The #SocialLeaders Series – Tom Riordan


The time for social leadership is now.  To engage with customers and employees alike, to create a personal brand, to lead authentically and openly. To share and collaborate in a different way. To role model the digital skills that all organisations need now and tomorrow. We need social leaders.  But they are still few and far between.

This is the first in a series of conversations with leaders who already get this stuff.  Who are effectively using social media as part of their leadership role to engage and connect with employees, customers and service users.  We have asked a range of leaders from different industry sectors exactly why they use social media and how do they feel it benefits them in their role – as well as to share their advice to anyone who thinks they should be getting a little more social.

First up is Tom Riordan.  Tom is CEO of Leeds City Council, and an active Tweeter – he has even got himself a coveted blue tick.  He uses Twitter to share news about the Council, its work and its people.  He engages with followers and isn’t afraid to bring his whole self to Twitter, including pictures of his family, and a bio that tells you about him as a person, not just a CEO.


This is what Tom had to say about leading socially….

What is your social media platform of choice and why?

Twitter is my platform of choice. I was quite an early adopter because I like its mix of brevity, openness, wide reach, content and security (i.e. unacceptable behaviour can be blocked).

How do you believe that your use of social media has benefited you in your leadership role?

It’s allowed me a direct communication route to the outside world from a big organisation and to “walk the talk” of one of our main values of openness and honesty. I’ve tried to give more of a human face to a CEO role often seen as distant and protected, and to champion Leeds, public services and local government.

How engaged do you find the rest of your organisation with social media? 

Increasingly. Social media has become much more central to people’s lives over the last five years, and in that time the organisation has engaged with it more and more.  There are some great role models within the council, such as Phil Jewitt an excellent social media user who recently won a lifetime achievement unconference award. Many of our councillors now use social media widely now, which also helps.

What, if any, downsides do you see to being a leader on social media – and what do you do to avoid them?

99 percent of people are great to engage with on social media.  You have to take care at times not to be provoked by the 1 percent who, often anonymously, just want to cause trouble.  Never tweet when you’re angry is not a bad rule of thumb.

How have you used social media to connect with customers/service users/key stakeholders?

I’ve used it to get more direct messages out to a wider audience about what the council does, especially those front-line workers who make the city tick. Twitter has allowed me to contact a wide range of innovators both in the city and across the world and led directly to inward investment, new approaches on open data and great new ideas from people within and outside Leeds. I also get a pretty good idea of what people think about the council and the city!

What advice would you give to other leaders who want to use social media?

Don’t see it as a panacea but do treat it as a vital communication and engagement mechanism. Only do what you’re comfortable with and what suits your own personal style. Make sure your priority is enhancing the city or organisation, not your personal image or standing, because you’re almost bound to trip up if you think it’s all about you.

We’d like to send a big thanks to Tom for his insight.  If you are a leader who wants to use social media for their role then check out his Twitter feed for a great example on how to do this social stuff well.  And if you want to know more about social leadership – both the why and the how – then we’ve just released our latest book on Putting Social Media to Work – a version dedicated to just that subject.

Next time on the #SocialLeaders series…. Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD shares his thoughts.








Recruitment & social media – how far is too far?

I got into a Twitter chat recently about social media and recruitment.  Specifically, whether or not it is okay to check out people’s social media feeds during the recruitment process.

Now I’ve seen some fairly risk-averse advice on the subject that cautions you on the risk of (among other things) discrimination claims.

My view on it is simple.

It depends where you go.

On my CV, I am open about much of my social media.  There are links to my Twitter bio (hoping that prospective employers or clients will overlook my frequent Prosecco references), my LinkedIn profile and my blog.  When it comes to applying for jobs, my blog is going to give anyone reading it a sense of who I am and what I believe about my work more than a 2-page CV ever will. What isn’t on there is a link to either my Instagram or Facebook profiles.  The reason for that is that they aren’t about work.  They are for family and friends, or at the very least people I know, sometimes through other social networks.  My regular selfies of me and my significant other (#sorrynotsorry) are not for strangers… or employers.

Those sites that are professional should expect to be reviewed.  When I have been hiring, it is the first place I go and I would expect anyone thinking of hiring me to do the same.  If someone wants to scroll through my unlocked Twitter feed, fill your boots.  You will find a few mentions of One Direction too.  But the other stuff… not so much.

In our social world, platforms are ever-evolving.  There are no rules, apart from your own, about what is public and what is private.  There are fewer expectations of privacy than those of previous generations.  Even if you opt not to use social media, or are even too young to do so, you can still very much have a digital footprint.

So to job seekers I say this… expect to be looked for and at.  Google searched.  If you want stuff to be private, set it that way.

And to employers… if you are going to search people’s social media feeds then say so up front.  Put it on the ATS or the job advert.  Better still, openly ask people to send you their online stuff.  Allow links on your system.  Actively encourage it.  Go to the professional networking sites and read what you need to. But you don’t need to, and should not, trawl through what is clearly something else.  Personal photos.  Shares from many years ago.  Student day stuff.  What someone intends to be personal, platform aside, is probably obvious.

You wouldn’t follow someone down the pub and listen to their conversation before deciding to give them a job.  So leave their social social media alone.


Why no one cares about your internal social network

I love a bit of social media.  No surprise there then to any regular reader of my blog.

Only when it comes to internal social media networks, Yammer and the like, many of them end up being underused.  Unfulfilled potential.

Sometimes this is acknowledged.  Sometimes not.  See this great slide share from Paul Taylor detailing the signs that you are not a social business.

