By Gloria Lombardi

Does a leader who is fully paperless, a keen advocate of the use of social media, remote and flexible working really exist? The answer is… yes.

Nick Atkin, Chief Executive at Halton Housing Trust, is a good example. He was at the #CommsHero conference in London this week to share his experience on the difference that being a “Social CEO” made to his professional life.

The premise of his talk was that communication on social media can be the ‘hero’ and not the villain in the life of a leader. It empowers them to be human, meet, share and learn with key company’s stakeholders, and “raise your voice louder, louder and louder.”

To encourage a CEO to be social requires to recognise and remove some key barriers. The first stumbling block is to still think that new media and the Internet are a fad. “Your clients, colleagues, investors, prospects don’t think so!”

Growth in social media is happening across all generations, real time information flows 24 hours per day 365 days per year, revolutionising services in every industry. “Conversations happen right now, whether you are on social media or not. Don’t disable your organisation.”

Atkin shared his experience in challenging old ways of working and communicating, bringing fresh thinking to the business and facing – rather than fearing – the change to effectively compete for the future. “Focus on what matters and let go what doesn’t.”

Being human, interesting and “yourself” were among the tips he wanted to emphasise: “When you have nothing interesting to say, don’t let anyone persuade you to say it. Know what you do.” The same applies to being “fun, different, credible and visible.”

Having an influential digital leader such as Atkin, has encouraged Halton Housing Trust to embrace a variety of social media channels to build and maintain key company relationships. This is happening through both individual employees and corporate’s social media accounts – from Twitter, Facebook, Vine, YouTube, Infographic, and blogs.

Building a social business

“In the old days, communication was rather in the form of one to many. Today with social media, it is a little different…Social technologies have completely changed the way people communicate with each other and with companies. Individuals are sophisticated, informed, tech-savvy, connected and interactive.”

Author, lecturer and social media strategist Kamales Lardi, flew in from Switzerland to share the Social Media Strategy Framework. The model, presented in her book “Social Media Strategy – A Step-By-Step Guide To Building Your Social Business,” helps companies define a clear link between social media initiatives and business goals to gain sustainable value.

“Develop, plan and deliver a strategy, both internally and externally, linking it to the business objectives,” she pointed out. “Be clear on the goals of the company; then define how social media will help to achieve them.”

Doing an analysis of the social media maturity of the company might be helpful. “Understand how ready your organisation is.” Is it in the Aware, Listen, Communicate, Support or Engage stage?

• An organisation is “Aware” when it knows that social media has a role to play. However, the company still does not use it for the business.

• “Listen” is about recognising the impact that social media has on the company, while monitoring relevant online conversations and key messages.

• “Communicate” means participating in online conversations. The business has identified key channels through which it communicates its message and story.

• Organisations on the “Support” stage have built a structure to respond to customers. Employees are actively involved and encouraged to use social tools.

• The “Engage” stage sees the organisation proactively participating in social media, by contributing value through high-quality content. “Social media enables the business to achieve strategic objectives.”

Social technologies are important in the business world not only as an additional channel to interact with customers, but also for its potential impact on the entire business value chain. This requires paying a lot of attention to governance and risks, people and organisational structure, technology and processes, as well as content, engagement and channel.

“The most common uses for social technologies for business are seen in selected functional areas, namely marketing, branding and corporate communications. Yet, as the potential value of these technologies are explored, companies use it more across other areas of the business to improve operations and efficiency, as well as generate revenue.”

A good example comes from the reinsure company Swiss Re. The opportunities that their Jive-based social collaboration platform provides them with fit perfectly with the culture, global business needs and employees’ expectations. Plus, the mindset it requires has fundamentally changed the way staff look at sharing news and information internally, as well as helping them to assertively embrace the external social media challenge.

Why comms should be at the top table

Director of Corporate Affairs and Communications at West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust Anthony Tiernan, gave an interesting talked about the importance for communications professionals to seat at the top table inside their organisations.

“Experience shows that the closer Communications is to high level decision making, the better protected the organisation is. You can’t help steer the ship if you’re not on the bridge!”

He pointed out that the number of tiers between the top table and communications can result in crucial messages not getting through, or “getting watered down.” Another potential risk is senior management not understanding certain key issues and their relevance to Communications.

