Governance, Leadership

Trustees – embrace social media! It has a power for good!

Here's some advice for navigating social media as a charity trustee.

Many trustees avoid social media like the plague. And there is no doubt that it can be an ugly place to navigate at times. If you peep your head over the parapet (or in this case your keyboard over the internet!) it is very easy to be brutally slapped down and that’s not pleasant! However, like it or not, social media is currently the key communications platform for society and therefore for our charities too.   

The reality is that, as trustees, if we don’t engage we risk not promoting our cause, not modelling a better way of engaging and not keeping up with what others think, especially those who view things differently to us. And if we avoid those who think differently we lose the opportunity to understand why and to put across our alternative ways of thinking.   

There are so many ways to drive change on social media. You can influence people you wouldn’t normally reach or have your point picked up by a journalist or influencer. And, importantly, you have the opportunity to learn about your service users or beneficiaries by following them and seeing what is driving them. 

My social media use is largely restricted to Twitter and LinkedIn, and whilst I have undoubtedly been exposed to some ugliness, overwhelmingly I have found it an incredibly positive and useful tool for our work in the sector.   

In the physical world, the opportunity to connect with people is limited. But on social media you are able to connect with all sorts of folk who you would never be in a position to connect to. I have made connections on social media that have enhanced my understanding of the world in which we operate. I have had the opportunity to have my messages amplified by others and to amplify theirs. 

And in Charity Law, there is nothing at all to stop trustees from engaging with social media in promoting their cause or arguing the case for changes to policy or legislation. The Charity Commission’s guidance on campaigning can be found on their website – it’s called CC9. Just bear in mind that it’s both permanent and published so make sure you’d be happy saying it in a public speech or your charity’s communications methods.  

So when venturing into the often intimidating world of social media here are some things to consider:  

  • Never attack people – but freely tear down policies or practices that you think won’t work and explain why 
  • Don’t just follow folk who agree with you. Make sure you also have in your timeline folk who see the world very differently. 
  • Enhance and amplify those messages you support by reposting or liking them 
  • Use social media as a platform to promote the charites you support. Show yourself up as an advocate for them. Re-post, like, comment, They’ll appreciate your support. 
  • If someone says something you don’t like, either in a post or in comments, check their profile. If they are anonymous, have very few followers or are following very few people there’s a very good chance they’re a bot or a shill – in which case don’t engage. It’s pointless. 
  • It is sometimes worth engaging in debate on social media because even if you can’t convince the person you’re debating with, there will be folk ‘observing’ who you may well influence. Just choose those debates wisely. Don’t debate anonymous accounts or people who are personalising the issues.   
  • And I repeat – NEVER attack people or their character – trading insults about someone doesn’t make anyone look good and doesn’t change anything. Always, always focus on the point not the person 
  • If you’re not sure whether you should post something or not ask for a second opinion. I’m sure you have lots of communication/marketing professionals around you, and if not seek out a colleague who is an avid user. 
  • Check if your charity has a social media policy to guide trustees 
  • Follow your charity/colleagues/peers – and ask them who you should follow 

So Trustees – wield that keyboard with confidence. You can extend the reach and influence of your cause immeasurably when you do.