Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn should be proof enough of the power of social media. The first relied heavily on Twitter during a campaign that ended with his taking the White House. (His social media usage even has its own Wikipedia page.) The second took advantage of Facebook to surprise observers with a strong—though not successful—showing in the General Election.
If you’re not convinced by those two examples take a look instead at Jacob Rees-Mogg, the most conservative of Conservatives, who has found himself in the picture for the Tory leadership thanks to his use of Instagram. Last week, the BBC published a piece on the unexpected social media appeal of Rees-Mogg, which described how a softly-spoken, Eton- and Oxford-educated Brexiteer had become the unlikely centre of a cult of personality. It went on to say that Rees-Mogg’s popularity has grown so dramatically that he’s become a contender in the Conservative leadership contest that is likely to take place in the near future. It’s slightly ironic that a man so deeply conservative has taken so well to such a forward-thinking form of communication.
Jacob Rees-Mogg voted against gay marriage, the smoking ban, the Iraq war inquiry, taxing high earners, protecting welfare from cuts and an elected House of Lords. Most people will probably have an issue with at least one of those things. But on social media, Rees-Mogg shows himself also to be authentic, original and self-deprecating. He allows his followers access to his personal life, which creates in those followers a sense of intimacy with him, and therefore a sense of trust in him. Despite joining Instagram only recently, he has more followers than Theresa May.
The CEOs, hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs I work with on a daily basis can learn a lot from this. The dominant view is that social media is for “the young”. That is partly true - most of those who use social media are young - but this fact is too often seen by non-Millennials as a reason not to use social media, rather than as an opportunity to communicate with a demographic they’re not usually exposed to. Those that do appreciate social media’s value still often fall into the “corporate social media” trap: their tweets or posts are overly polished, overly professional and even a bit dull. They give no sense of the man or woman behind them. There was a time when reticence and discretion was a competitive advantage both socially and professionally. Now, people - especially young people - want to know the person as well as the professional.
This has another fortunate byproduct. A large part of my work for both organisations and individuals involves presenting the public with a person they feel they know and they feel they like (luckily my clients are very likeable people). This helps in the promotion of that organisation or individual, but it also creates a kind of shield in the case of a crisis or an attack. If a social media troll, for example, decides to try to damage a person’s reputation, the public is more likely to give that person a fair hearing if they feel they know them well.
What’s clear is that social media is not just for shameless self-promoters, bored teenagers or angry trolls. It’s an essential tool in raising your profile and reaching out to those you would never ordinarily have the opportunity to. Follow Jacob Rees-Mogg’s example, and you stand to benefit hugely.