Making social media meaningful and increasing board involvement


Simon Davey


Strategically, social media is about content, connections, communication and identity. It offers the opportunity to:

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

Board members bring different networks, connections and perspectives – the power of weak ties – to this ecosystem.

Purpose (why) – be clear why you and your organisation are/should be on social media. This defines your direction and helps set measurable objectives. You may want to influence or impact, share experiences and ideas, build profile and relationships or listen and learn. Set a clear purpose and back with defined objectives.

Content (what) – 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 – photographs, infographics, video – is particularly powerful.

Identity – you’re judged on who you are and what you do as much as what you say. Identity comes from profile, the passion you show, your tone of voice, how you engage (including listening and response) and reputation.

Connections (who) – social media offers another 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 way you communicate, long before you meet.

Voice (how) – social media 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.

Tools (how) – the social space is vast but depending on your organisation and the geography it operates in, your most useful starting tools will be Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

  • 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.

A little confidence and basic knowledge are key starting points. Once you’ve agreed a purpose, defined a basic content ‘plan’ and identified your voice then choose a tool – Twitter and LinkedIn are good starting places – and grow your skills. A simple Google search will throw up useful free resources for using each tool well.

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

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.

It’s important to integrate this with organisational strategy and communications plans. Reputation management is key.

  • Remember who and what you are representing, much as you would in any physical public space – never post/tweet anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page. Normal rules of social etiquette still apply.
  • Don’t overedit yourself – it’s important to be you, to be personal – and actively listen.
  • Create a tactical plan and schedule social media activity (as well as being live to opportunities).
  • Ensure there is a clear policy and protocol for social media and risk assess in advance.

Social media can be a key thought leadership and engagement platform for your organisation and you. Offering your personal angle provides another opportunity to engage supporters, connections and the wider community. It will complement your existing communications and relationship building and give you a chance to tell more of the story more of the time.

Dr Simon Davey is a consultant at Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness
Twitter: @CassCCE 

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