#SocialLeaders series – the summary

We have spent the last few months talking to leaders from a range of sectors and industries about how and why they use social media in their roles.  For some, it is about sales and marketing.  For others, it is about understanding trends and key issues.  For others still, it is about being present for customers, members or service users.

You can find all of the interviews from the series here.

When it comes to social media, we typically offer a three-step piece of straightforward advice:

 Be you, dive in, share stuff.

We believe that you get the most out of social media when you get involved with the conversation. It is a place to be authentic – showing up as yourself, not an auto-generated post. It’s about sharing your ideas and knowledge, about adding to the dialogue, and also disseminating information with the people that follow you for the greater good.

When it comes to the leaders we talked too, there are some common themes.  Here’s a summary of what they told us.

First of all, social leaders show their personality.   As Simon Blake said, using social media makes you human.  It’s not just about professional posts or corporate messages, but sharing a bit of family and personal too.  Social leaders understand that you don’t have to always have to wear that leadership face.

It makes you human - Simon Blake

Social leaders understand how to fit it in – and they do it.  When we talk to people about using social media, time is often one of the biggest barriers they put up.  People think it’s going to take up too much of it. But it just doesn’t have to.  Social media is about filling in the minutes.  Gemma and I are breakfast tweeters, often found on social media alongside tea and toast. Peter Cheese checks Twitter in taxis or train journeys. It’s about making the time – and those leaders who see the benefits do just that.  And, as Asif Choudry said…. JFDI.

JFDI - Asif Choudry

Social leaders value the direct connections.  Whether it is connecting with customers, members or constituents, they listen, engage and respond.  Tom Riordan, Chief Executive of Leeds City Council said that Twitter gives him a direct communication route to the outside world.  They recognise the benefits of the immediacy and speed of information.

Social leaders pick their platforms.  They understand that different social spaces provide different results and opportunities.  They know that you can’t do them all.  So they find the one that works for them best.  As Rebecca Jeffery said – pick the platform that suits your personality!

Pick the platform that suits your personality and enjoy using it - Rebecca Jeffery

Social leaders don’t worry too much about the potential negatives.  There can be downsides to social media use. You will find the occasional troll. You will always find someone who disagrees with you and isn’t afraid to say so.  There can be harassment or bullying, or even people stealing examples of your work.  But our leaders recognised that the good stuff of social media outweighs the bad.

Social leaders use social media as learning for themselves.  Social media can be a valuable learning tool.  The concept of the personal learning network has gained interest of late. The idea that your social connections can be a valuable source of information and knowledge. It can also be a way of keeping up to date with trends, technology and opportunities. As Phil Jones , MD of Brother said… it puts you at the epicentre of understanding.

Interestingly, Twitter is the most used platform. All of our leaders are using it, one way or another. We love Jo Swinson’s description of why she loves Twitter: ‘its immediacy, for the brevity… and also the curation of randomness that you can put together in your stream’.

It is a fabulous learning opportunity for me personally - Peter Cheese

Social leaders do it for themselves.  None of the people we spoke to outsources their own voice to anyone one else.  As Asif said… if you can’t be bothered posting your own content, don’t do it at all.

We’d like to say a huge thanks to all of the leaders who took the time to share their thoughts, views and insights on how they use social media. We really hope this has been and will continue to be a useful resource for aspiring social leaders in every sector.

Before we began this series we believed one thing: that social media presents an opportunity for leaders.  An opportunity 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.

It is still a rare thing to see leaders using social media really well.  There are some excellent examples but they are few and far between.  Previous research into Fortune 500 CEO’s found that whilst most of them could be found on LinkedIn, they weren’t exactly active.  Those that had managed to find their way to other platforms like Twitter still weren’t really all that social.   This is why we wrote our practical guide for social media for leaders.  To encourage them to get more social for the benefit of them, and their organisations.

The time for social leadership is now. 

#SocialLeaders series – Simon Blake

Our final social leader in this series is Simon Blake OBE. Simon is currently the Chief Executive at the National Union of Students which exists to advise and support students’ unions to represent the voices of seven million students across the UK. Simon is also a Trustee of Stonewall and former Chief Executive of the young people’s sexual health charity Brook. Simon is very active on Twitter both personally and on behalf of his various roles. Here are Simon’s thoughts on being a social leader (as always, the transcript is below the video)…

What are your social media platforms of choice and why?

