Many senior managers and politicians are in a quandary about social media. On one hand, they look at this incredibly popular phenomenon and feel it’s something they should be a part of; on the other, they see a potential time sink and a reputation risk.
A study this year found that 30% of senior executives have a social media presence, with many of those being little more than shells, while another study found that 10% of CIOs use social media.
Politicians might be slightly more engaged, as U.S. President Barack Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney attempt to use social media heavily during the presidential election. Their example has no doubt played a major part in the decision this week for U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to join Twitter. Looking at the early activity on the account, however, I can’t help thinking that he’ll miss out on many of the good things social media can provide, so here are four tips for how he can make better use of Twitter:
#1 Have a clear purpose for the account.
Any social media presence should have a clearly defined purpose for it. This is especially so for senior people that have incredibly busy lives. When every minute of the day has to be accounted for and maximized, you need to make sure that your time is achieving results.
So what is the purpose for David Cameron creating a Twitter account? At this stage, there is a real risk that he’s only there in order to bask in the social limelight.
Tip #1: Cameron must figure out what he wants to achieve, and then measure how often he achieves that.
#2 Make sure you’re measuring the right things.
All politicians want to be popular. Social media provides real-time indicators of just how popular you are via follower numbers, and so it’s easy to understand why politicians might think this translates neatly into popularity with voters.
The problem is that this encourages shady behavior. After all, it’s much easier to acquire Twitter followers than it is voters. You only have to ask Mitt Romney, who magically gained a few hundred thousand this year. As far as I can tell, most fake accounts aren’t registered to vote.
Cameron will get much more value from Twitter if he takes the purpose identified in Tip #1, and then figures out how to measure how many times that’s been achieved.
Tip #2: Cameron should not get bogged down with chasing followers. Use Twitter for something more meaningful.
#3 Be authentic.
Politicians have a bit of a credibility crisis. Frequent scandals have created the impression among voters that politicians are dodgy characters out purely for themselves. Social media could offer the opportunity to reconnect with the population.
Thus far, however, Cameron’s account has all the hallmarks of being a PR exercise. A friend told me his main motivation for following the account was in the hope that something inappropriate would be said that he could then laugh at and share. PR folks have no doubt been forewarned at the negative risks associated with Twitter by the frequent mistakes made by Premier League footballers.
The consequence, however, is that what is being shared is so anodyne that it largely defeats the point of being on social media in the first place. Exhibit good judgment regarding what you share, but you have to be authentic to succeed on social media.
Tip #3: Reclaim ownership of the account and start doing it for himself. If he doesn’t have the time, then don’t have the account. Don’t try and pull the wool over people’s eyes though.
#4 Do more listening than talking.
A central part of the current disconnect between politicians and the public is the perception that political figures have no knowledge of or interest in our lives, except when it comes to voting time. The notion that they are indeed public servants often seems very wide of the mark.
The beauty of social media is that it allows you to listen to the concerns of your stakeholders and engage with them on their terms. Alas, the early indications are that Cameron won’t be doing that. Of the accounts he has followed thus far, all have been of fellow politicians. It seems unlikely that he’ll be learning much about our woes from following people just like him.
Social media isn’t a broadcast medium; it’s a relational medium. You win with it when you use it to engage with your audience, soliciting their thoughts and ideas on how things can be done better. Sadly, too many still use it to push out messages in the same way they’ve always done so via television and other media.
Tip #4: Do more listening than talking. Use the account to engage with the country and set an example that politicians really are here to serve us rather than the other way round.
Of course, it’s still early days with the account, and it may yet confound my fears, but if it could abide by these four simple tips I feel it would not only deliver better results for the government, but would also do much more for the British population.
Adi Gaskell is a blogger and community manager.