Five simple social media rules for chief executives

The modern leader is expected to build an online following, but care should be taken

Social media has become a vital tool for charities and chief executives alike in the past decade, offering closer communication with staff, supporters and stakeholders. But as the recent example of a British Council employee who made controversial online comments about Prince George shows, when social media goes wrong it can be hugely damaging on a personal and professional level.

So how can social media best be used by charity chief executives? Here we ask some of those active on social media for their advice.

Give it a personal touch If your charity already has a Twitter account, the chief executive's account should not be an extension of it and should have its own identity and tone. Jo Youle, chief executive of Missing People, says showing your personality online will encourage engagement.

"The best thing, I think, based on other people I follow, is that you get a sense of what they're thinking - what their analysis of all that's going on is, what is happening in their organisations, what other people are up to," she says.

"I know people get fed up in general of that kind of mentality, of posting only when things go well, so you should be honest and grounded."

But don't overshare It is important to remember that you represent the charity and that, though a little personality is good, you cannot use social media solely as a means to discuss your hobbies or out-of-work interests. Instead, the best users of social media know how and when to discuss their own personal passions.

Jan Tregelles, the chief executive of Mencap, says there is a risk of information overload, and that requires prudence in terms of the topics you discuss and the content you choose.

"With my own Twitter account, I make sure I never over or under-tweet," she says. "You want to ensure you have regular posts, but not so frequent that you're live-tweeting the supermarket."

Be sensible Zoe Amar, a communications consultant who helps to run the Social CEOs list of the top 30 charity leaders on social media, says it is important to treat your online communication as you would any other medium.

"The big risks can be avoided by doing one sensible thing - remember that anything you put on social media is in the public domain," she says. "As long as you bear in mind that anything you put out there could end up in the newspapers and you're comfortable with what you are saying, that is the key thing to get right."

Trust your staff Social media need not be the preserve of the corporate communications department - it is something staff across the organisation can take responsibility for if the right policies and training are present.

Helena Holt, chief executive of Devon Air Ambulance, says: "A lot of leaders can feel quite uncomfortable about letting go, because it leaves them vulnerable if someone makes a mistake. A lot of people within organisations are fearful of saying the wrong thing or getting the message wrong, but provided you have the training, support and oversight in place, that shouldn't stop anyone."

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