Twitter is the obvious one because it does photos, it does news, it does inane chit chat. I increasingly use Instagram and Facebook less and less – Twitter just seems to be the one that just rides through pretty consistently.


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

I think it makes you human and if the first point of leadership is being human and being authentic and being trusted, then it is a clear way of doing that. In terms of connectivity with others outside the organisation, reaching people you might not otherwise have been able to do, connecting up, but also people from within your organisation, from within your sector, learning a bit more about you, feeling a bit more connected to you. And then there is a whole other side of it which is actually it’s the place where you find out a lot, learn a lot, understand a lot, get other people’s insight and ideas which all adds up to a heady mix of being a critical part of being a leader.


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

At NUS it won’t surprise you to know that there is a huge level of engagement with social media. Students and Student Officers use all sorts of platforms in order to connect and communicate with each other and sometimes to the point where you think, “Hold on, that thing you’ve just published on Facebook should actually be on our website” or “I would have been interested to have learned about that inside the organisation rather than on social media”. Across the organisation we have got a staff team who are very competent and connected on all forms of social media, but also a group of leaders, committee members and volunteers who are digital natives and learning, thriving, developing and teaching us all the way through.


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

I think the obvious one is that every decision you make, people have immediate recourse to feel as though they can talk to you 24/7 and don’t necessarily operate with the same courtesy and dignity which they would sometimes do in person. Those things clearly shift the way that we work, the way that we think and the amount of time that people can have access to you. How do you manage that? It is up to us when we answer, how we answer and what we answer. I think we all have to take responsibility for that. Whether that is just simply ignoring it, saying “actually    can you email me this or can we talk within these hours”, or “can we conduct this a little bit more respectfully?” In the same way that you have to be a leader in the way that you communicate with people in person, the same is true on social media. I think sometimes we forget that it’s the same rules of the game, it’s just a different platform and a different way of doing it.

I guess the ones which are perhaps most troubling are the moments where you think “I’m not part of this discussion and suddenly you’re coming at me at 11.00 at night” or “I did start this discussion but I didn’t think it was going to be this controversial and actually I’m at a friend’s birthday party or somewhere else and I feel like I do need to engage with it but I don’t want to for very long” – I think that’s about us just learning how to make sure that you are conscious that there may be unintended consequences. People may decide to communicate with you in a way and at a time that you don’t want that to happen and how do you finish that without it being disrespectful or manage it in such a way that people don’t feel you are shutting them out? I said something recently where somebody clearly completely disagreed with me. I said “Let’s just agree to disagree” and their immediate response was “I hope you’re more respectful with other students who try to engage with you online.” I thought “It’s not that I’m being disrespectful, it’s just that I’m not willing to argue this point”, so saying “Let’s just agree to disagree” seemed to me a perfectly reasonable way to do it. I guess, I may have said it with a nicer tone or wrapped up in a couple of sentences in a real conversation, whereas with 140 characters that seemed like a reasonable thing to do.


How have you used social media to connect with your key stakeholders?

If you don’t overthink it, that’s what you actually do naturally isn’t it? I think that sometimes if you are good at communicating or good at connecting, you use social media as a route to doing it more quickly and easily. One of the things which interests me is that I woke up this morning with direct messages on Twitter which were connected with work, some from Facebook and some via email. Historically, I would have thought “hold on a second, what are you doing messaging me in different ways for work-related things?” whereas now I think that is just the nature of what you’re doing. You’re connecting with people through different mechanisms and routes. Unless you deliberately try to keep those boundaries, that is increasingly going to be the way that it’s going to happen: people will find you however they want to and connect with you in that way. Sometimes, very deliberately, I have thought “we need somebody to publicise that”. So when I was at Brook, we would try to get people to support the comedy gig online. At Stonewall, trying to get some people to endorse or retweet and sometimes literally saying “I know we haven’t had a chance to meet but let’s have a conversation” and often people say yes, whereas if you go through formal channels, there might well have been five people saying “no, you’re not going to that person”. People can get to you who would not otherwise have been able to get to you and you can get to people in the same sort of way. I had a conversation this morning with someone from Celebrity Big Brother who wanted to talk to me about some voluntary work I’m doing. Ordinarily, his agent would have tried to talk to my assistant and it would just never have happened, whereas instead it’s just “yeah yeah, OK, I’ll send you an email”. Interesting times!


