HR & Management

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Social media in the boardroom 101

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You’ve got a healthy number of connections on LinkedIn, you are following your company on Twitter and you no longer think Snapchat is a childhood card game – so you’re feeling pretty on top of the social media sphere.

And yet, when barely a day goes by without the industry heralding the next big digital thing, in no time at all you once again find yourself desperately trying to follow a boardroom conversation about the latest app that you’ve never heard of.

It doesn’t seem to matter what your role in the company is anymore. You remember a time – barely 12 months ago – when social media was the exclusive domain of the CMO, but now everyone is expected to have an opinion and show that they are using social media to their advantage.

So aside from spending every waking moment pouring over the latest industry articles and reports online, what can you do to come across to your boardroom peers with digital authority? When knowledge is power is business, how do you convince others that you have enough to make them take notice?

As someone who has been in the business of social media for the past decade, even I know that there is no way you can learn everything overnight – and there is no reason you should – but by being able to drop a few key phrases into the conversation here and there, you should be able to do enough to keep your head above water.

I would break down the process into three stages:

1. The beginner

Beginner-level digital chat is all about knowing enough of the right buzzwords and tools to convince those that don’t know what they are talking about — i.e. most of your colleagues — that you do. A little goes a long way, and in the boardroom, where everything is about accountability, you’re in luck because digital is all about being counted.

To be the guy that everyone thinks of as ‘getting it’ just work the right sound bite into your next meeting. Something along the lines of, “We all know it used to be that 50 per cent of marketing worked, but no one knew which 50 per cent and that’s all changed with Google analytics and social media analytics…” should do the trick.

2. The intermediate

Your next step is to actually understand how social media works and what it means for your specific part of the business. You’ve managed to persuade people that you are digitally savvy enough not to double click to open an app but where do you go from there?

Bear with me here, but it is all about a little thing called attribution. What the hell is it? Well the CMO might have some idea but no one will really know enough to question you. Both complex and simple at the same time, the simple answer is that attribution tells you what actions were responsible for causing a certain outcome. The complex answer would be demonstrating which particular advert led to the customer buying your product.

For example, “Our social media investment was over £17,000 for January, but as you can see from the attribution modelling I have conducted, it has delivered over £36,000 in direct sales, not to mention the impact upon visibility.”

You can look insanely clever by talking about the merits of this or that attribution model. Plus your colleagues will all want to look like they ‘get it’ too so they’ll all nod furiously even though you’re just spouting total nonsense.

3. The advanced

Mastered that? Now your challenge is not only knowing the ‘what’ of social media but everything that surrounds it – who are the competitors for each platform, what are the emerging tools in the space and do you have an opinion on them? Welcome to the geek-o-sphere.

Make it your mission to find out the difference between Snapchat and WhatsApp, Instagram and Pinterest, and Path and Medium – what are their valuations, business models, and marketplaces? Then for extra points select a favourite ‘platform’ that you can casually throw into conversation that no one has heard of. Jelly is, of course, my current favourite.  

Giles Palmer is CEO for social media analytics company Brandwatch.

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