The 8 rules for charity professionals on social media
In these internet and social media driven times, maintaining individual profiles is a necessity for charity leaders looking to stay in the public eye. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook allow charity trustees and executives to talk directly to their supporters and beneficiaries , and create a warm public image to draw in funders and secure good PR.
Leaders of charities small and large use social media and this can be hugely effective. However, the wrong move on any of the big social media platforms can quickly ruin a carefully cultivated public image and cause huge problems.
Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, YouTube – and there are many others of course – put you in the spotlight as an individual and offers potential donors and supporters a representation of what you and your charity is about. Therefore, it is as important to be at your best online as it is in any face to face meeting or conference. These eight rules for making a success of social media can ensure that you create and maintain an image as a charity leader or representative that represents both you and your organisation at their best.
1. Remember who you are when posting
A professional profile should stay professional and be about the job you are doing. Avoid posting about or even referring to personal issues, especially relationship issues or personal problems; if you really feel the need to post personal stories on the internet, these should be confined to personal social media accounts. Remember that even if your social media profile claims “views are my own”, in reality if you are posting as your professional persona you are the public face of your charity. Keep work and personal spaces separate, use humour only very carefully, and don’t digress from professional discourse into unrelated potentially divisive matters.
2. Be there for a reason, and stay focused
It is too easy to fall into the trap of “being on social media” because you feel you have to or because it seems to tick an essential communications box. Actually, it is only worth taking valuable time to run an account if there is a clear purpose to it, for example reaching a certain demographic, or establishing yourself as a credible commentator. Once you are clear as to what you are doing and why, make sure you stay focused on those things, even as they evolve. Keep the quality of your professional social media accounts high on your agenda, and avoid distractions, memes and the posting of information from dubious sources.
3. Critique yes, but don’t criticise!
Negative comments about other organisations and individuals, public figures, news stories and current affairs should be avoided. That’s not to say you shouldn’t reply with a politely worded professional critique or factual correction, but being overtly critical or getting personal or judgemental will undoubtedly be counterproductive and you will easily alienate potential followers that share different views. You will also undermine your own professionalism; being openly negative or judgmental will reflect poorly on your organisation as well as yourself. As a general rule err on the side of caution and say nothing rather than risk negativity.
4. Politics (and religion and football and …)
There are always some subjects that are best avoided. Generally, politics is one, unless directly relevant to your work, a campaign, or your organisation’s stated values. There will be others, and so it is worth thinking about what not to comment on as much as about which threads to contribute to. In any potentially inflammatory debate it is usually wise to stay away from either overtly supporting or berating either side. Remember that your followers and your organisation’s supporters and donors will not all share the same views as you, and publicly taking a side can lose valuable support. Finally, remember that a public rant or argument on your personal profile can also reflect poorly on your professional image.
5. Avoid alienating people
Your professional social media profile is not the place to be even accidentally rude about any individual or group. Treat what you post as though you’re talking to people face to face and take care to avoid any accidental offensive or demeaning language. Remember that social media is always public, which means that anyone can and will look at the things you post and take them whatever way they want. There are also many, many examples of accidentally offensive, racist or sexist comments, so take care about what you say, and how you say it. Things can all too easily go wrong.
6. Take care about the images you use
Images showing you partying, in holiday mode, or in a messy unprofessional looking office are things to avoid when uploading pictures. It can be constructive sometimes to appear approachable (or even fun) to potential followers, but there are important lines to avoid crossing. It is possible to create a relaxed image for your charity without going into too much detail about a recent happy hour meeting.
Other things to think about are that certain events and locations (for example schools, hospitals and care homes) may prohibit photos being taken and shared. Photos can also accidentally reveal plans not yet meant for publication, make children or vulnerable people identifiable, disclose personal data, and expose premises to security risks. An office picture incorporating a staff noticeboard in the background is a potential minefield. So check, double check, and then check again to ensure that images display exactly what you want and nothing more. The same should apply to photos that you re-post or share as well.
7. Proof read and then check again
Check every update or comment for proper spelling, grammar and presentation. Potential followers, donors, supporters and media professionals will make judgments about your organisation based on what you say, how you say it, and how it looks. Consider every update as a mini press release or professional email. “Textspeak”, the over-use of emojis, and lazy language should be avoided in professional profiles – leave those for personal communication with your friends – and you should not be afraid to use a dictionary or thesaurus if it helps. Using clear, correct and professional language can be the difference that makes your social media communications stand out and draw in new supporters.
8. Be consistent
Messages, imagery, tone and writing style should of course reflect your professional individuality, but should also be consistent with those of the organisation that you work for and are, after all, representing. Make sure that what you are writing ties in with the messages being delivered by colleagues, with your brand, with your values and principles, and with what you have been saying in earlier messages. If it doesn’t, make sure that your readers understand why.
It is also powerful if you are consistent across platforms, so feeds on the various social media sites, imagery and messages on your website news pages, your press releases, printed public facing materials and so on should all be conveying the same messages and images simultaneously, even if worded differently for different audiences and channels. If different people in your organisation are responsible for different communication routes, make sure you are talking to each other and working to the same brief, rules, and brand guidelines.
Based on an earlier article and updated 01 April 2023