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

Just do it. Find your own voice, find your own style. Don’t be a one-trick pony – don’t be a different vessel for your press releases to get out. Have conversations. Almost be like you’re at a party – you can talk seriously for a minute, have a joke, talk about your family, whatever it is: it has to be a combination of things. Just try it and find your way. I honestly think that there is no single bit of advice you can take other than try it, don’t be scared of it, use your own voice, sometimes you’ll mess up – just apologise for it. Don’t assume that it can be as polished as it would if it went through your corporate communications function – and that’s okay.

That is the final instalment of our social leaders series. We really hope that you have enjoyed hearing the thoughts of all the brilliant folk who spoke to us and that they will inspire you in your use of social media.

#SocialLeaders series: Asif Choudry

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.

#SocialLeaders series: Jo Swinson

This week on the Social Leaders series we are talking to Jo Swinson. A Member of Parliament for over a decade, Jo was both Minster for Women and Equalities, and latterly Minster for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs. On leaving Parliament, Jo founded Equal Power Consulting in order to help businesses identify and deliver organisational change to enable their people to thrive, whether they are women or men. You can find Jo on Twitter as @joswinson.

Jo is also chair of Maternity Action, the UK’s leading charity committed to ending inequality and improving the health and well-being of pregnant women, as well as chairing the CIPD’s Policy Forum, which brings together senior HR leaders to share expertise and thought-leadership on current and future challenges around the world of work.

Here is what Jo had to say about social leadership (or you can read the transcript below).


What are your social media platforms of choice and why?

Undoubtedly Twitter is my favourite social media platform – it’s the one I’ve really been using for the longest and spend the most time on. I joined back in 2008 – I was one of the first MPs to be on Twitter and really enjoyed experimenting with it as a new form of engagement and tweeting Prime Minister’s Questions live back in the days when that was frowned upon by other Members of Parliament who took a dim view of all this newfangled smartphone rubbish. I really enjoy Twitter for its immediacy, for the brevity of Twitter and also the curation of randomness that you can put together in your Twitter stream so I’ve got everything from HR to a bit of political commentary, feminism and equality campaigners and then random stuff like pictures of Scottish mountains and the Science Porn account which has little nuggety facts about science which just make you think differently. I love that about Twitter. I’m on Facebook but I’ve been off and on with it. I’m on LinkedIn which is quite useful professionally but I find it hard to get excited about. The other one which I’m just experimenting with is Instagram which I’m still fairly new to but I am enjoying, particularly because it’s making me think about images differently and experimenting with what makes a great picture and how to communicate through imagery.


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

I think using social media can be really helpful for leaders in terms of connecting and I certainly found that when I was a Member of Parliament, I was able to connect directly with some constituents through social media. As a minister I would find on issues like employment law that there was a whole Twitter and employment law community online where again I could get that direct connection. In researching my book, I find that there are equality campaigners on Twitter that I’ve got that direct access to. So I think it’s particularly good for connecting.

For Chief Executives, it’s really hard sometimes for them to know what’s going on on the shop floor of the business, what their customers are thinking and I think Twitter and other social media networks can be really helpful for just bridging that gap and putting people in touch with one another. Then, I suppose separately, particularly in the political sphere, having that kind of campaign platform, the ability to mobilise people, whether it’s in campaigning, whether it’s in signing petitions, but that ability of social media to bring people together and get them excited about something is really helpful for people who are trying to lead a movement of change.


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

I’ve used social media in a variety of organisations. I’m now chairing the CIPD Policy Forum and the CIPD is pretty engaged in social media. Obviously, for a long time, I was a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament and the way in which political parties engage with social media can be quite different and has to take into account the reality of the fact that you’ve got different tribes of politics, if you like, online. I do think the Liberal Democrat press account is normally quite good at being able to develop a sense of humour, not be too serious and not take themselves too seriously on Twitter. I think that’s there’s a bit more personality injected into social media.