Like with any people stuff, there are some great examples of organisations that have made their internal social networks really deliver.  But many places are not even close.

Why? There are lots of reasons.  And many of them aren’t specific to social networks either.

Sometimes it is about employee’s engagement with the broader organisation. Or lack thereof.

Sometimes it is about a lack of digital and social skills generally.

Sometimes it is about having the time to engage in anything other than the immediate task at hand.

When it comes to the social network itself…..

Sometimes it is about employees not having a clue what the heck it is for or what they are supposed to do with it.

Sometimes it is about practically not knowing how to use a social network.

Sometimes it is about the network being seen to be Somebody Else’s Problem.  HR or Internal Comms being top of the list of suspects.

Sometimes it is about line managers not letting people use them because they think it’s not proper work. Whatever that is.

Sometimes it is that the organisation hasn’t launched it properly, given people a reason to go there, given it a focus or purpose – or perhaps even more importantly, it hasn’t given people the right sort of permission.

It isn’t unusual in my experience to find that social networks have a small cohort of regular users, sharers and commentators.  And then the rest of the organisation is either all so-what or oblivious to its existence.

Get it right, and social media networks can be game changing.  They can open your organisation right up, getting over the age-old complaints about communication and silo working and not knowing what is going on around here and never seeing any of the leaders. It can be a real driver of change.  Of transparency.  Of innovation.

But otherwise, it is just something else on the to-do list, something else for people to complain about, something else that there has to be a policy for.

Employees won’t care about your internal social media network unless you give them a reason to care. And even then, they still might not.  Of course, a social media network does not stand alone within an organisation, it is part of the system.  Often, what occurs (or doesn’t) on an internal social network is representative of what takes place within that wider system.  So going back to that earlier point; if employees aren’t willing to engage on your internal social media platform, if they aren’t willing to share, to communicate, to collaborate, recognise and discuss…. just what does that say about your organisation, its leadership and its culture?


5 ways to stop employees stealing your Rolodex

Organisations have always been worried about their employees taking with them valuable contacts and information when they leave.

In the old days, it was mostly about taking the hard copy lists; names and addresses of leads and potential leads, customers past and present.  What now exists within an App, somewhere in the Cloud, and on the device in our pockets, used to be in a Rolodex*, a book of business cards or in a lever arch file.  Or of course inside someone’s head.  We haven’t found a way of downloading that.  Just yet.

Now, the issue has moved to social media.  The challenge presented by LinkedIn, and indeed any social media platform used for professional purposes, is no different from the one that has always been with us.  Employees leave, and they take stuff with them. Sometimes what they take is knowledge and information.  Sometimes, it is copies of documents. Sometimes it is other people, and occasionally, it is the stuff from the stationery cupboard.  But the real concern for most organisations is still the customer information.

If the clickbait advice genre had been around in the 1980s, you can bet that there would have been a headline just like the one at the top of this post.  Maybe some internal guidelines suggestions too, about how employees within their notice period should not be allowed within 15 feet of the photocopier, just in case they run off one extra to take home.

Unfortunately the topic of social media in the workplace, and LinkedIn in particular, continues to generate advice of a risk averse and impractical nature. Advice that, if applied, does the reputation of HR no favours.

Let’s play this out in real life for a moment. I turn up on day one at my new company.  I have an established network across several social media platforms, including a healthy number of connections on LinkedIn.  My new employer then declares that anyone I might connect with in the future ‘belongs’ to them, and, as I have recently seen suggested, I am required to delete these connections when I leave the business, at some unknown future point.

Such advice is as unworkable as it is unreasonable.  It shows a fundamental lack of understanding about how the social world actually works.

On the practical front, what is going to stop the future me from reconnecting with these people all over again once deleted?  What stops me from following them on Twitter, adding them to a G+ circle or sending them a friend request on Facebook?  And why single out LinkedIn?  Much of my own HR networking is on Twitter.  If we take this argument forward then should I record everyone who follows me during the course of my employment and presumably ask them to unfollow me upon my resignation?  An employer would have an almost impossible task of proving when connections had been made.  And so on.

Here’s the thing.  In the social world, you get the benefit of the connections made by your employees, within your employment and elsewhere.  Social has by its very nature blurred the lines between work and personal.  Taking an overly restrictive approach fails to recognise the many benefits of social business and social employees.  Social can support your brand message and your marketing activities, as well as engage with your customers. Social can help with your talent acquisition.  It is a place of learning for your employees. It is part of  your employee voice.  If you want the benefits and the rewards that come with all things social, then you need to balance a little risk too.

I would suggest that if connections are so fundamental to your business, the matter either will already be, or should be, addressed within your contracts of employment and your restrictive covenant clauses in particular.  Contrary to popular belief, restrictive covenants are worth the paper on which they are written.  They just need to be well drafted and reasonable.  And of course enforcing them can be expensive.  But they can prevent your former employees from soliciting customers or current employees perfectly well, without resorting to an additional policy that can never be effectively enforced.

Trying to control social is like chasing the clouds.  Unintended consequences will likely follow.  Your employees are social, so they will do this stuff anyway, with or without your permission. Better that they do it with your encouragement and guidance and for mutual benefit, than under the radar (or more likely, under the desk).

I would suggest to those writing this sort of advice, that there is stuff that you can own, and stuff that you cannot. Knowing someone falls into the latter category. In the social world and the real life one.


*Note for younger readers.  This is a Rolodex.  You can still buy them.  But most of what you would use them for is already in your phone, in one App or another.