuse of its power, should give us all pause.

But Pandora’s box is open. Social media, like the printing press or the internet have changed the way we communicate. If we are interested in communication we cannot afford to turn our backs on it.

Twitter has allowed me to signpost some of the biggest developments in our understanding and treatment of HIV. It has given me a platform to share accurate information, such as NAM’s resources. It enables me to explain why I am so passionate about this work and to raise awareness of issues that I’m passionate about, or information that deserves to be widely known, such as #UequalsU. I use Twitter to call out homophobia when I see it (knowing that racism, homophobia and transphobia all facilitate the spread of HIV) or to give my vocal support to trans people and to migrants.

It was combination treatment that managed to disable the virus enough so that HIV became a liveable condition. It was a combination approach to prevention that finally delivered a decline in HIV diagnoses.

Similarly, I believe that charities, and those of us who are passionate about the causes that we work on, need a combination approach to our communications that takes full advantage of the accessibility, shareability and engagement opportunities of social media. This is an approach that amplifies our voice, our impact and our ability to deliver social good.

We can make social media a force for good by using it as a force for good. Use the power of social media responsibly.

Matthew Hodson is Executive Director of NAM aidsmap and the recent winner of Social CEO of the year. Follow him on Twitter at @Matthew_Hodson. NAM provides HIV news and treatment information to support people living with HIV, throughout the UK and internationally, to live longer and healthier lives.

A mobile phone screen with social media apps in focus

4 rules for #SocialCEOs from last year’s nominators

We love reading the nominations for #SocialCEOs every year. Zoe recently wrote a great article with tips from past winners – but in this post we’d like to share some quotes from last year’s nominations, to show you what past nominators had to say about their chosen social superstars.

Authenticity is crucial

So many of the nominations highlighted the blending of personal and professional as a big positive, and we completely agree that to have a really successful presence on social media, it’s important to show a bit of yourself. Here are some examples:

“He mixes his personal views with his professional life in a way that strikes a great balance.”

“Because he’s tweeting from the heart he has far more impact on the issues that are close to the charity. His tweets can be both amusing and deeply sad.”

“She is also smart and funny and blends personal tweets – about running, for example, in with the rest. She’s not afraid to use her own voice.”

“She helps present a very human face of the charity.”

“When you look at her profile, you know there’s been zero input from a social media strategist.”

Demystify your role

Twitter, used well, can be a great way to demonstrate more about what a CEO actually does all day. We all know they are busy and important people, but if asked to describe what they do, how many of us could do a reasonable job? Thanks to Twitter, we can see this much more clearly, and our nominators think this is a real benefit.

“Brings to life her day-to-day role.”

“Following her on social media gives a real insight into the varied role of a CEO.”

“She shows her human side, displays leadership, and provides a fascinating insight into the life of a charity Chief Exec.”

Be brave

Social media can be a minefield; many people are lurking just waiting to take offence or twist what someone says. So even having a presence and putting themselves on the map can be a brave decision. We saw bravery highlighted in quite a few of last year’s nominations:

“(He) uses social media to ask difficult questions.”

“(She) is not afraid to be brave and bold. She will share her opinion, challenge others and put herself out there.”

“He displays leadership in our field by not being shy of issues which can be tough to deal with.”

Let digital shape your work and culture

5 hands fist bumping above a desk covered with laptopsOur nominees were praised for how their overall approach to social and digital represent the broader ways they work, and how they bring digital into the day-to-day.

“(She) is a champion for empowering colleagues, other CEOs and leaders in the public and third sector to embrace social media to become closer to the people they serve.”

“(She) has worked hard to build genuine, long-term relationships with a broad range of people through daily interactions. She uses these conversations to inform the work of the charity.”

“(She) is a staunch champion of social media as an effective dissemination tool for our work.”

“Her enthusiasm, passion and commitment to (the organisation’s) mission is infectious.”

“Since (she) started, the culture has changed. Everything we planned or wanted to do has now been sped up.”

“She sees social not as an add on to work but an important space to engage and exist as a leader in the third sector.”

“(He) is incredibly enthusiastic about the power of social media and digital, at both an organisational level and more broadly in terms of the influence it’s having on society.”

And finally…

Here are a few of the random bits that made us smile:

“I’m not quite sure how (he) has the time to juggle a demanding job, a young family, an unruly dog, a football habit as well as his constant Twitter feed but he does it. We can only imagine that he tweets in his sleep.”

“All in all she’s a wonderful person that embodies what it means to be a social leader inside and outside the limit of 140* characters. *She’ll be pimp at 280 as well” (This was just ahead of this crucial change to Twitter character limits!)

“He really should change his Twitter handle. It’s weird.”

“(His) tweets may also contain dogs”

And very lastly – in the “anything else you’d like to tell us” box, we had this lovely polite closing remark: “Thank you.”

Nominations are open until 28th September for this year’s #SocialCEOs – so tell us today who you think deserves recognition!