I think across the organisations that I have worked in, the common factor is that people’s use of social media is very much dependent on whether they individually like doing it. You can all see the Twitter accounts that are basically sending out corporate press releases or the line to take and that doesn’t really engage anyone. Yet in all sorts of organisations you will get people who are really good at engaging and understanding the narrative and the personality that a particular organisation needs to have online and engaging with people in that way. I find in politics, as much as I find in business, that it’s much more dependent on individuals than about the overall organisation. I think that it is a problem if organisations are too prescriptive about saying “everybody must be on this network or that network” and do X or Y: while yes, it makes sense if you’re a professional to have a LinkedIn profile, but how people engage with social media is actually a pretty personal choice for them to make.


What, if any, downsides do you see to being a leader on social media?

 Social media can be great but there are downsides as well: one of the biggest downsides is the sheer “volume versus time” conundrum, particularly if people’s expectations are that everything they send will be responded to. I found as a politician that could be quite difficult to manage particularly if there were a few days where I was intensely busy in a Bill Committee then perhaps doing Question Time and then I would find I had hundreds and hundreds of mentions. Sometimes you wouldn’t even be clear that you’d been able to see everything because you’d scroll through but it hadn’t showed you everything and it could be hard to keep track of so I think that volume is an issue – although one which partly used to be resolved by managing expectations that you will try to engage but you cannot ever guarantee that every single thing that somebody says to you on social media will automatically get a response. You need to have a different mechanism where people, if they want a guaranteed response, can send an email or a letter or some other way of contact.

I think there’s also this echo chamber difficulty. It’s really easy for people to look at their social media and think that the whole world thinks the same way that they do. We saw it in 2014 with the independence referendum in Scotland where many fervent supporters of Independence just could not believe the result – they literally questioned whether it was fair because everybody that they knew or they spoke to was backing independence. You see the same things in the Trump election or the Brexit debate here in this country, where people have their own communities that are populated by others that believe the same thing. I think that in itself can be quite dangerous you know: it’s helpful if we come across different viewpoints and that we can make sure that different people’s ideas are taken into account.

The other thing I would say is that the abuse can be a downside, so it’s the opposite of the echo chamber that you almost get deluged with people just shouting you down and that particularly is an issue in politics or for people who are in the public eye. Interestingly, when I stopped being MP it was like somebody had just turned off a tap and this sort of steady stream of abuse that I would get daily and would peak if I’d ever been on the television almost came to a halt. Now I only really notice it if I do something like a paper review on Sky, where last summer I criticised Nigel Farage’s comments saying that migrants were all rapists and suddenly I had this torrent of, Islamophobic in that case, Twitter abuse.


How have you used social media to connect with key stakeholders?

I use social media regularly to connect with stakeholders and I’ve done that for constituents and for people who were involved in the different industries and areas that I was legislating on and taking policy decisions on as a Minister. Sometimes I’ve done that directly through @ replies on Twitter, by retweeting people or by following different accounts so that I can see what different stakeholder groups are saying. Sometimes I’ve done that very explicitly with things like Twitter Q&As or having an hour or where I say, “I’m going to be online and able to answer questions on this particular issue” and that kind of approach can be helpful if volume’s an issue because it means that people aren’t expecting to get you all the time, but you are making yourself available to people nonetheless. I think a mix of these different tools has proved very effective – particularly as people are often surprised to get a response and to have somebody in a high profile position engage with them on social media and people do appreciate it.


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

In terms of using social media for the first time, maybe you’re signed up to a couple of platforms but you haven’t spent a lot of time on it, I’d say first of all, spend a bit of time playing with it and getting familiar with it. Follow other people, watch what they do, get a bit of a feel for how it works and you will over time develop your own style.

I would say the number of one piece of advice I would give would be to be authentic, to be yourself. Just sounding like the corporate line does not work on social media – there’s no benefit in doing that. Being able to show a little bit more of yourself – and it doesn’t need to be tweeting pictures of every single thing to eat – but just being able to show a human side and be yourself I think is something which is very much appreciated by others on social media and helps it to be somewhere where you can enjoy and you can feel like you’re being yourself and engaging in that authentic way.

Huge thanks to Jo for her really interesting reflections on her experiences of using social media as a leader. Next week on our social leaders series we talk to Asif Choudry, Sales and Marketing Director of Resource, who shares his strategy for using social media to build his business and drive sales.

#SocialLeaders series: Phil Jones

This is the latest in our series of conversations with leaders who “get” social media and actively use it as part of their day job.  For some, this is about engaging with customers or service users.  For others, it is about connecting with the people that work for them, or simply part of their employer brand.

