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Boardrooms need to start ‘getting’ Social Media strategy

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‘Image courtesy of Sean MacEntee on Flickr’

It is not often readers of the Financial Times will be left shocked by one of its stories.

When I scanned one particular report which appeared on Monday July 14, I certainly was.

On page 21, in a bold black headline set on the famous FT’s pinkish news pages, there it was.

The headline read: Social media leave boards cold (subscribers can read it here)

The story, written by Chief Corporate Correspondent Alison Smith, tells how “half the board of the UK’s largest public companies have not discussed their social media strategies in the past 12 months.”

It goes onto say how only 7 per cent of boards have discussed it four times or more in that period, with one in three labelling social media as “unimportant” to the board.

Rather worrying was the statistic that only one in four say it is important.

The figures come from the FT-ICSA Boardroom Bellwether survey of FTSE350 company secretaries.

The FT reported that the findings “suggest that despite the attention that some social media initiatives attract, this area of the business does not generally command the boardroom time that might be expected.”

Had I be looking to insert drama into this blog I could have written that the story had me checking the date on the top left of the page to make sure it wasn’t 2004.

Well, it didn’t. There was no such double-take but in truth, the findings reported on could have quite comfortably come from the same year that Wayne Rooney still produced performances for England in a major tournament.

The story doesn’t say those FTSE 350 companies do not have a social media strategy, but that the board intrinsically does not care, is not briefed, does not look for briefings and ultimately, believes it has more important things to do.

Elsewhere in the news pages on the same day Andy Haste, the new chairman of Wonga, announced he was scrapping the company’s grandparent puppet advertising campaign due to controversies as the way they are perceived to target chairmen.

The co-relation between this and the social media argument is that Haste’s actions, albeit spurred by criticism, shows business leaders do need to be able to drill down into the company’s public image.

This should be the same whether it is old media – i.e. advertising – or new, social media.

True, the detail is best left to the social media experts employed elsewhere in the business.

To ignore it at board level is a huge error as the reach of social media means it is a huge factor in any company, be it a SME or listed entity.

Of the board members of FTSE 350 companies, there will be a number which believe that social media is not ‘what we do.’

Again, this is a glaring error – social is all about openness and transparency, all of which allow a voice to be heard, which in turn can help change a consumers or potential shareholders perception of a brand.

 Here are just a few reasons why board members need to #understandsocial:

Consumers

Although a number of companies involved in the FT survey will be more concerned with selling business to business, many of the companies concerned with the FT survey will have every day consumers.

Whether they are an M&S or a smaller firm, shoppers are the company’s lifeblood. A growing number will be shopping online and will be targeted through social media for marketing and customer care.

Board members in the dark about social media mean they are potentially in the dark about a huge way of communicating with the consumers who could be putting money in their tills.

Shareholders

The board structure has various positions, including the Chairman, which is voted for by shareholders.

It would be safe to assume that most shareholders would have a good, working knowledge of Social Media.

I for one would be surprised as a shareholder if the board of a company I have invested in, does not have an ounce of clue about the social media strategy, or perhaps even deems it without merit.

Crisis Management

A major tool in communicating with stakeholders during times of crisis is through social media. The benefits are obvious: mass communication; real-time updates i.e. no time lag response; the company controls the message through its own channels; communication is on various platforms (mobile, laptop, computer, and tablet).

Likewise, attacks on a company can come through social media.

While some companies may reject the notion of Facebook being helpful to its strategy, an overnight burst of criticism by a group set up on the same platform will soon bring home the value of it.

Yes, the company employees may well have social media channels and strategies set up to deal with crises, but the board which has not taken an interest in it is steering into choppy waters without a rudder.

True, it can be briefed quickly on the crises handling, but would have little or no time to be able to lead that strategy or amend if it didn’t agree.

BP’s Twitter strategy over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill made headlines for all the wrong reasons – you can bet the board took notice of it then.

The upshot of all this is that board members really do need to drag themselves, kicking and screaming if need be, into the 21st century. Social Media should be on the agenda and while the CEO, chairman and directors may not need to know the minutiae of the strategy, they should know the numbers game involved as well as they know the balance sheet.

 

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