Can senior managers and social media be a good match?

Last weekend I got into an impromptu social media training session at a dinner party.

The conversation started pretty innocent – my friend’s company has just launched their official Facebook page and are currently doing some pre-launch work on a Twitter account as well.

He’s your ideal CEO. Switched-on, fair and, most importantly, trusting in his staff. So as for the social media activities of the company, he’s left it in the capable hands of a few enthusiastic younger staff.

That wasn’t his worry. What he was asking me was whether or not to he should be on Facebook and Twitter himself.

Tricky question I thought. So instead of launching straight into my speech to praise social media and the beauty of transparency, I thought best to simply talk him through some of the practicalities in the two social media giants. We took our coffees across to the lounge and sat down with a laptop.

Clear purpose and policies

First we had a look at their Facebook page. Together we reviewed their about page, a short policy page and other formal text like house rules.

This, I explained, was the first step to take when starting up anything like this. Whether it’s only a few words or ten paragraphs, the about page is your visitors’ window into the core of your social media purpose. This is your opportunity to explain who you are, what they can expect from you and set some house rules.

It’s worth giving some thought to, even if your instinct is to just jump in and try it. It can prove invaluable later.

The choices you make run through your entire social media existence – what you’re posting about, when you will be online, how regularly you’re checking your page, what will your relationship to your visitors be, etc. It’s, without a doubt, far simpler to add in a sentence about you reserving the right to moderate comments in case of bad language or abusive attitude than dealing with the fallout when you’ve had to do so without announcing your intentions straight up.

For a senior manager, the about page can be a place where you announce if, for example, you are in that particular social media as a private person and all work related enquiries should happen another route.

This was my advice to him. I’m not a huge fan of pseudonyms and, the truth is, I do genuinely believe in all that stuff about transparency and honesty – to me, they are the only way forward in all aspects of social media.

No place to hide

But what if people bombard me with lots of complaints and abuse? Or what if I get rammed with friend requests from people I don’t want to see my profile?

I suggested we took a look at social media from the point of view of traditional customer-business relationship; there may be some parallels we can apply to individuals as well.

The great thing about social media for consumers has been that the power has shifted away from the big corporations, unable to hide behind glossy marketing campaigns anymore. The conversation has started and people are talking about your products whether you want it or not. Your choice is simply whether to jump into that conversation and defend/explain yourself or to watch quietly from the side-lines.

The great thing about social media for big corporations is that it has given them a chance to be human and talk to their customers in a more genuine way. And in terms of complaints and bad-mouthing, the transparency of the social media means that these can be turned into PR gems – there’s nothing better than a quick, good and fair response from a global conglomerate to Joe Blogs.

Both these, I think, apply from the personal point of view as well. Unfair, horrible bosses are no longer able to hide in the comfort of their fancy offices. And bosses who are unfairly abused can only come out as winners if responding to an abusive comment well on their Facebook wall. My advice to him was, again, not to worry – he falls into the latter category.

As for the flurry of friend requests, in the recent years, Facebook has made it far easier to control different levels of privacy by categorising your friends into groups.

Don’t be afraid to be yourself

What would I say on my social media accounts?

This was a classic. The truth is you don’t have to say anything. Social media is what you make of it. Twitter for a lot of people I know is simply a tool they use to browse interesting content on the web. They never tweet a word themselves. Facebook, for me, has lately become only a way to stay in touch with friends in different countries and share pictures.

This wasn’t my advice though. For a senior manager or a CEO who’s got a personality and charisma, why not use social media to show that, to become more approachable and more human in the eyes of their employees and the rest of the world.

We don’t necessarily have to hear what they’re having for lunch (the classic non-Twitterers description of the nonsense people say there) but it’s quite nice to see an occasional Instagram shot from their weekend walk on the countryside or hear about the new book they’re reading. It’s all great stuff for elevator small talk.

But what if I say something stupid?

This is a worry which I can personally understand very well. I say stupid things all the time but don’t (usually!) get slapped in the face with a recording of it later.

My advice was again to trust the combination of your social media policy and personal filter of what’s appropriate. Make clear if the nature of your account is personal and think before you Tweet.

Ending on high note

To finish off, I had to give my speech on why social media was amazing.

Whether it’s as a route to the most interesting and relevant information on the web, or as a networking tool to make your conference attendance more meaningful and strategic, or as an extension for marketing activities to give a more human voice to your company/brand or to simply stay in touch with your friends. Social media can be priceless.

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