This week it is Phil Jones MBE from ICT services provider Brother (www.brother.co.uk). As well as being their MD, he is also a NED and President of Greater Manchester Community Foundation – Forever Manchester.  Named on the Power 100 for Insider North West Magazine, a Top 100 Thinker by Britain Means Business and a Top 100 figure in the Manufacturing industry, under his leadership Brother have been named a Times Top 100 Place to Work as well as an Investors in People ‘Platinum’ employer in 2016.

If all that wasn’t impressive enough, Phil is a former winner of Institute of Directors ‘Manchester Director of the Year’ and ‘North West Director of the Year in 2011’ and in June 2016 he was awarded an MBE for Services to Business. He has been on Twitter since 2008, which makes him an early adopter.  You can find him there as @PhilJones40. He blogs at www.philjones.biz and you can find out more about him at https://branded.me/philjones.

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


What are your social media platforms of choice and why?

I use Twitter primarily for status updates and tips and keeping track of the network of people I know, Linkedin for longer form writing and blogging as the automated sharing and notifications make distribution very efficient.  Facebook I keep strictly for friends and family.


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

In many ways.

  • It allows anyone wanting to join the business to get an immediate sense of our culture and my own personality which is becoming increasing important when people are selecting where they want to work.
  • It gives a platform to regularly communicate to customers and partners at all level of our supply chain to let them know what we’re doing in a more personal way that they may see in the press.
  • It puts you right in the epicentre of understanding the latest trends, technology and key issues.
  • It means opportunity reaches me more quickly than many of our competitors.


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

Personally I think the bulk of people are engaged with social media in terms of their personal lives, using Facebook.  At least half the company uses Twitter and nearly everyone is on LinkedIn.  The tone very much gets set at the top when it comes to giving permission to people to be brand ambassadors via building their own social profiles, not everyone wants it or is comfortable with it. I’m personally engaged and encourage others.


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

There aren’t many, occasionally you find people expect instant responses from you, it’s the nature of the platform so meeting that expectation isn’t always easy.  When you’re giving attention to other things – meetings, conversations or planning – then it’s not practical to do that as you’re focused elsewhere.  There may also be times when individuals want to debate a point to the ‘nth degree and that’s not always practical so good to have a think before you post particular things.  I tend to avoid politics for example as it can often divide.


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

Absolutely.  I often refer to myself as the ‘COE’ of the company ‘Chief Opportunity Engineer’ whose job it is to assist with opening doors for our sales team with senior decision makers.  Using Twitter and Linkedin as part of that process is key.  It’s an excellent application to keep relationships warm.


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

  1. Choose the appropriate platform and get started. Spend your early days understanding how it all works. Devote 15 minutes a day to the platform.
  2. Do It Yourself.  Some outsource their social profile to an agency which I’m personally not in favour of.  Keep it real, keep it you.
  3. Specialise. Pick the genres of things you want to be seen as a specialist in and focus on distributing content in those topic area.  For me it’s all about quality more than quantity in terms of content and followers.  I focus on Leadership, Quality thinking and tips for success.
  4. Use tools to filter out noise. I use Hootsuite which allows me to filter people into certain themes or topics meaning you can save time if wanting to keep track of particular people or specific topics like Leadership or Innovation.
  5. It’s not all about the business. Show some of your own personality, share some of your own thoughts or perspectives.  Keeping a good balance of who you are relevant to the business you run works.

A big thanks from us to a truly social leader for sharing his insights with us.

Now it is shameless plug time…  don’t forget you can buy your very own copy of our book on Putting Social Media to Work, which features lots more practical advice for leaders, right here.

Next week on the #SocialLeaders series is Jo Swinson, former Business Minister and Director of Equal Power Consulting.



#SocialLeaders series: Rebecca Jeffery

Image: Rebecca Jeffery We hope you have been enjoying the Social Leaders series. If you haven’t seen the earlier interviews, you can find the link to the previous posts here.

Today we hand over to Rebecca Jeffery.  She is perhaps best known for being a contestant on the 2016 series of BBC TV’s The Apprentice.  When she isn’t hanging out with Alan Sugar, she runs a design and marketing business with her sister.  Fi and Becs Design and Marketing provide branding, design and copywriting for businesses of all sizes, and Rebecca credits social media as being a big driver for them in terms of business growth and connecting with customers.

