This week on the Social Leaders series, it’s the turn of Asif Choudry. Asif is the Sales and Marketing Director of marketing/communications company Resource. As well as being a prolific tweeter, Asif is the brains behind Comms Hero – a series of events for communications professionals that brings together real life events and social media sharing in an awesome way – and also Desk Buddy. If you don’t follow Asif on Twitter, you really should.
Here is what Asif had to say when we asked him for his take on social leadership (as usual, there’s a transcript below the video).
What are your social media platforms of choice and why?
I use Twitter and LinkedIn specifically. As with most people, the romance and novelty factor of new apps coming on the market and people talking about them and you staying away from them always happens to me as well, so I have got a folder where apps go to die on my phone and my iPad! I decided quite a few years ago, “I’ll use two and I’ll actually use them really well and effectively and every day”. To be honest with you, it was the best decision that I took and I resisted the temptation to try Snapchat. I had Instagram and deleted it, I had Facebook eight years ago but I only use social media for work and don’t communicate with my friends on it. I’ve connected with some of them but we talk to each other through WhatsApp or we actually do that thing that we used to do with our phones before social media and ring each other – I do actually use my phone to dial numbers on occasion!
How do you believe that your use of social media has benefited you in your leadership role?
I use social media to lead the Sales function. I have led that for the last five years and continue to do so – I’m pleased and proud of that because the guys have got to chase that so from a leadership point of view, it keeps them aspiring to a different level and understanding of how they can use it. If I wasn’t using it myself, as a leader of salespeople, it would be hypocritical for me to ask my sales team to use social media seven days a week.
Thought leadership has been a huge benefit and I have been invited to speak at events purely through the social media content and personal brand that’s been delivered through social media. It’s everything I used to do before social media existed, before I got involved with it, which is networking, so I just network through it and talk to people and that’s the key thing. The sales guys see that all the time so it definitely helps me both at work, directly with my reports, but also directly with contacts who are people who are spending – or I want to spend – money with us or influencers in helping me to get through those doors so it definitely has a benefit to leadership.
How engaged do you find the rest of your organisation with social media?
The sales team use it and one of our account managers has a Resource Twitter account, so they’re using it for work. The rest of the business do comment on posts that the business, myself and the team put out. We get them coming up to us and saying, “Comms Hero looked fantastic, I saw all the stuff on Twitter; Twitter was going mad” and it’s really nice to see that. These events are things that we do for a living when we go out and sell the wares of our staff. People who work in the print production facility never saw how we generate those conversations: now they can see that quite publicly. For example, when we’ve been doing the DeskBuddy promotion and campaign: they’ve been physically involved in the whole production of that campaign. Now they can actually see what it does. We’ve got people coming back and commenting, we’ve got people with their own personal social media accounts following Resource as an organisation and often coming back and commenting – not within the social media feed but by physically coming and talking to us about it. It’s been a whole new angle of internal comms to be honest: we’ve got the noticeboard but this is something that’s quite organic and real and authentic because it’s not prompted or “should we put this on the noticeboard”; we put it up there anyway but people notice it [more]. The corporate accounts that we have definitely have a resonance with the staff who don’t have a social media account offered by Resource and would never need one either.
What, if any, downsides do you see to being a leader on social media – and what do you do to avoid them?
The key downside, I think, is that you’re open to public criticism and that’s one of the biggest fears that stops people using it or engaging with it and to be honest with you, for me, you just have to be mindful of what you say – don’t say what you wouldn’t say in a crowded room, that kind of thing. I had a couple of instances of it when the first Comms Hero event happened, which was really well received back in May 2014, and then my first experience of social media “haters” came about which was totally out the blue. I won’t name any names; there were only six of them, so very much a minority, and to be honest with you Comms Hero just carried on. It took me aback a little bit so I think people have to be ready for that, especially if you’re one of those people on social media that is controversial. That doesn’t mean you have to sit on the fence all the time but you don’t have to be so forthright with every opinion – some things are best left kept to yourself. I’m not one of those people who posts random musings just for the sake of it, there’s a purpose and a point to most of the stuff I put out there. At Resource, I’ve always had a very simple social media policy: don’t get involved in race, religion, gender, politics and don’t swear. To be honest with you, the rest of it is just common sense.
How have you used social media to connect with customers?
That’s exactly the reason I use it and the reason I continue to use it. I say when I do personal brand sessions and what-have-you that I don’t use social media for myself, for my personal use: my motivation was to use it for work and my job is to generate sales and the day it stops doing that… just like campaign, if it doesn’t earn any revenue, I’ll stop doing it. Comms Hero was built on social media: we don’t do any paid-for advertising anywhere, apart from a series of adverts in 24 Housing magazine, but our main advertising channel now is social media and I think it will always be that, as long as it’s about.
I connect like-minded people as well, so there’s a group of people I know who would never have spoken to each other, ever, who like horses or sewing [for example]. When I meet contacts regularly, I think “oh, so-and-so”, I’ll just put them in a conversation and they just carry on talking to each other and that’s the nice part about social media. People do remember who connected them. And finally, developing my personal brand, which I need for my work, being recognised throughout the sector. I attribute Twitter, more than LinkedIn, to being the main channel for me to develop a personal brand over and above what I would have been able to do without it, so it has a massive amount of uses and that is why I use it every day of the week.
What advice would you give to other leaders who want to use social media?
The advice I’d give is: be real, be yourself. You don’t have to be somebody else – if you can’t be bothered posting your own content, don’t do it at all. Don’t get somebody to ghost-tweet for you because that’s not authentic and it’s too polished. Be consistent as well: you’ve got to post things regularly. I see CEOs and execs who say, “I’m going to do this because everybody’s doing it” and post one work tweet a week or something like that. It’s not worth it – you’re probably doing more detriment to your personal brand than anything.
Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say in a crowded room. Don’t just be about work as well – you’re not a robot, you’re a human. That doesn’t mean sharing pictures of family and stuff like that, you don’t need to do that – it’s nice to but you don’t need to. Your colleagues, your influencers, stakeholders and the people that look up to you for leadership do want to see a human side of you – they never get that through an email. In big organisations of three, four, five hundred plus employees, 80% of the workforce will never interact with the CEO ever and you’re opening yourself up to that, but in a nice way. I don’t think you’re going to get trolled by one of your employees – unless you put an “ex-“ before the word “employee”, but that’s just the way it is!
Be varied with your content as well: there’s loads of stuff that you could talk about, whether it’s work, sport, family, TV programmes, hobbies so just mix it up. Don’t have a formula: “I will do 3.6 hobby-related tweets” – I’ve heard CEOs doing this! You can’t plan your content, you’re not a marketing campaign, so don’t preschedule your “Planet Earth 2” tweets on Sunday: just watch the programme and listen to what’s happening. Be creative as well: social media is a very forgiving place. There are one or two grammar and spelling police about, but in the main you don’t have to worry if you’re an exec and you make a typo or autocorrect replaces the world completely, it’s fine. You can be creative: use video, use photographs, do Boomerangs if you like. I’d like to see more CEOs doing Boomerangs. That’s what the world needs!
Don’t get involved in race, religion, gender, politics and do not swear. My last point is “JFDI”. I’m not going to shout out loud what that means but if you don’t know, just Google it. JFDI: that’s the one.
Next week will be the final instalment of our social leaders series and it’s the turn of Simon Blake, Chief Executive of the National Union of Students.