Social Media and Social Change – reaching the people at the top

This is a response to a plaintive tweet from Shirley Ayres reproduced above. I share Shirley’s frustration. We’ve been using social media for getting on for 10 years now. It is not new, but many organisations still treat it as a weird innovation to be distrusted and feared. This is costing them money and causing their service users to suffer.

Many of us have been chipping away at this fear and reluctance, usually from the bottom-up. Where we have failed in large part is in getting to the people at the top, those still wedded to old-style command-and-control management methodologies; those who were already in a senior position before the first computer entered their workplace; and those who still get their PAs to print off their emails. This has to change.

I’m going to do something about this. And this is what:

  • I’m going to try to crystallise the informal community of social good innovators I am connected to via Twitter – I suggest an online community (maybe a Ning) acting as a resource bank for innovation good practice, a source of mutual support, and a rallying point for action;
  • I am going to work with this community of people to try to get us speaking slots at big conferences where the senior people go. I am thinking of conferences like SOLACE and ADASS ;
  • I am going to lobby for funding for this network. Shirley has a really good idea where this can come from below.

Who’s up for this approach? Maybe it’s all happening already. If it is, please let me now. Duplicated effort wold be wasteful.

17 thoughts on “Social Media and Social Change – reaching the people at the top

  1. Hi John – great initiative, and if you need a Ning site we are considering closing down … and might repurpose it.
    But then, maybe now’s a good time to think about what sort of a hub is needed in the community/social ecology you hope to develop. Would the Knowledge Hub be useful for local government/public agency people? You obviously need a home base, but what will its function be in relation to social media activity?
    Thinking from the personal perspective, I’ve recently been doing some work on digital literacies, and it strikes me it would be interesting and important to explore the nature of the literacies needed by CEOs and senior managers. Much will be about network literacy as well as tools.
    Maybe we need an exploration like the ones we have done for Nominet Trust “How can we help senior managers learn about and adopt social media, so that they are confident and capable enough to introduce it to their organisations.”
    As to Shirley’s point on reports, couldn’t agree more.

  2. Twitter comments relating to this post now cover: do we need a hub/community or mesh; what tools might be used; non-use is “stupid”; what might be said at events to urge use of social media; the need for a closed space where senior people could learn safely.
    The points are all very relevant, and the five people engaged (including me) are comfortable talking about this in public. But – we aren’t using this blog so there’s no reference if you miss the starting point; the tweets will disappear; the more people that join in the less room there is for content in the conversation (unless there’s a hashtag). It would be difficult to say to an unconvinced CEO – here’s the way that social media works, why not try it, and expect a positive response. It is messy.
    That’s not to crit we five in our little side conversation. But I am interested in how we can, among ourselves, model the sort of behaviours we would like to promote.
    In this case, how could we use John – and Shirley’s – good starter points to create a conversation and resources that it would be worth showing to someone unconvinced? It would involve us all talking in the same place, or finding ways to curate or link content elsewhere; engaging in other networks, connecting people and ideas, curating again …..
    … which is all work that no-one’s paying for.
    So I think the case is: social media is hugely important for organisations but it will involved changes in culture, development of new literacies, employment of/retraining of connectors and curators, assessment of risks.
    As a personal observation, I’m losing the will to keep up with blogging, Twitter, Linkedin, Google Plus, Pinterest and all the rest. The return on effort seems to be less and less the more and more social media there is.
    So yes again to John’s idea of a network and safe space – provided we are prepared to concede that the case to make is not getting easier.

    • Thanks David. It IS difficult to keep tabs on conversations happening in different places. That’s why I suggested a Ning, but that doesn’t seem a popular option.