Watch Rebecca talking about using social for her business:

Or just check out the transcript below….


What are your social media platforms of choice and why?

The social media that we have used in our business has actually changed as our business has evolved. We’ve been going for three years now.  When we first started our business, the first thing we did, literally over a cup of tea, was start a website called Fi and Becs.  Then we started Facebook and Twitter.  For us, Facebook and Twitter for the first, maybe, two years were the most useful social media platforms.

Facebook we very much used like a community.  We built our following – now it is getting to about 1,000 – but that community has been really, really valuable.  It gets a lot of interaction, a lot of engagement, it’s a lot of our previous clients.  We also find that people follow us for about six months just to see what we do and then suddenly message us and say that they would like to work with us.  So Facebook for us has been a lot of direct messages – we actually get work directly a lot through Facebook.

On the Twitter side of things, I love Twitter to pieces.  My sister, Fi, who I run the business with, loves it a little bit less.  I’m the Twitter fiend!  We use Twitter and have got loads of work just off the back of Twitter.  We see Twitter almost as a way of being connected to your local community.

In the last year, that has really evolved.  We have gone from Facebook and Twitter really into Instagram, heavily.  Both of us used it for ages personally, but last year we started our business Instagram accounts and they have boomed. We now get a lot of likes and engagement, but again a lot of interest from clients from our posts on Instagram.

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

For someone starting a business from scratch with absolutely no budget – I had no funding, no grant, no loan, I literally just had a laptop, my sister had a laptop and we just started a business – social media has been invaluable.  It is has been the way essentially that we started a business that now has 120 clients.  We haven’t had a marketing budget, we haven’t spent any money on our own marketing, but through our use of Facebook and Twitter we have been able to collect clients and we have been able to share the work that we have done with those clients.

One of the reasons that we say we have been quite successful is that every single time we have done a project and it has launched, say the relaunch of a brand or a website or some copywriting, the second we have finished it and the client has said it is great, we post about it on our social media channels.  We would add it straightaway.  Add it to the website, tell everybody about it on Facebook, tell everybody about it on Twitter. And purely by telling everyone about it, and saying what we were doing, we existed.

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

The downsides I suppose of being on social media and having a big presence – or a “followed” presence –  on social media, is that we have found people replicating our work.  That doesn’t really bother us that much.  We are quite happy for people to copy us – it is a good compliment, isn’t it, when someone copies what you are doing?  But because we are really open and honest on our social media channels, so on Twitter and on Facebook, we say “this is some work that we have done, have a look at it, isn’t it nice?” Or we say “I’m sitting today working on this copywriting for this client” and I usually tag the clients in it. The downside could be that my competitors know at any given moment exactly what I am doing and the work that I have just done.

How have you used social media to connect with customers?

The thing I love about the way we use our social media is that all the people that are looking to work with us know that we are not lying, because every single post I do about work I have done, I tag the client in it.  I am not embellishing or lying or using old work, because I can’t because I am tagging the clients in it all the time.

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

This piece of advice would be exactly the same if you were a tiny little startup company or if you were a CEO of a business wanting to have your own personal brand on social media.  Pick the social media that you actually like using, and that you enjoy, and that you will want to keep using in a year’s time.  Because there are so many people out there who start social media accounts because they think they should and they use the wrong channel for them.  They will maybe start a Facebook group when actually they are not really sure what they are going to do with that Facebook group or they will start an Instagram account and not post anything on it for six months.

There is absolutely no point starting a social media channel for yourself or your personal brand or your business if you are not going to enjoy using it and use it a lot.

So the best advice I can give is: pick the social media that suits your personality and enjoy using it and actually use it, because that is the valuable way you can use any piece of social media.

Thank you to Rebecca for sharing her knowledge and experience.

Next up on the #SocialLeaders Series is Phil Jones, MD of technology firm Brother, on what he believes being a social leader is all about.

#SocialLeaders series: Peter Cheese

Photo: Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPDThis is the second blog in our Social Leaders series exploring how real life leaders are using social media to connect with their customers, employees and stakeholders and seeking their advice for aspiring social leaders.

Today we have Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.  As HR professionals, he’s kind of our boss, so we were chuffed that he was happy to talk to us about how he sees the role of social media in leadership.

