Social media offers a platform to facilitate communication on a broad scale. When done well, social communication elevates, inspires, informs, and entertains. At it’s worst, social posts cause harm, spread lies, and ruin reputations. How can leaders (and individuals) assure a positive impact?
Case In Point – An Example for Context
I currently serve in a volunteer role as the president of a board in my community. I’m a fairly strong supporter of social media. Social platforms offer powerful channels for sharing information and building community. Social platforms, however, aren’t a controlled environment—I sometimes refer to this as “the wild.” When we serve as a leader, we can fail our community when the only voices come from “the wild” rather than a trusted, honest broker of information.
In neighborhood social platforms, we can quickly post a traffic warning when we see an accident, recommend businesses with great products or services, ask questions about what kind of spider/snake/weed appeared in our yards, give notice about upcoming events, and let neighbors know we’ve put a free item at the curb. We can share praise, celebrations, frustrations, and social commentary.
We even benefit from more provocative posters. Sometimes an outrageous statement masks a nugget of learning to consider. As a member of the board, I pay attention to these to see if there’s an opportunity to communicate more effectively.
At the same time, we’ve all seen the darker side of social media. Name-calling. Bullying. Rumors and speculation. A good friend and colleague of mine uses the hashtag “#WeCanDoBetter” when he sees conversation steer away from civil discourse.
The organization I serve considers the following “primary” communication channels: the website, face to face meetings and documentation of meetings, email from the office to community members, our quarterly newsletter, and annual mailings. To the extent possible, I believe we need to employ social media as a secondary path of communication to reach as many members as possible in the place where they spend time.
This year our board is investing time to craft a communication strategy and associated policy. Leaders from any company, governmental entity, nonprofit, or other organization should consider the what, how, and when of communication. For example, as a start, we’ve agreed on the following uses for social media:
- The organization’s Facebook page provides supplementary notices of regularly scheduled meetings, along with content to amplify or mirror information sent via other means.
- Content to an emergency operations Facebook group to equip points of contact and to share with community members.
- Content to our committee pages/groups to help residents volunteering for these committees serve the community.
- Replication or “sharing” of appropriate content to neighborhood pages and social apps.
- Updates during emergencies, such as hurricanes/named storms to any social platform we are able to access.
How Leaders Engage Makes A Difference
As leaders, we have an opportunity to use social media to give a heads’ up for upcoming issues, provide or amplify key messages, invite feedback, and respond to concerns.
In our community, I provide supportive or clarifying comments on public threads, when appropriate. I have to be mindful and clear when views are “my own” versus “official.” My commitment includes appreciation for diversity of thought and an approach that treats others with dignity and respect. Because I serve the community, there are times I don’t comment, or offer only one thought. Sometimes a thread is posted beyond the confines of our community boundaries.
We’re human. Our incredible brains fill in blanks to help us make decisions quickly. The unfortunate downside is that sometimes we make faulty assumptions or create stories to explain what we don’t know for sure. Such stories gain traction on social platforms. As a leader, I avoid contributing to public threads where the “wild” has overtaken. Sometimes, the best strategy is to allow these threads to play out.
As much as I’d like to, there will be times I cannot comment on topics where content would breach confidentiality or be considered “discoverable” in the legal system. I have to balance my bias towards transparency with my fiduciary responsibility. So how can leaders decide when and how to post in ways that benefit their communities and organizations?
Applying The THINK Approach
A thought provoking guide for social media surfaced unexpectedly when I volunteered for Junior Achievement. In the hallway of Daniel Island School, a large, colorful poster encourages students to consider their words when communicating or posting on social platforms, offering a helpful acronym THINK.
The message reads, “Before you speak or [post: the icons for Facebook, Twitter, and messaging are used instead of words] …
T – Is it true?
H – Is it helpful?
I – Is it inspiring?
N – Is it necessary?
K – Is it kind?”
Our youth watch us as we engage on social media, and they learn and replicate what they see. As a leader, I commit to supporting social engagement that reflects well on my community and the organizations I’m affiliated with. Whether leaders are just beginning a foray into social realms or have a wealth of experience posting, the THINK approach offers a quick method to focus on positive engagement.
What ideas or lessons learned have you taken away from engaging on social platforms? Take a moment to share with other LEADistics readers here.
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