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CDF Key Takeaways – Social Media & the Board: The Good, Bad & Unpredictable

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Key Takeaways from Social Media & the Board: the Good, Bad and Unpredictable

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  • At the end of 2018, Twitter changed the maximum character count from 140 to 280 to make people more thoughtful, yet the average tweet has 33 characters only.
  • “The questions don’t do the damage, when it comes to interviews, only the answers do.” – Sam Donaldson
  • The Board’s role is Governance. They should optimize strategy and minimize risk. They should control the negative and amplify the positive.
  • Industry matters. For example, in the medical device world, what is and is not said about a product is really important.
  • There’s a great lack of awareness at the Board level where social media discussions fit. Does it belong to a specific committee or the Board as a whole? This should be discussed with the Board at large.
  • Understand the role of social media. It is not going away, and it requires policy.
  • How can Directors play a role when it comes to communicating company messages?
    • The best way for a Board to play a role in social media and PR is to have good policy.
    • Board members have a responsibility to understand how to communicate what the company is about. The message should always be consistent and aligned and in many cases, there should be a singular person who delivers it.
    • Make sure all Board members work with the CEO and understand the consistent message.
    • Many Board members don’t engage in social media at all.
  • Do companies need a Tweeter-in-Chief?
    • Employees and clients are getting more diverse and more global. A 280-character limit is not always an effective communications platform. People need to be careful.
    • It is unusual to have this. It is filled with risk and requires a solid policy.
    • Your organization should understand the power of Twitter and what it means to your organization and how it can be used.
    • Educate and train people to use it and understand why it matters, even if they don’t use it.
    • All employees need to learn the same messages, internalize them, and put them in their own words by saying the same thing the CEO is saying consistently to the market. If people don’t know the message, they cannot relay it.
  • How should companies prepare for crisis situations?
    • Be ready from a defensive perspective to protect yourself.
    • Make strong relationships with media.
    • Have a proactive reputation management program. Make sure people know who you are, they know what you do, and they like you. Making friends or educating people in the midst of a crisis is nearly impossible, so the foundation must be laid.
    • Ready the environment to weather the crisis. Even though you may foresee them, the environment in which they happen is unique and will play into how you react.
    • Something seemingly innocuous can turn bad very quickly.
    • Be flexible.
    • Preparation, preparation, preparation! You’re never prepared enough, but you should still have a playbook ready to go.
    • Have a culture of respect and openness so you may be given some foresight into a possible crisis.
    • Practice with a camera and microphone in your face.
    • Go through a crisis simulation rather than just having a plan on paper.
    • Include Board members in the discussion regarding their role.
  • How quickly should a company respond in the face of a crisis if you don’t have all the facts?
    • You shouldn’t respond if you don’t have all the facts. Must have a cool head in a fast-moving environment.
    • Know all the facts and understand what your objective is.
    • Less is more right off the bat.
    • A wrong response is worse than a nonresponse.
    • Stick with general, broad themes when applying to a crisis situation. Don’t give out numbers, for example.
    • In our world of social media, people demand responses quickly. If you don’t respond, there can be a backlash.
      • You can acknowledge something and explain you need to get the facts before responding.
      • A general response is okay until you can get the response right.
    • Responses need to demonstrate compassion, care, and ownership.
  • What does a company need to focus on during a crisis?
  • Think about all of your audiences, not just one. Your employees are an important audience.
    • Every communication is public. Send messages through that filter and ensure you are speaking to all those audiences in a way that helps you.
  • Take the approach that it is not about your company, but is about your investors, employees, clients, etc. “We acknowledge what you’re going through, and this is what we plan to do to make it right.”
  • Reputation is everything! It can take years to build but only seconds to lose.
  • Perception is reality to many of those audiences.
  • What you do matters as much as what you say.
  • Do not totally delegate a response to a Public Relations firm. Make sure you have the right people sharing the message.
  • Show candor, humility and acknowledge a willingness to address the issue.
  • During a crisis, how have you used the Board and what is the Board’s role?
    • By and large, the truth is, Board’s are not prepared for this and have not given it much thought. Executive teams need to ensure policies are in place and should work with the Board on these policies in relation to their roles.
    • At larger companies, the Board members are often not used. They often have company spokespeople and the Board does not need to be relied upon.
    • Usually people want to hear from the CEO. The Board is usually only used if the CEO is not available or is not the right person to address a crisis, or the crisis involves the CEO and portrays them in a negative light. The Board should still be prepared for this, even though rare.
    • One boundary could be to not retweet anything other than original content from the company and not directly engage with people who reach out to you directly via LinkedIn or otherwise.
    • Be prepared for what you know and what you don’t.
      • Larger companies that have more silos need to ensure they are taking a macro view of what is happening in the organization.
    • How do companies successfully manage social media platforms?
      • Do a lot of monitoring. There are a lot of tools using dashboards, but it can also be quite a manual process.
      • Know who to monitor on social media. Understand who is influential and who is not.
      • Don’t be afraid to ask leaders to stay off commenting about the company on social media until the person designated to respond, responds. Designate one person to respond via social media.
    • How do you balance the need for political correctness and authenticity and frankness?
      • Social media is thought leadership and executive communication. Lines are blurring, so people must be careful.
      • Social media might not be the space for complex and nuanced issues. It is a character limited and highly reactive space and does not allow for thoughtful responses. There are other places to discuss these issues (i.e., long- form interview, panel participation, speakerships, etc.)
    • How do you choose which platform best suits your organization?
      • LinkedIn has become a more interesting business platform that allows for more thoughtful, longer form content. This is industry specific, however.
      • Everything is social media. If you are on a panel that doesn’t allow for media, a participant can still quote you, perhaps even out of context, or can even focus on what you didn’t say. Look at everything as having social media potential.
      • Social media platforms choose you more often than you choose them during a crisis. You have to go where the discussion is.
      • Media interviews might be a more effective way to reach your audience.


Words of Wisdom (WOWs)

Clare: Today’s communication platforms give everyone a voice, so it’s even more important for companies to proactively tell their story so that others aren’t doing it for them. This will protect your reputation, your sales, and will help with recruitment. Boards should have a bigger eye on this.

Rick: Boards are in charge of risk and strategy, so there should be a policy around social media, which encompasses both risk and strategy. Boards should understand the impact of social media and should be tightly aligned with management to understand this policy on both an ongoing basis and in crisis- management situations.

Carin: Have a policy and make sure it is a custom policy that is given serious thought. Think about it on a quarterly basis because things change quickly.  We don’t know what they will look like, but we know they won’t look the same.

Sally: Crisis communication comes down to the need for speed. The difference between success and failure in crisis situations comes down to preparation and actual practice. Work through and stress-test the plan, don’t just put it in a binder on the shelf.