Peter is recognised as a leading consultant, speaker and writer in the field of human capital and organisation, having worked with many organisations, practitioners and thought leaders in this field.  He was voted as the UKs most influential thinker in HR for 2013 by HR Magazine. He is also a Non-Executive Director at BPP University and sits on the Advisory Board of the Open University Business School.  Prior to joining the CIPD, Peter was Global Managing Director of Accenture’s Talent and Organisation Performance consulting practice.

We say he is also a great example of social leadership.  He uses Twitter to engage with the people that work with him and who are members of the organisation he leads.  He shares content not only from the CIPD but other relevant sources (one of our key recommendations on being social!) and isn’t afraid to engage in a bit of social recognition.  You can find Peter on Twitter as @Cheese_Peter.

Tim had a Skype with Peter to put our questions to him about all things social leadership.  You can watch the video here:

Or just check out the transcript below……


What are your social media platforms of choice and why?

My social media platforms of choice, which are really the ones I engage with the most, are Twitter and Linkedin primarily. I am also on Facebook but rather less active on that and I do from time to time in a more social context (and I do think it is interesting to think about it in my business context, professional context and social context) engage a bit with Snapchat and Instagram.

As a business the CIPD is across pretty much all of those channels.  Like any business we have a large constituency we are trying to communicate with and we are really working across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and trying to make use of all of the channels.

But personally, I most engage with Linkedin and Twitter.

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

I think the use of social media for leaders is really interesting. We have talked for a long time about authenticity and leaders, and being able to hear them as real individuals.  These channels do provide that opportunity, they provide the opportunity for us to speak.  I recognise that not all leaders who are speaking on these channels are speaking for themselves and are getting others to do it for them – but it is my voice coming through these channels.  I think that is very powerful and first and foremost it allows people to see me in a more holistic way, to see me in a perhaps a slightly different or informal context and hear the kinds of things I am thinking about and what is on my mind.  It has benefited me through that kind of outreach and that connectivity.  It is very interesting to see how people react to that and how they react to what I push into these channels.

The second point to recognise is that they are fantastic learning channels for me personally. I am always saying to people through these sorts of social media outlets that they are wonderful learning opportunities. I do follow a lot of different people – it is quite extraordinary to think before we had Twitter how we did all of these this.  It is the other really, really important part of social media – it creates an incredible learning platform and opportunity to stay connected to what is happening and as a leader in the modern world I think that is more important than it has ever been.

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

We have created a Yammer-like internal social media platform at the CIPD and we are trying to use that across the organisation.  We have offices internationally as well and we are trying that same technique across our organisation – we are trying to help people connect – that to me is what social media is all about.

We are promoting that but as with so many of these things, you have to create that movement of change.  Some of it is a bit viral and some of it is what you can direct from the top.  I personally, of course, need to be visible on these platforms. So that is one aspect – how we are using it within our own organisation.

Then, more broadly, it is about how are we seeing our own employees out on social media platforms themselves. Are they on Twitter or LinkedIn?  I continually try to encourage people back to the points I made earlier: this is not just using social media to express your innermost thoughts or what you had for breakfast, it is a fantastic vehicle for learning and keeping in touch so I am always encouraging them that way.  I say the same things when I speak to HR professionals – you should be on Twitter as a good example because it is such a great learning platform.

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

I have, like many of us, lots of conversations with business leaders about things like this. You can divide it into various camps. There are some leaders who feel quite exposed – they feel that if they are on social media platforms they always need to be commenting or always writing stuff. “I may not say the right thing”: there is a real fear of saying something inappropriate or inadvertent.

There are also concerns, and it was part of my concern when I got onto things like Twitter for example, of your sheer attention span.  We are already overwhelmed with emails and texts and other forms of communication.  Some people say ‘oh my goodness you now expect me to on Twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn and blogging and I don’t have the capacity to keep up with it all!’. That is a genuine issue.  How do we make sure that we managing these different channels but not overwhelming ourselves and finding that they become a huge distraction? I don’t know that I have entirely cracked it myself – but the great thing about social media is that you can access it any time, any place, anywhere.  I tend to do things like Twitter when I am on a train journey or in a taxi. You can do it very quickly.  That is the trick to this – not to think that you have to carve out an hour a day to do social media. You just interject it into those blank moments or whatever because it is so accessible.

