Boardroom Digital Literacy – R U Talking to Me?

Many people in the boardroom are still on the sidelines about social media. What will it take to get your board ready to tackle their willingness to learn what is happening on the internet? Will it take seeing your company's name in the news before you add digital literacy to your director's education?

Boardroom protocol is being exposed every day on the internet. Does Rupert Murdoch really think we can't see beyond his prepared remarks to determine for ourselves the "tone at the top" coming from his boardroom?

Imagine what happens when 100 million people on Twitter can now get involved in the conversation happening in the boardroom from the outside in.

I know that many people in the boardroom are still on the sidelines about social media. What will it take to get your board ready to tackle their willingness to learn what is happening on the internet? Will it take seeing your company's name in the news before you add digital literacy to your director's education? I can see the incredulous look on the directors' faces when the board is called on for their oversight of digital issues.

I can only imagine a board being characterized as:

  • "illiterate": showing or marked by a lack of personal knowledge with the fundamentals of a particular field of knowledge.
  • Or maybe a board will be portrayed as "ignorant": Lacking knowledge, information, or awareness about something in particular: "ignorant of social media."

Worse yet is as a board leader to know that it is true. So I ask, when are you planning to get digital and social media on your agenda? Who is going to be responsible for taking action to get it on your fall board agenda? Whatever title you have in the boardroom (board chair or lead directors), you are setting the boardroom agenda. Are you waiting for your CEO, Corporate Secretary, Corporate Counsel, Audit Committee Chair to bring resources and spend budget to get this to happen for you and your board?

Time To Learn Where Your Customers Spend Their Time
Social media accounts for 22.5 percent of the time that Americans spend online, according to "State of the Media: The Social Media Report." This is compared with 9.8 percent for online games and 7.6 percent for e-mail. You can read more in the New York Times.

This is a voluntary opportunity for you to keep your board current and relevant. If you're waiting for a regulatory push to get your boardroom thinking digitally, you may not be ready to take action and learn what is happening 24/7 on computers and mobile devices around the world.

Here are some statistics about digital connectivity to help you consider moving this up as a priority. Digital knowledge leads to opportunities for companies to grow, reach and help their customers, employees, investors and stakeholders. Are your business revenues connected to connectivity in Asia? Has digital connectivity impacted new patterns in:

  • Consumer and supply chain behavior?
  • Operating model innovations?
  • Security and transparency issues?

Connectivity In Asia
Growth in mobile Internet usage is outpacing them all:

  • 45% of metro Chinese are online via a mobile device at least monthly, up 21% from 2010.
  • 11% of metro Indians access the mobile net monthly, up from just 1% in 2010.
  • Japan saw the biggest jump in mobile Internet usage: 57% of adults now have access, up 24% from last year.

Are you challenging yourself to look beyond the status quo, to understand how changes are disrupting your business? Is your board operating in a twentieth-century mode? If so, your business is being challenged to expand communications, attend to shareholder concerns, address issues of trust, take on new technologies (cloud, social media) and more, in order to succeed in and meet the needs of the twenty-first century.

Preparing Our Board Leaders For What's Next
When most of our board chairs were deciding on a college major, the founders of Google were not yet born. Fast forward a couple of decades (or more), and we see that the career landscape has changed so drastically that jobs need new definitions: social media strategist, app developer, mobile web engineer.

How can you prepare for what's ahead? Cathy Davidson has a few ideas. She is a professor at Duke University and suggests that "65 percent of today's grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn't been invented yet."

"We're 15 years into something so paradigm-changing that we have not yet adjusted our institutions of learning, work, social life, and economic life to account for the massive change."

Components of S&P 500 Market Value The International Integrated Reporting Committee (IIRC)

Corporate Spring — Is It Only A Matter Of Time? CEO Marc Benioff last week predicted that following the Arab 'spring' uprising against dictators facilitated by social media, it would only be a matter of time before similar demonstrations would unseat CEOs — what he referred to as 'corporate springs.'

Benioff has said, "We need to pay attention [to the Arab spring] because it is not so long from now that we'll start to hear about corporate springs and enterprise springs. We've seen Mubarak fall, Gadaffi fall — when will the first corporate CEO fall for the same reason? Because of unhappy customers rising up, or not listening to their employees. Not paying attention. Because it is more important to listen than ever before. That is the social revolution."

On Leading A Digitally Intelligent Board:

  1. Time is now to get your board "on board." Schedule a briefing to level-set the board on the fundamentals of your social media risks and opportunities:
    1. Have your board briefed on social media's impact on your business, competitors and mentions of key executives.
    2. Identify where your business is positioned in the conversation: Google, Yahoo, Bing, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. Understand the sources where you can go to gain independent information and business intelligence.
    3. Expand your sources of information on the business beyond management reporting.
  2. As you start asking digitally literate questions of your CEO, have a baseline "Social Media for the Boardroom" assessment of your company from an enterprise perspective:
    1. Know the risks on how your company is using social media;
    2. Have a map of your company's engagement:
      1. What marketing is doing for outbound conversations, along with other departments' usage (human resources, customer service, etc.)
      2. What is being said by whom on major social media sites: Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.
    3. Become familiar with your own website from a corporate governance and investor relations perspective;
    4. Identify what policies are in place for employees, contractors, etc.;
    5. Begin the discussion on your business readiness to manage crisis communication on social media;
    6. Identify how your board is being portrayed in social media. Think executive and board compensation, say on pay, etc.

Use this briefing and/or assessment to introduce your board to the fast-changing communications happening on line.

If your board is beyond this basic information, it would be great to hear how you got this ball rolling. I'd love to hear how you see this digital business mandate being managed in the boardroom. Do you see a committee taking this on in their charter, or will individual board members be stepping up with "digital expertise and skills" to guide the conversations?

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