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Chris on Social Media

The Power and Perils of Social Media as a Charity

If you do one thing for me by the end of reading this article, then please, consider the capacity and the culpability of a tool you might all too readily think of as your ‘nice to have’ conversation forum.  I’m talking of course about social media.

Appreciation of both the power and the peril it holds requires careful consideration, particularly in the context of the charitable arena and our desire for a strong reputation among all audiences.

Last month, as many of you will have seen, the Charity Commission identified misconduct and/or mismanagement at Devon-based charity Humanity Torbay, in relation to political campaigning and the trustees’ failure to properly control the use of its social media. As part of the inquiry the founder and previous CEO had used Facebook as a medium through which she had carried out ‘political activity’.

We should perhaps heed the warning about what’s appropriate on social media, what’s not, who contributes to it, and what chain of command acts swiftly wherever an incident or activity of dubious nature occurs.

Social media is one of our greatest tools to enhance our reputation, promote our fantastic work, and let people see the vision and value of the people dedicated to our sector.  But your social media HAS to be a matter for strategic discussion.

Social media can be easily misconstrued and misused – it is susceptible to snapshot opinion, political bias, and a lack of contextualisation that can easily get leaders and trustees in trouble.  Of course, that’s not to say all social media is bad.

In fact, my argument is completely the opposite.  It’s a fabulous creation and one that showed itself for all its virtues and benefits throughout the pandemic.  I recall the many neighbourhood groups that were able to be brought together because they connected through a network of like-minded individuals who also happened to be keeping themselves safe from a terrible virus and doing as the government had asked of us.

Think how many charities and organisations were able to use these far-reaching platforms to request resources, to seek generous donations, to find those ‘most in need’ and to share invaluable advice about what services and support were remaining open and accessible.

Yes, the positives are clear – and I’m just one of many who values enormously the ability to have my voice heard in the social media world, whilst also being able to keep connected to those I choose, as well as gaining instantaneous insight about issues as diverse as my community group to global politics.

I conclude in saying that now is a good time for our leaders and our users of social media within the sector, to pay attention to our motives and our behaviours around all the popular platforms.

As Amy Spiller, head of investigations at the Charity Commission, said in conclusion to the latest case: “The Commission’s intervention in this case sends a strong message that charities should not be misused as a vehicle to express an individual’s political views.”

This certainly sounds the warning – if it were needed – that more will find themselves in for challenge if they fail to comply.  I for one, will certainly be looking with keen interest at the intended ‘social media guidance’ which the Commission is now saying it will produce after consultation with charities later this year.  Make sure you have your say.

MY TOP FIVE ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

  • Don’t write off social media as a mere admin task for someone untrained and unmanaged. The risks are too great.
  • Always know who has passwords and can close down an account if you are hacked (or the accounts are misused internally).
  • Develop a strategy and share it with your team. Make them understand why and how you wish others to engage with the platforms in a certain way.
  • Don’t be all things to all people. Just because multiple social channels exist, it doesn’t mean they’re all right for you. Consider your audience, and your capacity to do one, two or more channels properly – rather than with haphazard abandon.
  • Have a social media policy which all must adhere to. Make it part of everyone’s employment that they have fully understood what this means for them as an individual and how they are expected to conduct themselves on personal accounts.

Feel free to share with me the lessons your organisation has learned about social media. Email chris.abraham@communityactionsuffolk.org.uk