      In the meantime I’ve Storified the conversation so far here

      It would be helpful if we could use the hastag (suggested #SMforLeaders) as, otherwise, I have to search through individual timelines to find the relevant tweets

      • Thanks John – there were quite a few tweets and points I missed. Really helpful.
        Can we agree on what hasn’t worked very well so far …
        * just saying is social media is a Good Thing for organisations
        * proposing one-size-fits-all solutions for organisations that have very different aims and cultures
        * focussing on the tools not the benefits, behaviours, skills
        * discussions silo’d in hubs
        * discussions across networks that aren’t curated
        * social media for marketing when selling isn’t the challenge …

        It’s tempting to dive in with more ideas on solutions. But do have a clear enough idea of the challenge/question? Is it “how to get leaders to engage with social media”? Or is it “How to show the value of social media as part of a mix of methods in a range of different situations and organisations?”
        Or perhaps better: “How to help leaders realise there may be value in social media for them and their organisations, and help them explore what’s relevant in their particular situation?”
        Eddie Obeng suggests there are four types of projects, or development situations: fog, quest, movie, painting by number. Reference here
        I think many leaders are in a fog about social media, and are being told too often by advocates that they just need a new box of tricks so it becomes painting by numbers, or told plots of success stories that may not relate to their situation.
        What they need is encouragement to begin a quest, starting with their experience.
        Smartphone support for leaders as a starter?

  3. David and John have captured my misgivings well; the more places there are to be “social” the harder it is for any one of them to be meaningful, and to see an overview of the conversation. Storify is an option, but needs a lot more context for those who weren’t involved in the first place. It’s like a family album without any captions. The point about leaders needing a quest that can best be fulfilled using social media is one that appeals to me, but I’ve no idea how to approach it, even with my own leader.

  4. This post was long time coming and thank you John for taking the initiative to take forward this conversation beyond Shirley’s tweets. What we also need to address is reluctance on the part of senior managers, CEOs and Directors heading social, non-profit and civil society organizations. It’s not just the corporate CEOs who display a pathological allergy to picking up a new form of communication and outreach – it’s leaders across the social spectrum.

    What we need are more success stories, case studies that showcase how a charity or organization went from sourcing X number of funds in the early days to XX number of funds because of social media; how organizations are able to spread their message to a larger demography via social media; how social media empowers this demography to be engaged and participative; and how social media allows organizations to be innovative and deploy unique, targeted messages. Case studies coupled with numbers will get the message across.

  5. Did you see the launch last week of the ‘Social CEOs resource’ and ‘Top 30 listing’?

    It’s been put together by the good @charitychap ( and @zoeamar ( as a way to highlight good examples and show the traits that make a good leader into a good social leader.

    There are many great leaders of charities and organisations across the country, each doing excellent work and transforming lives and communities. They already good at sharing their vision and insights, skilled at listening and are good champions of their cause. So setting out the tools to then make this possible on social media should really be quite easy.

    As I always tell people. Social media doesn’t mean you have to forget everything you’ve ever learned about managing or leading an organisation and learn a whole new game. In fact it gives you an extra platform to do all of the above, but in a much more powerful way. And often for very little cost. What CEO wouldn’t want that?!

    Zoe’s blog about the launch is here –

  6. How about a #SMforLeaders Twitter chat? Not necessarily a regular thing. But at least once to garner a wide range of views.

    Anyone up for this? Any preferences for days and times?

  7. Good post and discussion, John.

    The clincher for me is a comment from the Coventry City Council chief executive Martin Reeves about 12 months ago when he said words to the effect that he’d been with 50 chief executives for the weekend and not once had they mentioned social media. Go to them with solutions that just happen to be digital rather than be an evangelist, was his advice. The more I think about it the more right I think he is.

    • Thanks Dan.

      Have you got any examples of how that strategy might be implemented? My feeling is that it would work in individual cases, but we are talking here about getting some principles accepted which, I suspect, requires us to challenge aversion head on and explicitly. I am suggesting that we need to be overt about the damage to reputation and lost opportunities that are caused by burying heads in the sand.

    • Absolutely. And it’s different for all organisations, but solutions and constantly challenging leaders is paying dividends where I am. The conversation evolves over time and every small victory adds to the good will I’m building up. Slowly.

      They don’t always need bashing over the head. Maybe we’re not talking about it in the right way?

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