This is a guest blog from one of the 2014 #socialceos winners, Cliff Prior of UnLtd.

Cliff Prior photoMy first encounter with social media was on a dive boat in the Red Sea. My diving buddy – also a musician – was using MySpace to put together his band’s music and get it out to fans. I was fascinated. This was really early days, back when MySpace was still for musicians and hadn’t gone public. I thought how useful that could be to people leading social projects. That led on to UnLtd working with Alberto Nardelli to build UnLtdWorld, a platform for social entrepreneurs to share and learn. UnLtdWorld reached 14,000 people, going way beyond UnLtd’s direct connections – and now it’s integrated into the Guardian’s professional networks.

UnLtd uses social media extensively, in all the ways you would imagine – for outreach, promotion, peer to peer connections, exchanging knowhow, even online public judging for awards. It’s intrinsic to how we work and allows those horizontal connections, person to person, which can leverage out impact hugely and bring in new ideas and talent instantly.

The social entrepreneurs we support use social media even more, from to, using public platforms or building their own, creating impact and business models that couldn’t have been conceived before. It’s enabling grassroots youth and community engagement right through to high-end social tech like sharing genetic medicine advances.

Personally, I’ve gained a lot from use of social media. For me Twitter is work, LinkedIn is professional, YouTube is promotional, and I guess Facebook is sort of going out with colleagues for a meal – the social side of work. Oh, and I’m still getting my head around how to use the likes of Instagram, WhatsApp and Vine. Social media is different, more personal and less formal, and it’s fascinating to see how that is changing business conversation more widely.

UnLtd has an increasingly international network through @GlobalSEN , and for that social media is incredibly important – invaluable to keep in touch and swap ideas. It’s still vital to meet people in person, but social media holds that personal connection far longer than otherwise. Of course it’s a challenge, not just timezones but also how different social media channels can be in different countries, especially China.

I guess beyond all that, beyond the tweets, the facts, and the joy of cats doing crazy things on Facebook, for myself and for UnLtd it’s that feeling of being part of a community, of a movement for social good, joined with a feeling of being connected to the world. If we don’t talk to each other, we will stumble. If we only talk to people of like mind, we will trap ourselves. Social media has temptations – to rant, to narrow your circle, to think the virtual is the real. But used well it’s a fabulous tool and a truly exciting, warm and human journey.

And winning a place in the #socialceos list was a surprise, but made me think what we’ve done here – particularly encouraging staff to do their own social media about their work. We take the risk of not having detailed rules about that – simply saying stick to our usual values of being helpful, bringing energy, making connections, sharing the learning, and acting with integrity. Our team can work out what that means in each situation much better than any rulebook.

@cliffprior @UnLtd