The Secretary General’s Voice
– The Potential of Social Media

A member of Boardroom Advisory board, Mohamed Mezghani has been appointed Secretary General of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) in January. Boardroom has asked him to contribute a monthly column in which he explains all about the challenges of holding such a position. This is Mohamed’s fifth contribution, in which he reflects on the potential of social media.

A few days ago, I wanted to mention a partner association in a tweet. I couldn’t find their tweet account. Then I visited their website and discovered that, to my amazement, they don’t use social media to communicate. It was a surprise to see such a big association completely absent from Twitter. How can we communicate in this 21st century without using social media? But on the contrary, if we use it too much and too often, isn’t there a risk to over communicate and to dilute the impact of our messages?

If you read this article, it’s likely you are a user of or a contributor to social media, and you see them as a tool to inform and/or stay informed. I consider they are indispensable to our activities as associations. I am personally an active user of Twitter and LinkedIn. At UITP, we also use Facebook and have a YouTube channel. In addition to our multiple official accounts, we encourage colleagues to post, like or retweet messages or share posts as much as possible. The more you are active on social media, the more you follow and will be followed, and the bigger the chance will be to learn and share information with a higher number of people, getting your message across.

If used properly, these tools are a mine of knowledge and an opportunity of networking. They also offer direct access to people it might not be possible to easily reach via traditional means. For one of our big events, it took me just a few minutes to contact and invite a keynote speaker who confirmed his participation two days later. I could also approach or was approached by potential members who then joined the association. The same for establishing partnerships to develop joint actions.

Not to mention the numerous new contacts that will grow your database… provided it is compliant with the GDPR. Now each time we evoke contact data we have to add the GDPR compliance provision, the same way publicity about alcoholic beverages must mention the moderation in drinking. GDPR is having big impacts in relation to our marketing and communication activities, our HR policy and our IT tools and security. Moreover, our global dimension adds a level of complexity. It is a challenge, and if a large part of it has been addressed it is still work in progress as, I assume, is the case for many international associations of a certain size.

Coming back to social platforms, besides the public ones, we made the choice at UITP to launch our restricted networking tool, called MyNetwork, which is exclusively reserved to our members. It is the way to offer them one more exclusive benefit. Indeed, if all communication is public what would be the added value to join the association? The aim is to offer information and share knowledge which will not be easily available on public forums, and package it according to the preferences of the member: by topic, by profile of member, by region, etc. This is a way to offer personalised services and satisfy individual needs.

Be it public or restricted, social media based communication is a must for associations. It is an efficient tool to highlight services and people, advocate their positions and show how relevant they are in monitoring trends and knowledge. In this regard, finding a way to cling to the (general or trade) news will attract additional interest and bring the association close to its audience. And if you don’t have enough time to interact on social media, leave your car at home and use public transport. You’ll better use your travel time to explore the potential of networking tools and learn a lot.

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