|Charity Leaders’ Exchange|
Last month David Cameron finally joined Twitter. There was a flurry of media interest in this, with The Guardian noting that he had received a ‘torrent of abuse’ via his timeline, covering everything from his government’s policies to his background. At the time of writing, he’d clocked up 139,350 followers. I want to share what we can learn from Cameron’s first month of tweeting, which can be applied to any leader who joins Twitter, whether you are from a large or small organisation and whatever sector you’re in.
1. People want to know about YOU. Twitter is a warm and personal medium. If I was being cynical, I’d say that the tone and content of Cameron’s Twitter feed reads like it’s another channel deployed by his press office. Fine, there are words to that effect in his Twitter profile. But people expect something a little more immediate and human from Twitter, as well as news about policy and his movements. This applies whether you are David Cameron, Kim Kardashian or have a senior role in the field you work in. If you were at a networking event, you’d make social chit chat as well as talking about work, wouldn’t you? The rules of normal ‘offline’ conversation also apply to social media.
2. Use Twitter to engage. Looking at Cameron’s feed, I can’t see any use of @ to reply or start a dialogue with people. There aren’t even any retweets. Sure, he’s the Prime Minister, and he’s busy running the country. But social media is, after all, social, and canny Twitter uses know that the value is in the conversation. Recently, I tweeted Labour MP Tom Watson about a report which the charity I work for, Lasa, had written. Within 5 minutes, Tom had replied to me saying that he’d look at it. If you’re on Twitter, and particularly if you’re known in your field, people will want to talk to you. Make the most of it.
3. Decide what you’re going to engage with. As the press documented, Cameron received a lot of negative comments when he first started tweeting. And you don’t need to be very famous to get ‘trolled.’ You might, for example, get some feedback about a controversial article that you’ve written. Decide what you are- and aren’t- going to respond to. If you simply ignore all comments though, people will notice. When Cameron failed to respond to the ‘torrent of abuse’ on his timeline that became a press story in itself.
4. Be authentic. Why does Stephen Fry have close to 5 million Twitter followers? Because his tweets sound like him. Equally, Obama was able to grow huge support through Twitter and other social media channels because people felt he was genuinely trying to connect with them. I do know charities where the comms department ghost the CEO’s tweets, and I can see why this happens, as they may write his or her articles and speeches as well. Senior people are busy, after all. But there is something about the very personal nature of Twitter as a medium which means that people can always tell when it is not you. And this applies to any other media you pull into your timeline. For example, the photos which Cameron has tweeted look like press shots, rather than candid images. My advice to David Cameron- and any other leaders who sign up to twitter- is to get stuck in and let your personality shine through. Otherwise, it can look like you’re using social media for the sake of it.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Cameron’s twitter presence develops. I hope that he and his team take the opportunity to make the most of this vitally important channel. It could be his hotline to the electorate during the next election.
Zoe Amar is Head of Marketing and Business Development at Lasa, a charity which provides services to Shelter, Age UK and thousands of other charities across the UK. She is a regular personal commentator and speaker on charity marketing, contributing to The Guardian, Charity Comms, and Charity Finance. Zoe is also on the board at Bright One and is a Chartered Marketer. She tweets from @zoeamar