Obeying The Social Media Rules of the Road

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How do you equip your leaders when it comes to using social media for internal communication? What guidance is in place and what are the boundaries?

In previous columns I’ve looked at 10 Reasons Why Internal Comms Pros Should Participate in Social MediaWhy Use Enterprise Social Networks For Internal Communication and Coping With the Digital Evolution. I’m going to focus on using social media for leadership communication now and next month examine social media guidance.

My advice when it comes to using social media for internal communication:

Encourage employees to do the right thing, rather than assume they will do the wrong thing.

A leader who regularly uses social media for internal and external communication is Dean Royles, Chief Executive of the National Health Service (NHS) Employers Organisation in the UK, part of the NHS Confederation and the voice of NHS employers. He’s on Twitter @NHSE_Dean and blogs publicly.

His stance is that “staff are trusted with patients’ lives, so why not trust them with social media.” I’ll be highlighting some of the NHS guidance in my next column.

Dean says: “I get asked why blog? Why tweet? With a busy schedule and pressured job, where do you get time? The question is always asked as if I see blogging or tweeting as a discretionary hobby rather than a fundamental part of my role.

Asking why I blog is like asking why I bother to communicate.

“No one asks me why I speak in meetings, or email or why we do press releases. Yet social media seems to me to be a much more effective media. It is an essential part of stakeholder relations and a key aspect of management and leadership. You will find communication on page one of any management textbook. New media don’t diminish the need for communication – they exacerbate it.

“The ground you can cover on social media is enormous. Don’t get me wrong. I do take the time and effort to chat to staff and keep up to date face to face whenever I can. Another great advantage is the opportunity to show your personality and values.”

Obeying the social media rules of the road
At a recent Social Brands conference in London, Lars Silberbauer, Head of Social Media at LEGO Group, outlined the approach the company takes. They have a day long ‘social media exam’ that ends in a practical and theoretical test. If they pass, employees are given a social media licence, although it can be revoked if people don’t continue to obey the social media “rules of the road.”

Lars told me: “We don’t force top management to do the exam. It’s a program that was developed for employees with a role in social media and became so popular that a lot of managers, senior managers and VPs signed up for the course and took the exam.”

I like the way the course has spread from those who ‘need’ to do it, and LEGO’s approach. (The image on this page is courtesy of Jeremy Waite, Head of Social Strategy at Adobe EMEA, who commissioned them from minifigs.me).

Using social media for leadership communication
In Get Social: A Mandate for new CEOs, Leslie Gaines-Ross, Chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick writes: “Social business is no longer the wave of the future. It is already a state-of-the-art leadership tool that surpasses many traditional approaches to listening and communicating with stakeholders… A new CEO who ignores social media nowadays does so at considerable peril.”

She also highlights how new, and particular ‘insider CEOs who are the norm today’ must quickly counter the feeling that they are severed from the day-to-day workings of the company: “Hands-on control becomes all but impossible as responsibilities quickly mount. Use of social media helps to reestablish, if not the reality of direct control, at least a better feel for what goes on at the front lines of the company.”

In February’s McKinsey Quarterly, Roland Deiser and Sylvain Newton highlight six social media skills every leader needs. On a personal level: Producer, Distributor and Recipient. On a strategic/organisational level: Adviser, Architect and Analyst. 

They state: “Capitalising on the transformational power of social media while mitigating its risks calls for a new type of leader. The dynamics of social media amplify the need for qualities that have long been a staple of effective leadership, such as strategic creativity, authentic communication, and the ability to deal with a corporation’s social and political dynamics and to design an agile and responsive organisation.”

If social media has benefits for leadership communication, particularly CEOs, what do internal communicators think?

Improving leadership communication
Internal communication (IC) professionals say that improving leadership communication is their top priority for the future according to the Institute of Internal Communication’s (IoIC) State of the Sector Survey 2012, in conjunction with Gatehouse. It stated that 60% of respondents named it as their main focus over the next 12 months.

How does this fit into the skill sets of IC pros? According to comms recruiter VMA Group’s Professional Development in Internal Communications survey 2012-13, the skills internal communicators say they use daily are:

  • Business acumen 63%
  • Influencing 63%
  • Employee engagement 56%
  • Stakeholder/relationship manager 50%
  • Coaching senior leaders 50%
  • Social media development 30%

Coaching senior leaders and influencing also featured prominently on the list of professional development needs in the 2011 survey, alongside social media development.

When looking at the next five years, VMA Group states that the biggest challenges for internal communication professionals reveals… “a view of the future grounded not just in people’s current skills, experience and career development hopes, but against a backdrop of a rapidly changing society, increasing globalisation and the rise of social media, with its inherent expectation to have your voice heard loud and clear.”

Authenticity is key when it comes to leadership communication, whether that’s a CEO editorial piece in an employee magazine or blog post. Be wary of the need to ‘do social’ (as I highlighted in my last column), if it’s not right for their style or your culture. Make smart choices in the same way you do when it comes to ‘traditional’ IC channels.

I’m currently reading Brian Solis’ latest book, What’s the Future of Business. He highlights how Burberry is transforming “from the inside out.” You can watch their story via the video below featuring CEO Angela Ahrendts, who says: “You have to be totally connected with everyone who touches your brand” and highlights how she has been using social media for internal communication.

Solis notes: “This is as much about new consumerism and disruptive technology as it is about culture… fostering an internal culture that’s customer-centric, adaptive and above all else, ready to tackle transformation” and he describes how “in order to bring a holistic experience to life, it would take the integration of the company, its employees, its customers and the all-important brand.”

How are your leaders using social media for internal communication?

Rachel Miller
This monthly Social Media for Internal Communications column is contributed by Rachel Miller. Rachel is an Internal Communications and Social Media Strategist. She began her career as a journalist in 1999 and has worked in Internal Communications agency-side and in-house for global companies across the financial, automotive, healthcare and railway sectors. Rachel was named in PR Week’s Top 29 under 29 professional communicators in the UK list. She regularly speaks and writes on internal communication and social media and lives in London, UK. +Rachel Miller
Rachel Miller


I consult, speak & blog on #internalcomms & social media at All Things IC. CIPR Fellow. @theICcrowd co-founder. Share This author #culturevist. Mum of 1+twins
Enjoying listening to @CIPRSM podcast on the influence of social talent & YouTubers: https://t.co/a2M5zCJtFT < feat @hannahwitton #PR - 2 hours ago
Rachel Miller


  1. says

    Great post, and truly applicable to nonprofits. Love the quote from Leslie Gaines-Ross: “Social business is no longer the wave of the future. It is already a state-of-the-art leadership tool that surpasses many traditional approaches to listening and communicating with stakeholders… A new CEO who ignores social media nowadays does so at considerable peril.”

  2. says

    That’s interesting! I wonder what happens if someone without permission uses social media in a positive way for the company. Are they still disciplined because they weren’t authorized?

  3. says

    Thank you for your comments. Claire I’m glad you like that quote, it struck me too.

    Terry – great question. Some industries (such as pharmaceutical companies) have strict rules and governance in place meaning employees aren’t able to comment, even if it is positive, due to compliance issues, Rachel.

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