#SocialLeaders series: Tom Riordan

By | January 15, 2017

Tom Riordan #socialleaders quote

The time for social leadership is now. To engage with customers and employees alike, to create a personal brand, to lead authentically and openly. To share and collaborate in a different way. To role model the digital skills that all organisations need now and tomorrow. We need social leaders. But they are still few and far between.

This is the first in a series of conversations with leaders who already get this stuff. Who are effectively using social media as part of their leadership role to engage and connect with employees, customers and service users. We have asked a range of leaders from different industry sectors exactly why they use social media and how do they feel it benefits them in their role – as well as to share their advice to anyone who thinks they should be getting a little more social.

First up is Tom Riordan. Tom is CEO of Leeds City Council, and an active Tweeter – he has even got himself a coveted blue tick. He uses Twitter to share news about the Council, its work and its people. He engages with followers and isn’t afraid to bring his whole self to Twitter, including pictures of his family, and a bio that tells you about him as a person, not just a CEO.

This is what Tom had to say about leading socially….

What is your social media platform of choice and why?

Twitter is my platform of choice. I was quite an early adopter because I like its mix of brevity, openness, wide reach, content and security (i.e. unacceptable behaviour can be blocked).

How do you believe that your use of social media has benefited you in your leadership role?

It’s allowed me a direct communication route to the outside world from a big organisation and to “walk the talk” of one of our main values of openness and honesty. I’ve tried to give more of a human face to a CEO role often seen as distant and protected, and to champion Leeds, public services and local government.

How engaged do you find the rest of your organisation with social media?

Increasingly. Social media has become much more central to people’s lives over the last five years, and in that time the organisation has engaged with it more and more. There are some great role models within the council, such as Phil Jewitt an excellent social media user who recently won a lifetime achievement unconference award. Many of our councillors now use social media widely now, which also helps.

What, if any, downsides do you see to being a leader on social media – and what do you do to avoid them?

99 percent of people are great to engage with on social media. You have to take care at times not to be provoked by the 1 percent who, often anonymously, just want to cause trouble. Never tweet when you’re angry is not a bad rule of thumb.

How have you used social media to connect with customers/service users/key stakeholders?

I’ve used it to get more direct messages out to a wider audience about what the council does, especially those front-line workers who make the city tick. Twitter has allowed me to contact a wide range of innovators both in the city and across the world and led directly to inward investment, new approaches on open data and great new ideas from people within and outside Leeds. I also get a pretty good idea of what people think about the council and the city!

What advice would you give to other leaders who want to use social media?

Don’t see it as a panacea but do treat it as a vital communication and engagement mechanism. Only do what you’re comfortable with and what suits your own personal style. Make sure your priority is enhancing the city or organisation, not your personal image or standing, because you’re almost bound to trip up if you think it’s all about you.


We’d like to send a big thanks to Tom for his insight. If you are a leader who wants to use social media for their role then check out his Twitter feed for a great example on how to do this social stuff well. And if you want to know more about social leadership – both the why and the how – then we’ve just released our latest book on Putting Social Media to Work – a version dedicated to just that subject.

Next time on the #SocialLeaders series…. Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD, shares his thoughts.

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