Taking time to tweet: must do or nice to do?

A growing number of charity CEOs are taking to Twitter as part of their daily routine. But should this be part of a CEO’s day to day duties? Chief executive of Crohn’s and Colitis UK David Barker firmly believes it should be. Here he explains why

Over the last few years I have been both fascinated and encouraged by the growing number of charity CEOs (and other senior leaders) who are taking time out of their hectic schedules to experiment with social media. The growing network of ‘social CEOs’ speaks volumes about the forward thinking nature of the sector, the leaders within it and how they are embracing the tremendous opportunities that ‘digital’ (whatever that means) brings.

Digital native?

Before I begin, it is important to note that I am certainly no digital native. Like many other charity leaders I grew up in an era where being a digital native meant being a proficient user of a trusty Casio electronic calculator. Embracing digital into my day-to-day working life is something I have intentionally (and proactively) worked hard at. In short, I have simply learnt by doing – throwing myself in at the deep end and just getting on with it.

So why do I tweet?

To my mind, any charity leader has a duty to be ‘visible’. Long gone are the days of organisational leaders locking themselves away in head offices only to emerge at important activities or events. Social media has driven us to a 24/7 connected world where expectations have changed. As such, the use of social media for business (and particularly business leaders) has, to my mind, moved from a nice to have to a must do.

All very well, but we all know that the greatest challenge for any CEO is time; in particular ensuring that the right amount of time is spent on the right areas of work. So how do I justify spending time on Twitter and other social media?

The answer is simple – it helps me to do my job to greater effect.

How do I make the most out of Twitter?

Have some goals – Having a few clear goals in mind will help. It can be very easy to immerse yourself in social media and spend lots of time getting nowhere.

I spend my time focused between four main areas:

  • Listening
  • Researching
  • Broadcasting
  • Engaging

Listening – Using Twitter to listen and monitor can be a revelation. By setting up lists (which help to sort the ‘tweet’ from the chaff) I’m able to see and hear first-hand what people are saying about the issues that matter to the charity and the people we serve. Social media is a real-time temperature check which is helpful, enlightening, inspiring, occasionally painful but most of all tremendously insightful.

Researching – It is quite stunning (and quite scary) just how much you can find out about people, issues and organisations through social media. Whether it’s a quick piece of ‘social research’ in advance of meeting someone or trying to reach out and connect with relevant and useful individuals/opinion formers as part of a networking and influencing programme – they are all tremendously valuable uses of social media.

Broadcasting – amplifying our organisational messaging/social media, being an ambassador for the cause and an extension of our organisational brand are important parts of a CEO’s social media broadcasting. I also use Twitter to keep people abreast of important meetings I might be attending or chairing as this also helps to give our beneficiaries a sense of the breadth of our work and the networks we are driving or supporting in pursuit of our vision.

Engaging – In my opinion, this is the most important, yet trickiest, area of my social media voyage. Striking a healthy balance between entering into dialogue without being overly drawn into long-winded, time consuming, backwards and forwards conversation is key. A quick comment or view on a pertinent issue or post, a heartfelt thank you, an answer to a question or an encouraging ‘like’ can all serve a useful purpose in developing engagement and relationships. If people want more than that I suggest they DM or email me.

So, is it worthwhile?

In a word – definitely.

Every CEO is charged with being an ambassador and spokesperson for their organisation and cause, and Twitter is a great outlet for this. Additionally, charities have rightly had to become more open and accessible and that starts right at the top of the organisation. Social media provides a great platform for any modern leader to lead by example.

At Crohn’s and Colitis UK, unlocking digital potential is helping us to build a strong and growing community of support around the cause. It is helping us to educate people about these debilitating, invisible diseases and is enabling us to reach out and support growing numbers of people with Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. Ultimately our social media programme (and I include within this my personal ‘contribution’) is helping us to deliver against our charitable objectives – personally I couldn’t wish for anything more worthy than that.

David Barker is the chief executive of Crohn’s and Colitis UK – @davidbarkerceo.
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One thought on “Taking time to tweet: must do or nice to do?

  1. Being drawn into circular arguments is a major issue on Twitter. Having a good social media team to pick-up and handoff general questions is a must too, otherwise a CEO being the only face of the org could be inundated. Most the larger charities have that covered but it is a problem for the smaller ones.

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