Many attendees at the NACD’s Spring Forum can recall when the Internet transformed all businesses by some degree into technology companies. A similar revolution is underway as communications transforms businesses into media companies, said Christie Hefner, the former chairman and CEO of Playboy Enterprises who last year was named to executive chairman of Canyon Ranch Enterprises, a new division of the luxury spa operator focused on developing for media for healthy living.
Hefner was joined on the stage at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York by Virginia Gambale, director of JetBlue and Piper Jaffray; Glenn Brown, director of branded content at Twitter and member of the board of Creative Commons; and Frank Eliason, senior vice president of social media at Citibank and a director of the Council of Better Business Bureaus and the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals.
One way social media is having an impact today is through reputation. There is a growing trend in reputation management because social media highlights your company’s culture for the world to see, Eliason said. Consumers are talking about products and employees may be explaining what it’s like to work at your company.
Brown suggested thinking about social media as having “speaking and listening components.” He pointed to Twitter as being a predominantly speaking environment but encouraged directors to think about listening side. One example of listening on the micro-level could be as simple as a consumer giving feedback on a social media platform that a company can respond to on the spot, he said.
People—your investors, customers and employees—are talking about your company using social media whether your company has a social media strategy or not; therefore, it’s essential that directors realize this conversation is already happening and be asking whether they want to host the conversation and what type of host they want to be.
Hefner asked each panelist to offer some guidance on social media and offered several suggestions of her own. She pointed to Starbucks adding Clara Shih, a Google executive who was 29 when named to its board in December, and suggested boards question whether someone of such relative youth would offer the needed wisdom, perspective and expertise. Hefner also suggested establishing a multidisciplinary team, to include a “millennial” (anyone born after 1981), to help oversee social media guidelines and ensure that a digital officer position exists in the C-suite.
It’s important to have someone on the board with digital expertise, Gambale explained, who can ask social media questions at a more granular level and to use plain language to have technology discussions. “Technology gets overly mystified,” she said.
Companies should study how social media is being used around them—whether by a competitor or how celebrities and media professionals are using social media. They form interesting informal alliances with each other and their peers, he explained, which may lead to new audiences.
Eliason urged the audience to find out what’s already being said about their companies. He suggested searching Twitter and on Google blogs. He also highlighted the important of reputation management and establishing guidelines of how to manage it.