Jan Owen – A CEO Using Social Media To Help Young People

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“Young people are important not because they’re ‘the future’, but because we need their radical, unfettered thinking to break out of our old mindsets now!”

That quote sums up Jan Owen (@JanOwenAM), CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), a for-purpose organization dedicated to backing the next generation of young people.

A pioneer in the youth sector in Australia, Jan is a highly regarded social entrepreneur, innovator and youth advocate who has dedicated most of her working life to social change. She is also a very ‘modern’ CEO, who actively engages with stakeholders via social media. The Social C-Suite was therefore delighted to interview her for our Social CEO series.

The Social C-Suite: First of all, thanks for agreeing to be featured on The Social C-Suite. It’s a pleasure to interview the only non-US citizen to receive a leadership and innovation Fellowship from the Peter Drucker Foundation in the USA!

Jan Owen: I think I might not be the only one anymore ;-). Thanks for having me anyway!

To start with, how important is it for you, in your role as CEO of the FYA, to be active and visible on social media?

Extremely important. However, I’m very careful about which channel I use for what purpose. I have pretty much kept Facebook for family, friends and my social entrepreneur and youth ‘tribe’ and I regularly post my blogs and personal views there. I have a rule about not friending anyone on Facebook I don’t personally know.

Organizationally, FYA has a large Facebook community and Instagram following, so I mostly use Twitter in my CEO role.

I am on LinkedIn and post occasionally. However, I find the constant personal and product pitches deeply annoying; and as for the resounding ‘character endorsements’ by people I’ve never met – they are rather disturbing. We’re still working out the best way to make use of LinkedIn both for the FYA and for me personally.

Do you think your active social media presence enhances the FYA’s existing marketing and PR activities?

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Yes – and we are quite explicit and strategic about this (and getting better I hope). We have an integrated digital and marcomms team and a strategy for the entire organization. As an organization we’ve invested time and money into growing our expertise and capacity in this area.

I see you interact with people a lot on Twitter. How do you find the time?

I’m in airports and on planes a lot. There’s always time! In my view, if someone goes to the trouble to share, comment or ask questions about your posts, they deserve a response (if at all possible). You also get the opportunity to learn from others in return!

Have you considered signing up for Snapchat or Instagram to better engage with the FYA’s target demographic?

FYA is on both these channels as an organization, led by our excellent young digital team. We also create a fair amount of video content for our social platforms as well as having a YouTube channel – we are big believers in impact storytelling and we plan to do much more of this. We also use Google Hangouts to host and convene online interactions between young people and politicians.

Do you think for a CEO to be successful on social media they need a particular ‘mindset’, or can anyone do it with a bit of training and mentoring (or just a bit of common sense)?

It’s definitely a learned skill – however you also need to enjoy it and have fun! That, I guess, may require a certain mindset.

I’ve heard it said that using social media isn’t a CEO’s job. What do you say to that?

I know a lot of CEOs who don’t use/won’t go near social media. I believe many are either uneducated about the role and power of social; scared about not knowing how to use it; can’t/won’t commit the time; or have a team who do it for them – or all of the above!

I definitely see it as a key part of my current job – it’s actually one of my KPIs! I also use social media for other public positions I hold; to support and keep track of conversations in the sector and the work of colleagues in other organizations in Australia and globally; to access breaking news throughout the day; to share what I am doing/who I am meeting with; and to generally stay connected and ‘in touch with the zeitgeist’.

“Social media is one of my key KPIs”

So, there are a lot of good reasons to be on social media as a CEO. Having said that, no-one should ever have shown Donald Trump Twitter, right?! So maybe it’s not necessary for every CEO 😉

If you could give advice to other CEOs who are reluctant to embrace Twitter, what would it be?

Work out if and why you want to be on which channels, what you want to say and to who, what discussions you want to follow and contribute to – and be prepared to engage. Most importantly, hire a young person to mentor and train you!

More broadly, how do you think the role of leaders has changed/will have to keep changing as the world becomes more digitally and socially connected?

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Leaders are being asked to be the embodiment of the mission statement of their organization every single day; to develop – and simultaneously walk in the shoes of – their teams with vulnerability and authenticity; to connect meaningfully and often, directly with their customers; and to build value -adding partnerships and collaborations. They’re pretty much being asked to live and 24/7. In a more digitally and socially connected world it is much easier to observe, measure and comment on leaders and their progress in these areas.

“Leaders are being asked to be the embodiment of the mission statement of their organization every single day”

The convergence of all this is the foundation of an entirely new leadership – one which is much more collaborative, shared and networked. There are challenges and opportunities in this new reality for every leader.

What part does the CEO blog play in your role at FYA’s CEO? Who is it primarily targeted at?

I write a fair amount:
• A fortnightly internal CEO blog for the immediate FYA community of our team, the board, social entrepreneurs and advisory groups
• A private blog directed at our funders and investors once a month
• An public blog about once a month primarily targeted at our FYA community – the social innovation, social entrepreneurship, philanthropic and youth sectors we are part of
• We also release regular op-eds and media statements on our research and programs which are targeted at corporate, government and community decision and policy makers, depending on the topic. These are utilized by multiple print and online news websites and social media channels

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Huge thanks to Jan for providing such great insights not only into why she uses and values social media, but also into her leadership philosophy as well.

When she says, “The convergence of all this is the foundation of an entirely new leadership – one which is much more collaborative, shared and networked,” she’s hitting the nail on the head. A new type of leadership is necessary in this connected, ‘always on’ age.