In the digital age, should HNWs stay under the social media radar or go on a Trump-style Twitter tirade? Dr Laura Toogood has the answer
The digital era has completely transformed the news landscape and social media has tested society in many ways. For a number of years, the technological revolution has caused huge angst for those working in reputation management and crisis communications. The environment is more perilous than ever before: we have 24/7 news, an absence of physical boundaries governing the distribution of information and multiple platforms that encourage prolific sharing of content and empower everyone with a voice.
Social media is frequently perceived as a frightening beast, which can pose a threat to privacy, security and reputation. The risks of engaging with such platforms have been discussed at length. I am often in the position of explaining the pitfalls, providing training to family offices and advising on the digital footprint. Living your life online can leave you vulnerable to all kinds of threats and I previously wrote about some of the problems encountered by oversharing.
However, as we navigate our way through the digital age, we are becoming better equipped at dealing with the challenges. Times are changing, and many are less averse to opting out. Social media is being used across a wide range of sectors, leveraged for a variety of purposes and now spans generations.
Donald Trump’s unprecedented use of Twitter has been the subject of countless news reports and he discussed his Tweeting habits during a recent interview with Piers Morgan. The communication platform has been cited as a way of avoiding traditional media channels. It offers a straight line to citizens and bypasses the press, who once acted as the gatekeepers of information.
Some support the idea that this facilitates less contortion of messaging and avoids political bias in the first instance. However, while comments on social media have the authenticity of coming straight from the horse’s mouth, communicating via these platforms is not a way of sidestepping the mainstream media. Journalists frequently cite quotes from verified accounts and lengthy articles can stem from such activity. Social media has also been responsible for spreading misinformation and mobilising fake news.
While there is no need to be as bold as Trump on Twitter, it is possible to engage via digital platforms, without overexposing. Social media empowers us with a valuable communication tool and, if used carefully, these tools can play a role in protecting or enhancing reputation.
A strategic approach is required to achieve the optimal balance between privacy and communication. For example, the Royal Family have official social media accounts, which allow the public access to certain aspects of their lives, but their privacy remains protected. The accounts are most commonly managed by a dedicated team (sometimes statements authored by a particular individual are signed accordingly), and play a valuable role in raising awareness for certain charity events and facilitating announcements.
Family offices that oversee multiple business interests may have several social media strategies implemented, each bespoke to the requirements of the specific entity. Furthermore, a number of CEOs embrace Twitter. Some use the platform passively to follow the conversation rather than voice their opinion, meanwhile others are more active. Unsurprisingly, tech-focused entrepreneurs and leaders, such as Brian Chesky and Tim Cook, are lively in this space. Elon Musk and Richard Branson are also among frequent users, the latter has over 12 million followers and has tweeted over 19,000 times.
Senior executives are acutely aware of the power of digital strategies for corporate communications and consumer brands were among the early adopters. Even on a personal level, senior family members accept that their children have a desire to engage with this kind of technology, want to participate and are often better informed about its architecture than their parents. Equally, I often encounter situations where the matriarch of the family wants to embrace social media platforms, such as Instagram, to become involved with image sharing trends.
Of course, there are situations where a social media presence is redundant, high-risk and completely unsuitable. However, as we progress through the digital era and become more accepting of having an online footprint, an anti-social media attitude is not always fitting.
Dr. Laura Toogood is founder of Fieldmaster Group, which provides expert guidance and technical insight for managing the online profile.