By Sharon A.M. Maclean
Have you heard the story about the bank executive who got fired for sending images to his daughter because he was bored stiff in board meetings? The RBS financier got sacked for not taking his job seriously.
How about the HMV executive in 2013 who tweeted the mass layoff of 190 staff. HMV’s highly agitated management team asked, “How do we turn off Twitter?”
Of course, you know Twitter’s not getting turned off any time soon.
In the time it has taken you to read this sentence, fifty thousand tweets have been sent. How many of those messages might mention your company name with an industry hashtag—good or bad?
If that doesn’t jostle boardroom attention, check this stat: Only 10% of board directors indicated confidence in their general counsel’s ability to handle social media risk. FCI Consulting reported the results in their recent study titled Our Law in the Boardroom.
It’s elementary for employees and competitors to create a website, blog, and comment in various networks—good or bad—about your company. “Why not harness social media for good?” asks Olivier Taupin of Next Dimensions Media who has coached C-suite executives on social media for the last 15 years. Olivier is the founder of 100+ groups on LinkedIn with 1.4 million members.
Social media finally has made it to the agenda—in some board rooms. Yet, this is an opportunity to return to fundamentals, notes Erica Salmon Byrne, head of Advisory Services and Research at NYSE Governance in Services. “The most important audience is still your employees. Do they understand what’s expected of them in this newer medium? Do they know the risks? And will they tell you when something has gone wrong? Training, communication, and open doors are the best way to mitigate this risk,” she says.
Erica was referring to results of a 2015 survey by the NYSE of nearly 500 big business directors titled What Directors Think 2015. More than 70% came from those who identified themselves as outside directors, and another 20% said they serve as board chair or lead director. The survey asked questions about the emergence of social media risk, especially corporate reputation.
This is where Olivier comes in.
Those who are interested in “getting the story right” about their companies or organizations cannot afford to ignore social media any longer, says Olivier. Especially if their employees—or competitors–are actively engaged online.
Ignoring social media allows others to shape the narrative. Interested parties are using social media channels, most notably Twitter and LinkedIn, to look for information directly from companies (13%); to seek information from third-party influencers (40%), and to track breaking crisis situations (44%).
Oliver wants business—all sizes—to work from a social media strategy instead of crisis in these ways.
1. Develop your CRM. Most large companies now have a customer relationship management system in place notes Olivier. It’s where customer conversations with sales reps are recorded and commissions calculated.
However, the key is to ensure all social media also is captured in the system, as well. Social media profiles give a better picture of the client or prospect: their golfing habits, projects underway in LinkedIn, and Twitter conversations. A properly run CRM can also alert management to red-light issues such as corporate espionage.
2. Lead by example. This is not the time for passing-the-buck with this statement: “I don’t use social media but our folks have it covered.” Embrace social media yourself, learn how the platforms work, and how they can drive a company’s success or failure.
3. Interview board members to determine their level of understanding of social business. Olivier cautions that many executives don’t appreciate that information moves at the speed of light. He also sees that too much social media is being created from the bottom-up in organizations which means core messages can get lost amidst the blur of comments posted on multiple channels.
Board members are being asked to manage and understand areas not required of them in the past, just like other employees at your company. The social media strategist encourages training sessions for board members on social media, cyber security, and the cloud.
By the way, none of this requires your directors to be tweeting but it does make sense for them to make time to learn how it works.
4. Abuse by the tyrant boss becomes magnified—especially on platforms such as www.theglassdoor.ca where employees and former employees anonymously review companies and their management. In the year prior to April 2014, more than 500,000 company reviews were submitted to the site. It’s well-known that employees generally don’t leave companies because of lower pay scales; they leave because their direct supervisor is a malcontent.
5. Make champions of your employees. Opportunities exist to engage the entire workforce in your company story. By giving power to employees to speak up without retribution says management is listening to their concerns. When everyone takes part in framing the story, it’s easier to see who’s on the same page—and who’s not. Olivier recommends dismissing those who don’t share your stated vision, mission and values.
6. Days of the singular statement by a designated company spokesperson are numbered, too. The more powerful strategy is to collaborate with employees, customers and partners in releasing the message. They’re going to speak out, anyway… why not leverage their energy?
7. Everyone has a voice and they have multiple places to speak. Employees and engaged partners have the network, and are using it to communicate with each other and sometimes with you. Holly Gregory, Corporate Governance Partner at Sidley Austin recently gave this wise counsel: “Companies must plan for social media in advance and agree on ‘what is a crisis’: how to handle it, when to escalate and communicate on it.”
If you teach your board to listen to the conversation, your company will have a significant advantage in your industry and over your competitors.
Reduce corporate risk by moving social media to the top of the board room agenda.
Lifelong communications strategist Sharon MacLean owned and published a traditional print magazine for over 21 years for business people. She is certified in Integrated Online Strategies from the University of San Francisco and the Instant Customer Mastery Certified Professional Program