The Social CEO: organisational evolution at a digital level

In this podcast, like typical Yorkshire folk, we make the most of BOGOF, with not one, but two guests from Yorkshire Housing.

Hannah Jowett MCIPR is Head of Communications and Brand at Yorkshire Housing. She’s passionate about building comms teams where people can thrive and bring their ideas and creativity to life. She has led the reinvention of Yorkshire Housing’s brand and its approach to communications. Her personal motto for comms is try new things, have fun and love what you do. Away from the internet, she also loves travel and adventures in remote places.

Nick Atkin is a highly successful Chief Executive with a track record of leading organisations through transformational change and driving performance improvement, with a focus on maximising the untapped potential from businesses and people. Confident and energetic, the inspirational leader embraces technology to deliver customer centric innovative working practices and solutions.

Nick is skilled at engaging at a national and regional level, with a wide range of housing and health organisations, councils, politicians, government departments and agencies; recognised by being listed in the top 25 most influential people in housing for the last five consecutive years.

With 9.4K followers on Twitter, Nick is a social CEO. In this episode, we find out from a comms perspective what the benefits of having an active C-suite voice across social media means for an organisation. Is it the next step in organisational evolution in this digitised world?

Nick Atkin


Hannah Jowett

Head of Comms & Brand

Key topics

As some comms colleagues can attest, having a vocal – and visible – CEO is not all it’s cracked up to be (looking at you, Elon). But it can have innumerable benefits. Says Hannah: “The whole fact about social media is it’s social. It’s not about broadcasting your news.

“It’s about building relationships; networks. It’s about connecting with people you know.

“People like to follow people. They like to feel like they have a window into what they’re thinking or or what’s going on. And I think you can have great corporate channels, but when you have a CEO who’s very social, it really brings a human side to your brand because it’s visible and authentic. It brings a real authenticity to your brand that you can’t just get from corporate posts and I think that’s one of the major benefits of it.

“Having a social CEO is a great window into the culture of the organisation, because if you’re interested in joining a business you want to know what culture is like. It’s worked massively for us recently in terms of recruitment. We did a leadership campaign for 10 senior roles and had about 1000 applications based on Nick and other leaders in the business sharing posts.”

And the downsides? Hannah says: “Sometimes a social CEO is very visible if someone is not happy. No business gets things right all the time, so you may well get people that latch on to that and start messaging them consistently. You could get trolled a bit if someone is not happy and we’re just really open with that, you know we’ve got a social media team and we’re tracking everything, so there’s that support system in place for Nick as well.”

“I think the last two years have taught us that leadership is about being authentic and having views on things and being really open and clear about those, so for me it’s about seeing the person behind the role. It’s a great job being a chief executive, but most people blag their way into these roles. So really to have a view on something is a great way of widening your own knowledge base, because people will offer alternative views to the ones that you post and I think you learn loads.

“One of the big things I do is follow people who I don’t agree with. It’s really difficult sometimes. but then I think, well, actually it’s widening my thinking and my perspective. I think you’ve got to keep it interesting first of all, because people only follow people that they’re interested in, and I think that means that you’ve got to be human and not be a foghorn.

“It’s not broadcasting this. It’s actually about engaging with people and giving a view on something and seeing the person really and a sense of humour as well. I love playing on the facts around Yorkshire and what Yorkshire actually means in terms of the good things and also the odd thing that perhaps we’re not so good at in Yorkshire.

“So for me it’s just about being authentic and sharing a little bit about you but remembering that ultimately it’s a work account. So there is a fine line and you do need to be a little bit cautious.”

“I guess some of it’s about making it easy for the CEO. If you want good social channels, you’ve got to invest in that which means time and resource. Use content plans then you know you’ve got good stuff coming up, so I know that Nick has a constant stream of things from corporate channels that can easily share and put his own spin or his own comment on.

“I think a really important thing is that it’s a two way conversation, so we’re aligned on messaging. It’s important to have a good relationship with the CEO so that you can say: ‘Can you not share that please?’. If you set up your CEO account and then it’s run by your comms team, it’s not going to be authentic.”

Any final words from Nick and Hannah?

Hannah loves the sense of community to be found at #CommsHero. She says: “Comms is a great career; it’s just such a great community. Everyone is facing many of the same problems whatever level they’re at, whatever role they’re working in, and having that community of comms professionals who are willing to share their experience; where you can just connect with people and improve your game is great.”

Nick says he’ll be reincarnated as a comms person: “As the chief exec, you’re the least listened to person in any business so the importance of comms is to get people to buy in to what we need them to do.

“That can only happen through a whole series of Comms Heroes across your business, not just in your comms team.

That’s why I think Comms Hero is so important, because it gives people the tools and the confidence and the learning and the shared network to be able to do that much more effectively.”

The show notes are the creation of friend of #CommsHero Teela Clayton.

This episode is sponsored by Blink. The world’s first enterprise app designed exclusively for frontline workers.