Sean Fleming, Author at Formative Content

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: there’s no simple answer to this question. So, if you came here hoping for silver bullets, fairy dust or magic beans, you may be disappointed. What we can offer, however, is a little advice and three key takeaways.

If you’re a business leader that’s ever wondered ‘how active should I be on social media?’ there’s every chance you’ll have Googled the question.

The results bring up story after story telling you the best CEO is a social one, that everybody wants to work for a leader who is a social media rock star, but that only 40% of top CEOs are actually active on social.

But when it comes to finding reasons why your business leader ought to be on social – and what they should actually be doing there – then Google becomes a little less helpful. So we’ve stepped in to give a little guidance to those very pertinent questions.

Should I even bother?

The short answer is yes.

Here’s a statistic that often gets widely shared: only 48% of S&P 500 and FTSE 350 CEOs are active on social media.

That stat is sometimes followed with the observation that 52% of these leaders are therefore missing opportunities by not being on social.

We’ll never know if that’s true, of course. But if you have customers, they are on social media. If you have competitors, they are likely to be there too. And you do have both customers and competitors, right? So why wouldn’t you make sure you can be found where they congregate?

Maybe because you’re worried you might get it wrong.

Takeaway →  It’s reasonable to worry about getting it wrong. But this can be overcome with the right approach and a solid strategy.

How hard is getting it right?

Unless you’ve been living on Mars for the past few years, you’ll be only too aware of the controversy routinely sparked by the tweets of US President Donald Trump.

While his many millions of supporters at home and abroad seem to love it, his Twitter activity often seems to beg the question ‘to what extent are his actions showing the US in its best light?’ It’s a divisive subject and an admittedly extreme example of how social media can be used.

For better or worse, most business leaders will never garner the kind of attention Trump attracts. Unless they say or do something terrible, that is.

But they still need to be the very best representative of their business. If they’re enigmatic in person yet too safe or a bit dull online, is their social media presence likely to be helping?

Takeaway →  Knowing what to say and when to say it can be daunting. But developing a social media strategy that’s pegged to your business strategy is a good place to start.

A relentless sense of direction

The best leaders always know where they are going. In business terms that translates to having a clear sense of purpose and a tenacious pursuit of progress. Furthermore, they stay true to who they are in everything they do.

In short, they are authentic.

Translating that online is no mean feat. You can’t just arrive on Twitter, or LinkedIn, or Instagram and expect that everyone will hang off your every word.

You have to put the hours in: be useful, engaged and engaging, and visible.

Takeaway →  Don’t try to be someone or something you’re not. If there’s one thing you simply have to nail where social media is concerned it’s being authentic.

Being active on social can make many leaders feel too exposed. But having a solid plan and maintaining a consistent and authentic persona that acts as a bridge between your business and your customers can assuage those fears.

Gay Flashman, founder and CEO of Formative Content, is one of just eight women named in the Thrive Global Top Female Creatives of 2019 list.

The list showcases women who are “reshaping the creative space and paving the way for future female leaders to shine and inspire our next generation”. It recognises the importance of the creative industries in helping inspire positive, transformational change. But it also acknowledges there are often barriers to access and progress that women in all business sectors face that their male counterparts do not.

Set up in the UK in 2014 by Gay Flashman, Formative Content has grown at around 70% year-on-year. With an almost 50:50 male-female split at all levels of the business, and a wide spread of ages, the company combines commercial acuity with a flexible and inclusive outlook.

Formative’s list of blue-chip private and public sector clients includes the World Economic Forum, KPMG, Nestlé, Tata Consultancy Services, Microsoft and many others. They have come to rely on the team at Formative for high-quality editorial and visual content that deploys journalistic integrity to support clients’ business objectives.

The team at Formative is made up of journalists who have a depth of high-level editorial experience, from the BBC, Bloomberg, Channel 4, Channel 5, ITN, the Press Association and more.

Featured alongside novelist Candice Carty-Williams, the journalist Marissa Miller, and the actress and activist Jameela Jamil, Gay Flashman said her inclusion was something she was extremely proud of, but which reflects the achievements and contribution of the whole Formative team: “This is fantastic recognition of my desire to build a business that can exceed clients’ expectations by delivering content of the highest possible standards at a speed other agencies struggle to match. But it’s also a huge compliment to the team here at Formative who have taken that vision and made it our reality.”