Tiernan emphasised that, to get land and stay there, it is not enough to know about communications. “You need to understand and do more than that! Break out of the silo. You must be able to hold your own, while understanding the portfolios of others. You must be able to digest a vast amount of information and ‘sort wheat from chaff'”

He also suggested getting in the know, sharing, asking and demanding. “Go to Twitter, blog and self promote. Do training. Get a mentor and/or be one. Shadow the senior team.”

“It is hard work, but highly rewarding. Work smart, not just hard!”

Internal Comms Superheros

“Your colleagues are your brand,” we heard from Caroline King. The Head of Communications and Engagement at Helena Partnerships centred her presentation on staff communications.

According to King, “employees are a captive audience. You already know them, and they give you instant feedback. You can test out your most creative ideas on them.”

Based on her experience, to build strong internal communications, an organisation must lay the right foundations, which means “knowing the culture and identifying the spokespeople”. Plus, collaborating. “Stop broadcasting and start engaging. Allow staff to use their voice and share their ideas. Hand over the pen (and control).”

King shared some examples to bring her theory to life, including the ‘Good housekeeping meets Scream’ internal campaign. The aim was to reinforce housekeeping messages to staff within their main office building. “These related to basic office security and data protection – lock your personal belongings away, don’t leave confidential paperwork on your desk, don’t leave your PC open when you leave your desk and risk somebody else accessing your system. Important messages but dull and with the risk of communicating them in a way that puts people off.”

They devised a Halloween themed week long campaign, each day telling a different bit of the story. They uploaded Vines on the Intranet, and created communications messages to display on the plasma screens around the office and on the PC desktop wallpaper.

After the campaign King’s team did a short quiz to test the awareness of the messages. There was a 75% increase on the number of hits on Intranet articles for this weeklong campaign compared to articles without Vines that appeared the previous week. According to a poll on their Yammer-based platform, 95% of staff agreed that the campaign made them more security conscious at work.

They also found out that Vine can be “an effective little tool to convey simple messages in a different way and people have been asking for those ‘little videos’ ever since!”

King’s recipe for success was summed up in a few points worth repeating: Have the right team around you; make the dullest message shine – use the power of imagination; use the right tools; be human; have a purpose; tell a story, and don’t miss out your hard to reach staff.

In the age of social media we are all storytellers

The way we have always learned new things has been through stories. However, Digital storyteller John Popham, reminded the audience that the advent of social media has changed pretty everything in terms of creating and consuming narratives today.

“Once upon a time, if you had a message to communicate you had to own a printing press, or a newspaper, or a radio station, or a TV studio, or a cinema studio. Or, you had to have a big budget to pay one of those who controlled the media to carry your message. But now, most of us carry something in our pockets that can be used to communicate with the world.”

Popham referred to our smartphones; everyone can use them to create media and craft messages in real time, potentially reaching out new audiences worldwide.

Yet, we should not forget the basic principle that social media is about conversations. “People don’t like to be sold to. They want to be engaged, entertained and have fun. They want to get to know your brand and your people. Above all, they want to know they can trust you.”

He also reflected on how new forms of digital storytelling – for example through Snapchat, Instagram, Vine and many others apps – were reflective of “people’s attention span getting shorter and shorter.”

Let’s not forget face-to-face comms

We think of ourselves as living in a highly connected world. Yet, some believe that interacting only at a distance is detrimental to the quality of our conversations.

Luise Luan liked to remind us that “face-to-face is still the most important method of communication. There are no 140 character limits, and no hiding behind a screen. Body language and tone of voice are in play.”

The examples she gave of people having a good chat over a cup of coffee are familiar. “This is where the most important conversations take place, where you discover your people’s biggest concerns, and see how you can help.”

Starbucks Coffee has built a campaign around this notion, ‘Meet me at Starbucks‘. The company has curated a collection of YouTube videos from 28 countries. “Every day around the world, million of people gather at Starbucks, but it’s never been just about the coffee…We took a look at what was already happening in our stores, and captured the universal moments of connection  our customers were sharing.”


Communications is about engaging on human moments and building relationships, whether it is via social media or face-to-face.

The conference was an opportunity to question how well equipped we are to take advantage of these many interactions. Stimulating them to effectively improve our businesses is no easy task.

Yet, these exchanges are happening this very moment inside our organisations. Communicators have now a window of opportunities to transform themselves in ‘superheros’ to ultimately help their companies flourish in the modern world.



This article originally appeared on simply-communicate