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By Bernard Wainaina
CEO,Profarms Consultants®

I was attending an agribusiness stakeholders brainstorming workshop in Kigali,Rwanda,last week and seated next to a charismatic Lady,a regional executive of a large agribusiness multinational.

After exchanging some info on our respective
areas of building the ‘rising Africa’,she prompted; Do you use Social media for your business?

I said yes.

She looked uncomfortable.

“Don’t you think it’s risky,I mean,it can blur the line between you business entity and your private life and muddle up some issues?” She added.

“Not at all. I’ve dedicated all my social media accounts to furthering my business interests and I have no private presence in all of these accounts”. I offered.

Great. Tell me how to go about it,because I fear that as a woman, my private life may just spill over in my social media accounts,even when I intend to use them for my business”. She implored.

Hers was a tricky question.

If you have been on social media for social reasons for long as a private person,it becomes hard to re-fashion your accounts to deal with business issues when the pictures of your wedding and the first kid are all well documented in your accounts,including your family cat.

But should corporate executives then shy away from social media to maintain a facade of indisspassionate dignity?

I guess not.

Let’s hear another story at a different place,with another different executive who had decided to keep away from all social media:

“Do you use Twitter?” It was a simple question i
asked my seatmate,this time, the chairman of a large multinational retail firm, at a dinner for board directors about two years ago.

With barely concealed incredulity he replied that he wouldn’t dream of it.

Twitter was something for his grandchildren and there was nothing of interest to him there.

I couldn’t resist: a couple quick taps on my phone brought up a Twitter search of his company with a huge number of tweets.

He was startled.

He’d had no idea there was so much going on there.

A couple more taps and up came the results of a search on his name.

That made him turn a pale shade of green.

Somehow he’d figured that since he wasn’t using social media, that people using social media weren’t interested in him.

There are myriad reasons why board directors and senior executives in all sectors need to understand and embrace social media, even if they use it sparingly.

The different applications, be it Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram are now centres of news, opinion, activism, customer engagement and much more.

Speaking as a director in my consultancy firm and an avid user of social media, social media has become an essential extension of my work.

I like Twitter for news and Facebook for touching base with friends.

LinkedIn helps me keep up with companies and
professional associates, and Instagram is a valuable visual way to share experiences.

I’m intrigued by Pintrest, as it has made real waves for brands.

I use Whatsapp to chat my regular friends,but strictly use email for all my business engagements.

The list goes on.

With time,the list of choices will become endless,but as food for thought,would you use Linkedin inmail to chat your boyfriend or girlfriend or even touch base with old friends?

The fact is,each of the social media platforms are designed to target specified group of people within your circle,though the lines may be blurred at times.

But you have a choice of pinning down dedicated social media platform to your business.

GET ON BOARD

Board directors and executives need to have a clear understanding of how social media affects our organisations.

In some sectors it has revolutionised the way companies interact with customers, employees, partners and the community at large.

Judging from the calls I’ve been getting from
headhunters, boards are coming to recognise the need for social media savvy board members.
They want to appoint people who have demonstrated dexterity with social media, and have genuine credibility and a following as part of their skill set.

I have colleagues who get the chills when they
consider the possible pitfalls of social media, but rather than using that as a reason to turn our backs on the medium, it should be an incentive to learn how to use it properly.

When board members and senior executives are
active and engaged, it sends a message about their commitment to communication.

A chief executive officer becomes more approachable, relatable and accessible, and board members become more than faceless people sitting around a table behind closed
doors.

Here are four do’s and four don’ts that I personally follow for engagement in my social media accounts:

»Dos:

¤Be on “send” and “receive”. For me social media is about engagement and learning. It is a means of learning what other people are thinking and talking about,feedback mostly, and for sharing things that I find interesting
and think would be interesting to others.

If you are always on “send” or “share” — only transmitting things you want to tell people — you will miss out on some of the real value of social media.

By being on “receive”— listening, and engaging with others — you will get a lot more out of it.

¤Be authentic. I’m always surprised when people ask if my tweets are really from me. If time is limited, it is better to share one thought you’ve written yourself once a day or once a week than to have someone else construct tweets for you more frequently.

People can tell if the tweets are outsourced, and they respond better authenticity.

¤Read it over before you hit send. I can’t count
the number of times I’ve sent tweets with things
spelled wrong ( even recently), or thought I was
sending a private message, but instead shared it
with the world. Also, as with emails, I try to avoid sending a tweet or making a comment when I’m annoyed.

¤Remember, once it is out there, it is there
forever, especially now that the Library of the world archives all tweets.

¤Learn the rules of the road. It is important to
understand the language and customs of each
platform. For example, on Twitter, don’t use other people’s tweets without properly crediting them.

On LinkedIn, it’s fine to comment and offer critiques, but what you write reflects on your professional reputation as well as that of the company you represent.
If you disagree, try to do it respectfully.

»Don’ts:

¤Think it is a private venue? NO! Social media is public.

Don’t write anything you would not be happy
to have published in a newspaper. (A tweet of mine was quoted recently.) Even if you have a private account, there is a risk that anything you post will be passed on or shared, be it opinions, photos, or conversations.

¤Dont Disclose confidential information. You’d be
surprised what enterprising journalists, investors or competitors can deduce from your photos or status updates. I don’t tweet or share on Facebook if I’m travelling on sensitive company business.

If I share pictures that give a view into what I’m doing, I make sure that they do not show confidential documents.

Also, proceed with caution with company
communications.

¤Dont Share things you haven’t actually read or know for sure. Take care not to retweet rumours or something that has not been properly reported, and read articles fully before you repost.

Don’t forget investors, partners, and employees are watching.

¤Dont Pre-schedule tweets and shares. It is tempting to schedule tweets and comments for a time when you think the most people will read them, but there is a real danger to that. I’d rather tweet in real time, than risk being in a meeting or on a plane when a disaster strikes and my tone-deaf tweet goes out about something that is completely irrelevant or
unimportant.

I almost always share things in real time, tweeting when I’m up and reading the news,
which in my case is often 05:00am

To be truly responsible board members and
executives, it is important that we understand how people communicate today.

Not every person on the board must be actively engaged in social media, but all board members should understand it.

And, what happened to the chairman I mentioned earlier?

His attitude towards social media shifted
over time.

He now has a Twitter account that he uses to
keep an eye on company mentions, and to follow news accounts for industry and sector updates.

He is registered on LinkedIn, and he has a Facebook account now, which, as it turns out, is a nice way to keep in touch with his grandchildren.

And my Charismatic Lady? She opted for Twitter and LinkedIn. She still thinks Facebook maybe used to stalk her by her former Exs!

“The African Story as told by Africans”.©African News Digest®

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