From the heart, not the corporate board paper

I love social media. I love that it connects us and helps us share – but most of all, I love that it opens up what have traditionally been closed worlds, hidden behind layers of bureaucracy and policy.

Since I started working in the public sector, I’ve seen corporate attitudes move (albeit slowly and methodically) from entrenched no comment cultures to ones where openness and transparency are seen as really positive. And social media is helping to fast track the shift.

But we’re not quite getting it right. Sure, we’re working hard to influence our bosses and boards to articulate the benefits of diving in to this demanding world, ensuring we’ve got sensible governance and setting up twitter and facebook accounts. All good stuff, but I worry that our approach is still too corporate.

Let me explain. In my research on NHS chief execs and blogging, I found about 20 or so (including my own organisation). I’m sure there are more out there – but the ones I found fell into four camps:

1. Written by comms professionals, corporate stuff in easy to read language for wide consumption but essentially boring
2. Written by CEOs, pretty much for their exec team or slightly wider staff audience. Dull and hard to understand
3. Written by CEOs, aimed at everyone but essentially boring
4. Written by CEOs, targeted at a specific audience, really great reads.

Very few in 1-3 are up to date, some embarrassingly not so. I found one from 2009, written by a CEO no longer at the organisation. Category 4 is rare. I found two brilliant examples – though hope there are more out there. So hats off to Dr Mark Newbold, CEO of Heart of England FT and Dean Royles, CEO of NHS Employers.

These guys get it. Totally. They’re using the medium in a way that connects. They’ve figured out who they want to talk to and how their areas of expertise and interest can be shared. Their narrative is genuine and authentic. They’re both also prolific tweeters.

As comms professionals, we’re seriously letting our audiences down with the half-hearted attempts at CEO blogging in categories 1 to 3. They’re complacent at best, lazy at worst – and they’re not helping our reputation.

It’s time to take a good look at our social media strategies. I’m not advocating ditching CEO and director level input altogether but I am saying we need to practice what we preach and think about our audiences and messages. Dull, corporate, out of date rubbish is not on.

My vision is for a hospital that tweets and blogs from the heart, not the corporate board paper. People want to read stuff that is honest, open and genuine and I don’t think that can ever happen if comms professionals are the ghost writers and/or signing off copy that’s gobbledygook. It totally misses the point of the medium.

This probably means a rethink for some, dropping blogs altogether for others. But let’s have those honest conversations. My vision is to work with clinicians, frontline support staff and senior managers – starting small, with a pilot group of interested people. With the right guidance, a bit of trial and error and a lot of courage and support, they should be the voice. Only then will we open up our organisations in ways that are meaningful – and above all, authentic.

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3 thoughts on “From the heart, not the corporate board paper

  1. Great blog, and thanks for the mention! I agree entirely with your analysis – one of the great benefits of social media is that it allows a blending of the personal and professional. I think it is time our NHS leadership moved from faceless bureaucracy to a personal leadership style – this will allow the sort of connection you are describing.

    People want to know who is making the decisions, and why, and I think a better understanding of the person and their values and interests helps them do this. They also want to be able to access them, question them, and debate with them. Again, social media facilitates this well.

    Mark (Newbold)

    • Thanks Mark. I couldn’t agree more. As humans, we respond and interact better when we can connect.

      I’m looking forward to the day when governors routinely check out the twitter and social media accounts of prospective CEOs as part of the recruitment process 😃

      • Fascinating prospect! I gather some employers scan Facebook, but more to exclude problems than for positive reasons? Looking at the person behind the post-holder is hugely important.

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