5 social media lessons every chief executive should learn from Paris Brown

11 April 2013 By Northern Lights

5 social media lessons every chief executive should learn from Paris Brown image

faces, social media network, dialoqueThis weekend Paris Brown, newly appointed youth police and crime commissioner for Kent Police, demonstrated to the world why young people do not have the skills to manage social media for corporates.

How often have I heard a chief executive say ‘oh social media, we got a graduate in to manage that’.

In the case of Paris Brown, she had posted messages when she was younger referring to homosexuals as ‘fags’, immigrants as ‘illegals’ and travellers as ‘pikeys’, and said she had ‘a thing for older men’, apparently a reference to a teacher at her former school.

Which just shows how boardrooms need to understand enough about social media so that they can manage it.  In the case of Paris Brown, at the very least anyone who had a basic grasp of social media would have

  • Gone through all her social media accounts, identified the risks and had a clear plan of action.  Yet her boss, PCC Ann Barnes, admitted that ‘social networking sites are a no go area for most adults’ – and no, no-one had thought to check or discuss her online activities
  • Trained Paris in how to use social media for business in her job role (in our free ebook on social media we show how to work through what you would or would not tweet – see page 43)

I was in fact seriously impressed at how Ann Barnes supported Paris Brown – and she is a great example of outstanding leadership and how to handle a crisis like this.  But she is very open in admitting she doesn’t understand social media – and of course by implication, is not managing it in her organisation.


If you cannot see the YouTube clip please click here http://bit.ly/16PXazY

So what should bosses of all sectors – private, public and voluntary – be doing?

Here is a five step plan

1.       Recognise social media is a corporate issue that needs boardroom management

Let’s give an example of what we are saying here.

Do you remember the first websites that you saw?  Dial-up broadband, created by a designer who added all sorts of fun, irrelevant features – and frankly, for most of us were a complete waste of time.  (I remember bouncing tennis balls that you had to click to open a site and a flickering fire to click open a service!)

Then gradually the market shaped up.  The early adopters started producing websites that were business-focused.  As business leaders made a purchase online or researched a target company through their website, they realised this was a serious business tool.   And they started to have a view about what their website should do, put proper budgets aside to manage the process and were part of the panel when recruiting web designers.

Today, no-one expects anyone in the boardroom to design a website themselves – but if they don’t know what a website does or have a view on how customers could use it, would you want them on your board?

So it now is for social media.  Your first action should be to ensure everyone in senior leadership positions has a basic understanding of strategic social media – its opportunities and above all, its risks.  We run very successful half-day boardroom workshops on how to use social media for business, tailored to your organisation.  Book us!

2.       Every senior manager must start using some form of social media

How do you explain a website to someone who has never used the internet?

You can read all you want about social media, but until you start using it you will really struggle to ‘get it’.  Create an anonymous Twitter or another account and start following your customers or strategic partners.  Yes, a great deal is rubbish in business social media- marketing people generally would agree with this – but there is a lot that is good. Start finding the gems and learn from them.

3.       Hold a half day social media risk assessment workshop

We recently heard of one FTSE 100 corporate that manages social media by allowing just the top few hundred managers to access the internet.  As if no-one will use their smartphones to go online if they want to.

Do you have a social media policy to explain what employees can or can’t say about customers online?  What if Paris Brown was your employee – what are your guidelines about personal vs work life?  Ann Brown said her organisation does not check social media accounts when recruiting. 

Organise a team day with your senior managers to identify the risks from social media in your business and check that your policies and guidelines will address these.

4.       Include social media in your recruitment checks

Most organisations now check out employee reputations online – nothing devious, just what do you see when you look at their public accounts?  Last month, we were approached by a journalist who wanted to do freelance work for us. He included his Twitter account details in his email signature – so of course we looked at it.  His current Twitter stream used the ‘c..’ word twice and had a deeply unpleasant hashtag conversation about celebrities.  No way would we ever use him – this all showed a serious lack of judgement about us, our business, our clients.

Club Pay said employers cited the following reasons for deciding not to hire a candidate – all from online checks.

Read our guidelines to create a social media policy for employees.

 5.       Who is managing social media?

Paris Brown has hopefully shocked a lot of organisations into action.  Maybe the penny will finally drop – just because an employee is young and grew up on social media, it does not mean they have the skills to manage social media in your business.

It is not necessarily about age – the story of the journalist above (who must be 50) shows older people can be as stupid as young ones online.  But you do need judgement. 

For most businesses you also need to understand senior, sophisticated networking skills.  You can bring business in from business to business social media – but you do need the skills and experience to do this.

Paris Brown has now stepped down from this job, courageously facing the media as she did so.  She will have grown up quickly in the process and probably be an asset to many an organisation in the future.

Are corporates and other organisations sitting on social media time bombs?  How many senior managers do understand and manage it in their organisation – how many are completely clueless?

Friday 12th April, Nicky Campbell on Radio 5Live, discussion on ‘Should careless tweets cost you your job?’

Listen again available for the next 7 days http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01rr6x7 starts from 5.42 minutes

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Written by Northern Lights


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