Tips for Trustees on using social media with confidence

By Dr Simon Davey, Consultant, Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness

It’s Trustees Week and with many trustees fearful of the risks of social media and nervous about using social media tools, here’s some advice on how to start using social media successfully and the pitfalls to avoid.

Strategically, social media has several benefits. It offers the opportunity for organisations to:

  • spread ideas quickly through a network,
  • demonstrate and share experience and expertise,
  • build profile and connections (reaching people you’re not in contact with),
  • listen and learn what’s going on and understand what people think about a topic,
  • grow relationships,
  • enhance identity

Here are some tips for engaging with social media:

Be clear about why you are doing it

Make sure you think about why you and your organisation want to be on social media. You may want to influence or impact, share experiences and ideas, build profile and relationships or listen and learn. Set a clear purpose and measurable objectives for your activity.

Think about what content you want out there

Apply the 4 C’s: create, curate, combine and comment. Not all content needs to be original. You might curate a niche, ask powerful questions or add valuable comments. Visual content is important – photographs, infographics and video are particularly powerful.

Make connections

Social media offers an opportunity to influence, inform, learn from and engage your contacts. You can initiate conversations with strangers who become key contacts. People you know can introduce you and demonstrate your credibility through your organisational and personal profiles, the content you share and the way you communicate, long before you meet.

Develop your online personality

Social requires personality. Decide the ‘tone of voice’ (an organisational identity in line with your brand values) but recognise that each individual board member or employee has their own voice and personality. A ‘stiff’ or overly formal tone of voice may not reach the audience intended – ensure space for individual personalities to show through.

Decide which channels to use

The social space is vast but depending on your organisation and the geography it operates in, the most useful starting tools will be Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. Here’s a brief guide to what each offers:

  • Twitter is ideal for spreading ideas quickly across diverse networks and reaching out to people you don’t know. Hashtags, @mentions and curated lists help organise the volume. Be concise, be human, be topical, converse.
  • LinkedIn provides credible connections and content. Build/search profiles, pages and groups, share across professional networks and recommend people and resources within a community. Credible profile, meaningful connections, contribute (and reach out) to others.
  • Facebook is more informal and visual and offers more personal interactions through pages and ‘personal professional’ accounts.
  • YouTube helps express and share via video through high quality resources or something shot on a smartphone in the moment. Great content can go viral irrespective of production quality. Keep it short, interesting and share it – don’t underestimate a talking head with something important to say.
  • Instagram exemplifies a picture telling a thousand words. Visual storytelling, original content and comment driven.

It’s important to try it, make mistakes quickly, get up and try again. Search for yourself, your organisation and subject, find out what’s said about you/it and engage with it. Find a social media role model to learn from and model their efforts.

Make a plan

Create a plan with tactics and named resources – who, what, when, how. Social media growth can be like financial investment – start small, grow according to risk appetite (controversy) and keep re-investing time, effort and relationships for the payoff.

Identify key players and engage them in conversation. Share and support and cheer others on – create meaningful interactions, much as you would face to face. Listen and be proactive in your responses.

And finally, remember

Much like a financial investment – start small, grow according to risk appetite and keep re-investing time, effort and relationships for the payoff. Social media will complement your existing communications and relationship building and give you a chance to tell more of the story more of the time.

But, always remember who and what you are representing, much as you would in any physical public space, and never post/tweet anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page. The normal rules of social etiquette still apply. And finally, don’t over edit yourself – it’s important to be you, to be personal and believable – and to actively listen.