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Social Media: Is the boardroom finally listening?

25 September 2014 | 02:17 am

“Do I have your attention? NO, do I really have your attention?”

As Marketing Directors we don’t say it but let’s admit it – how often have we felt it? I’ll put my hand up right now!

We sit in the board meeting awaiting our turn, having watched the finance director grip the CEO and the room’s attention on budgets (can we or can’t we afford x,y & z?); the HR director will have regimented attention (if we are honest we are mainly scared of the custodians of the P45 after all) and then Legal will get to demonstrate their intellectual prowess in helping the business to avoid all those costly mistakes each of our departments have allegedly made; and then…..it’s Marketing!

Did you hear that cheer as you got ready to take centre stage? Probably not!

On a glass half full day, we Marketing Directors will congratulate ourselves for making it into the boardroom at all.  The holy grail of decision making has never quite taken marketing serious enough – perhaps since the day John Wanamaker declared the now famous quote “half of my advertising is wasted, I just didn't know which half”.

John perhaps would not have anticipated when he made his throw away remark, that for decades afterwards; he had prescribed marketing directors to a lifetime of knowing looks tolerance, sympathy and charity in the boardroom?

Fast forward to 2014, and there is a new communications channel on the block!

Shrouded in mystery and wonder, suddenly the board wants to know how we harness this magical art of social media and decipher what the twenty something's have been trying to tell us for some time – that a post online is the new text, email and phone call of tomorrow!

Perhaps this is our moment to shine marketing? An attentive boardroom is unprecedented, unless perhaps you work for a brand like Virgin and have a strong marketing brain at the head of the table.

So the pressure is on to get this right! So for this boardroom basics I thought I would share some of the boardroom discussions I am having, clearly not revealing any specific detail before my boardroom colleagues start to panic.

So what have I been talking about in the boardroom this summer?

1) Brand reputation

As Warren Buffet said:

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

The CEO and board are becoming painfully aware of reputation blunders on social media.  There is strong recognition about the power of engagement and yet the more an organisation engages, the more people they need to manage the conversation and the higher the risk of going off message.

It’s great to see that people as buffet said, are doing things differently.  Surveys show that CEO’s are getting more involved in social media decisions than any other communications channel which bodes well for getting the backing needed to implement social media well.

2) Good Governance

Increasingly, awareness is rising of the issues surrounding social media management.  Not since the days that database ‘opt out’ clauses were enforced by regulators have we felt such a big pressure on marketing to get good governance in place to ensure that we protect our organisation (and ourselves) from criticism and remain compliant with regulatory bodies.

With the likes of professional bodies producing best practice guides such as the FCA guidelines, which is spreading across all sectors, the emphasis on this area is growing steadily.  It is no longer acceptable for the Marketing Director not to have asked the important questions of the social media team to understand where data is being stored and how passwords are being protected to ensure compliance even at the most basic of level.

3) Engagement

Interestingly, although the conversations of communication activity historically had the boardroom’s eye glazing over as though we spoke about magical mystery activity – social media has brought us back under serious scrutiny with strong measurable ROI channels.

To hear a finance director recently ask what ‘reach’ we have achieved in a month was a career breakthrough moment.  The reality is that we are surrounded by instant analytics about our customers, our approaches and our success.  There is no room for ‘vague’ marketing director reports reporting a great month in ‘awareness raising’ – those still relying on this old school form of reporting will find themselves given short thrift and sent off for some emergency CPD training.

4) Integration

Linked to engagement has been much discussion about integration. It is widely recognised that social media belongs in the communications mix and must be reinforced accordingly. For example, as leaders in the leisure sector, we spend much time discussing how we promote social media channels in leisure centres, how employees promote and add value to these channels and how we target the approach alongside the more traditional forms of communication – email, flyers and even word of mouth.

5) Content strategy

At the beginning social media was incredibly lacking in strategic planning. Lines of communication were set up with limited thought given to what, why and when content would be posted.

It is still perceived incorrectly that social media content is the preserve of twenty something's, mainly in a social media team. I find myself often challenging and talking about the growth of the silver surfers market, the campaigns where the customers have charged forward and the social media team have been able to take a back seat (far more credible in building a brand to have real ambassadors).

We need to get back to solid principles of marketing and demonstrate that we give the ‘real customer/audience what they want when it comes to content, on their terms, in their tone of voice.  We need to create environments that our customers thrive in and respond to with rich, vibrant content for us to support, comment on and share (if they so choose).

6) Investment

I see first-hand how hard the boardroom is finding investment decisions around social media.  As Marketing Directors we need to make this conversation easier for the boardroom, focusing on the facts, the best practice and the need to up our performance in social media in a compliant way. Whilst it is a tough call to reduce spend on a call centre that has been in existence for over twenty years to invest more in social media customer service, or invest in new infrastructure to ensure that the environment is safe for our customer (and our staff), the reality is that it is part of the evolution and innovation of our business. And we must evolve or we die as a business!

So enjoy your boardroom spotlight marketing, and don’t forget to share with us your insights and ‘fly on the wall’ conversations that you are having right here (leave your comment below) or tweet us @CrowdControlHQ.

To arrange a demo of CrowdControlHQ the UK's leading social media risk management & compliance platform please request it here .

Michelle Leavesley @leavesm

Marketing Director, Marketing Lecturer Birmingham Business School, Institute of Directors (IoD)

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