Be yourself - but never post under the influence. Lisa Rodrigues offers her tips for tweeters

When I dipped my toe into the social media water I was advised: be cautious, don’t reveal too much personal info, get your media advisers to check things, and beware of opening dialogues with people who won’t take no for an answer.

I’m not known for my caution. This occasionally causes me regret. But if those working in mental health leave things to chance, the only time we get any publicity is when a patient harms themselves or someone else. I’m on a mission to reduce the stigma of providing our types of services.

There was also a personal reason for getting into the social media space. Early in 2010, I was accused in the media of announcing I was leaving my job when the going got tough over a police investigation into some suicides (I hadn’t) and then for being flaky and changing my mind when the investigation was called off (also not so).

What actually happened was that I had a personal wobble and told my board I wanted to leave during a time that my daughter was extremely ill. She had excellent treatment under the NHS, started to get better and I then changed my mind about quitting a job I adore.

Also I changed my mind several months before the police investigation ended, without knowing the outcome. Incidentally no charges were ever brought.

Being accused of cowardice in the face of an inaccurate challenge was pretty grim. My priorities were: at home; supporting our staff; and giving confidence to our patients and partners. But I did find time to seek some media advice of my own. And I came to the conclusion that I needed to show people who I really was and what I cared about.

I started writing a weekly blog on our intranet, which got around 1,500 visits a week, and lots of comments. At the beginning of this year, I moved on to a weekly external message, which is sent directly to our senior staff and partners, shared with all staff in our weekly bulletin via a link to our intranet, and appears on our public website.

I have been a regular on Twitter now for just over two years, talking about things that matter to my trust and to me personally.

I don’t think you can separate being a chief executive of a publicly funded organisation from who you are as a person, so I don’t have a separate account for talking about work issues, the Archers or Brighton and Hove Albion FC.

Having been at the social media game now for several years, I have a few tips, which I share wholeheartedly:

  • Be interesting. Social media is optional. People won’t read tedious corporate guff. Some big companies have failed to learn this to their cost.
  • Social media is immediate, so you have to think fast - no time to write a press release. You need to decide in advance how you want to come across and what you will or won’t respond to.
  • Don’t waste time producing a social media policy. The same rules apply as in any communication - be honest, be warm, don’t patronise, and don’t use jargon.
  • Social media isn’t email. You don’t have to read everything that appears in your Twitter timeline, nor reply to everything addressed to you. It’s a conversation to join in when you are available.
  • Be real. Talk about what matters to you.
  • Do it yourself. I’ve found that using social media has helped me to write more quickly and succinctly.
  • Follow people whose ideas you admire and talk to them. I’ve had great online chats with Simon Hattenstone, Claire Balding and Jane Garvey, among others. And made new friends who I’ve met offline.
  • Never use social media under the influence of alcohol, in anger, or for highly personal discussions.
  • Learn about trolls and why you should never feed them. They lurk anonymously on the comments pages of websites calling for resignations or worse, often having got a firm grasp of the wrong end of the stick. On Twitter we block them, on Facebook you can simply un-friend them. But don’t let a tiny minority cloud your love of humanity. Social media is about communicating with other humans.
  • Be honourable and be open. And be grateful for the exposure that social media brings - when things go wrong, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

One of the attributes of the best leaders is being brave. So go on, jump in - it’s really quite nice in here.

Lisa Rodrigues is chief executive of Sussex Partnership Foundation Trust.