Those are the two primary barriers that I hear: one is the time and attention and the other is what am I supposed to be saying – “if I’m a leader in a public enterprise, I’d better have my PR team telling me what to say”, that sort of thing. Those concerns have to be taken seriously and we do have to coach leaders in how to use social media platforms in ways that won’t get them into any “trouble”, if you will.

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

As a business, I often describe the CIPD as an “ecosystem”. We have 300 plus employees, a thousand plus volunteers – from people who run branches through to examiners and assessors and we also have a lot of consultants.  It is a big ecosystem and therefore the value of social media to connect that ecosystem is very powerful.

It has got to work two ways – you have got to have the people in the ecosystem themselves on social media and linked to us so we monitor that very closely. We have people who monitor all the stats about how many people are following us on LinkedIn and all these other channels. What are the subjects that get most interest – what gets the attention?  We are always learning how best to communicate through these channels.  Those are fundamental points – understanding, as with any communication, that if you want to use social media to communicate out, it is a two-way street – you have to know that people are listening in, and then use it not just for outbound communication but as an opportunity to hear from the wider ecosystem, the members and all the other stakeholders.

That is very important as well. We are, for sure, experimenting with Twitter chats and other things like online hacks through social media to ask questions of the community, get them to comment and bring ideas together.

Or, of course – and this is another wonderful thing about social media – people can be in some ways more challenging through social media.  They haven’t got to write a long email to me as Chief Exec – they can just challenge. We also know that there are some downsides to that – people do it, they think, anonymously and you get “trolling”, but in a professional business context I don’t see very much of that.  The reality is that It is a great channel for us to hear honest feedback, contribution to ideas and thinking. I am very excited about the opportunities for us to continue to grow, though social media, that ability to connect and recognise that, as I said, it is a two-way connection as well as a peer-to-peer connection which is so powerful.

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

The advice that I would give to other leaders thinking about social media is to do it consciously. You do need to understand what it is you are seeking to get from it, how to approach it.  Having said that, you can also do it in real baby steps.  Twitter is such a good example, you can just get on and start to follow people, you don’t even necessarily need to say anything yourself at all. You can just begin to get the tone of communication, look at others, follow other people, find things that are interesting and then evolve towards it. Those would be two obvious points of guidance: don’t do it lightly and understand what you are trying to get from it.

I have described a lot about how I see social media as such an important vehicle for us to communicate and connect but that is not the only reason, there can be others as well. Think about it consciously and you can go into it with relatively baby steps.

To come back to my platforms of choice, Twitter is very easy, the easiest of all in my experience to get onto and engage with.  Linkedin is a bit more sophisticated and people are using it for a whole variety of reasons – I think that for the most part in the modern business world, most people are on LinkedIn in some shape or form.  But this is a channel that is evolving, going from “telling everyone who I am” to one that you can also write and blog and communicate through.  That is another step that people can think about around LinkedIn.

Some of these others – it is personal preference and choice, and where perhaps in different sectors or industries or communities, different social media platforms have a greater resonance, but that is why I tend stick mostly to Twitter and Linkedin, as they seem to be the ones that have the greatest connection to our communities.

I am not particularly interested in using Facebook, if I am honest, in a business context but that is also evolving and Facebook for business is evolving as a channel.  That perhaps is the third thought – keep an eye on what channels are evolving and how the communities that you are working with are using them and if you are seeing a movement towards another channel then probably you need to get onto it.

A huge thank you from us to Peter for sharing his thoughts on all things social.

Next time on the #SocialLeaders series we hand over to Rebecca Jeffery of Apprentice fame, who shares all about how she has built her business through using social media.

#SocialLeaders series: Tom Riordan

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.

#SocialLeaders blog – introduction

The time for social leadership is now. 

Social media presents leaders with a whole new opportunity.  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.

It is still a rare thing to see leaders using social media really well.  There are some excellent examples but they are few and far between.  Previous research into Fortune 500 CEO’s found that whilst most of them could be found on LinkedIn, they weren’t exactly active.  Those that had managed to find their way to other platforms like Twitter still weren’t really all that social.

The third book in the series was written specifically for social leaders.  But we wanted to go further than just writing the book.  We wanted to ask leaders what social means to them, and how they have used it as part of their leadership role.

We persuaded leaders from a range of industries and organisations to talk to us about social media.  Their interviews will be posted here each week.  Keep watching!