In February, three members of the Formative team became certified Mental Health First Aiders. We’d like to tell you a little about what that means to us, why we think it’s important, and what mental health first aid is all about.


Throw a stone in any direction and there’s a pretty decent chance you’ll hit a business that says its people are its biggest asset. And that’s great. But how many businesses are actually taking active steps, and making real investments to bring those fine words to life?

We have a simple aim and a clear objective at Formative. We want to be the best possible place to work that we can, and to make our workplace one where people feel empowered, valued, and supported. For us, this is a very real decision to create and foster a culture with a real sense of difference. Yes, we work hard. Yes, we always go the extra mile to ensure we delight our clients. Yes, there will be times when people feel the pressure. But that’s true of a lot of agencies; we know that there will be times when most people need additional help and support, and at Formative, no one gets left behind.

That’s why Erin Harris (Director of People & Operations), Laura Nash (Content Coordinator), and Sean Fleming (Senior Writer) all attended the two-day mental health first aid course, developed by Mental Health First Aid England, and delivered by the St John Ambulance service.

For us, there are no stigmas around mental health in the same way that there are no stigmas around physical health. If someone had a broken arm would you view them as somehow negligent or failing? It’s not likely. At Formative, if someone needs help with a mental health issue they won’t be judged, they won’t be looked down on or talked about in hushed tones.

No, they’ll be given help, advice and most of all support – support that feels right to them, that’s appropriate for whatever their needs happen to be. Having a team of certified Mental Health First Aiders is the first part of those beliefs becoming part of our day-to-day routines.


“I am so grateful to Formative for making work a safe environment for me to be able to talk about my mental health experiences. I have never felt judged or criticised for bringing up my own personal struggles and I am honoured to have been considered as a mental health first aider.”

Laura Nash, Content Coordinator


So what is mental health first aid?

Many of us are going to struggle with mental health issues at some point in our lives; one-in-four of the general population, one-in-six at work. Look around your office and think about how many people you work with might be among those numbers. If it’s not you, chances are it’s someone not far away. But how many of us will know what to do, what help might be available, and where to get that help from?

That’s where Mental Health First Aiders can step in. They are trained in spotting the early signs of mental illness and having conversations with those who might be struggling with their mental health. The objective is to point people toward sources of immediate help – that might mean talking therapies, or it might just mean talking; Mental Health First Aiders are here to listen in confidence, too.


“I’ve worked in lots of different office environments – in journalism and in communications agencies. In our industry, it’s all too common for people to be pushed and pushed until they break, burn-out, or quit. That’s an outdated outlook which has no place in a 21st-century workplace.

I’m delighted to be part of this team and even more so that Formative is so determined to build a positive working environment for everyone.”

Sean Fleming, Senior Writer


It won’t always be easy to spot that you have a problem. Often the symptoms of many mental health problems can start out in a fairly benign way. But their potential for escalating and really derailing you shouldn’t be underestimated.

Workplace stress is part of everyday life and in many ways, it can be a good thing. It keeps you on your toes, reminds you of the importance of doing your best work, and can feed into a feeling of accomplishment when you’ve completed a tricky task.

But too much stress is bad for you. And if you are subjected to unreasonable levels of stress for lengthy periods, it can have a detrimental effect on your work and on your health – both mental and physical.

We’re not always going to get it right where mental health is concerned. But we’ve made a commitment to at least trying and to learning as we go.


“I’m extremely proud of our efforts with the certifications and setting up our Mental Health Working Group. We’re going to be as proactive and front-footed as possible – providing practical tools and supportive, empathetic advice when anyone needs help. I’ve often heard our team members describe the ‘close, family-like environment’ as one of their favourite parts of Formative Content. In my mind, part of that includes ensuring we are well equipped as individuals and as a business to support people through any issues that might arise while they’re part of that family.”

Erin Harris, Director of People & Operations



Want to get your event trending on Twitter? Well, you’re in luck. That’s one of the things we’re good at here at Formative.

We work with clients including Tata Consultancy Services, the Varkey Foundation, the World Economic Forum and Informa, providing content and social media coverage for some of the world’s most respected events.

What’s more, we’ll share what we’ve learned from this work to help you get your event social strategy licked into shape.

Sadly, there’s no magic wand or silver bullet. There’s no easy shortcut that avoids hard work and commitment. But having a strategy and a plan — and sticking to them — can bring success. Here’s our take on how to get your event trending on Twitter, based on our experience of pulling it off time and again.


A recent success story

Last year we drove a phenomenal increase in Twitter activity for one client event. Across two days, overall organic Twitter engagement increased 574%, totalling 67,052 impressions. Paid-for activity generated almost 72,000 engagements more.

And of course, we got the event hashtag trending.

We were pleased. Our client was pleased. And hopefully you’re impressed. But what you really want to know is how we did it.


Planning and delivery

Remember that hard work we mentioned a little earlier? Well, we created nine blogs, 14 videos, and 469 tweets during the event. That’s right — during. That requires content planning, fast and accurate turnaround of work, and a team of highly-focused, talented professionals.

Well before your event, you need to pinpoint and agree what you want your team to cover, figure out where your audiences are, and decide which sections of your event are best suited to promotion on Twitter. Draft in additional staff members to tweet if you need to.


Prepare your hashtags

Hashtags are great for grouping, tracking, and sharing information. They are a way for comms teams to harness or drive energy and conversation around a specific event, and provide a focal point for event attendees. So decide on any hashtags you want to use and build awareness of them in the immediate run-up to the event. It’s great to have your own hashtag but make sure they are short, easy to remember, and most important of all not in use elsewhere.

There might be some you can jump on that are already in use, which is great if they’re not only relevant but have gained some traction – for instance #SDGs for the Sustainable Development Goals. Consider using multiple hashtags if you feel the event warrants it, for instance to broaden conversation and engagement, but not too many as you don’t want to dilute the impact.


The right team

Remember that Twitter is your first line of engagement and communication with many of your customers, clients or audiences. Whoever is tweeting needs to sound authentically part of the brand, as well as being fully conversant with your messages and any sensitivities that exist.

It can be a great idea to do some dry runs to ensure everyone is comfortable with live tweeting and feels at home with Twitter. You can always use YouTube recordings of previous events to test and rehearse. Also consider creating a document including all key Twitter handles, names etc to allow for swift and efficient cutting and pasting into tweets.

Journalistic skills are important – whether a formal or informal understanding – as is accuracy, attention to detail and speed of writing. Few things will let you down as badly as poor attention to detail and tardiness in an arena as public as Twitter. Needless to say it’s vital that your team members are adept at encapsulating potentially complex comments into 280 characters or less – while remaining mindful of the importance of @references and your #hashtag strategy. It’s a lot to juggle, but no one said doing things properly was going to be easy.

If you have a large number of speakers you might want to consider having more than one Twitter reporter – two writers can tag team, for instance, with each covering a number of speakers in any one session. That’ll reduce the likelihood of things being missed, as well as help spread the workload.


Tweeting off-site from elsewhere

If you can’t be at the event it’s often easy to tweet remotely if you are able to access a live video stream. But if you are using such a feed for tweeting, make sure you’re set up early to rehearse and check your links and tools – fire off a couple of ‘coming up’ tweets to check your connectivity — and ensure you have tested and practiced with whatever tool you’ve decided to use for posting, whether that be Hootsuite, Tweetdeck or Buffer, for instance.


Preparation: on the day

Make sure you’re clear on the identities of each of the speakers; find photographs to cross-check you are referencing the correct speaker, and double-check name spellings. If you’re on-site, ensure you’re located where you can see all speakers clearly. If you’re viewing on a live video feed ensure you are clear about the location of each speaker.

You should also think through how you can shorten commonly-used phrases, how you are referencing your groups and stakeholders and what you are happy to abbreviate. Take a look at these recent @UNDP tweets for examples:-


The heat of the moment

Finally, here’s a checklist to help you keep out of trouble when the pressure is on:


If you’d like us to help you get the most out of your social media strategy, get in touch. 

Email: or call our team on +44 (0) 20 7206 2687.

Enjoyed this post? Read Why your business may be losing Twitter followers

Sean Fleming is a Writer at Formative Content with extensive content marketing experience developed across a career that has encompassed advertising, marketing, PR and business journalism.