“Like” It or Not: Business under the Magnifying Glass

Posted June 4, 2012 8:20:37

by Fay Feeney, CEO and Digital Whisperer, Risk for Good

The information explosion unleashed by the Internet has been magnified in the last five years by social media, and it is changing the world.  Beyond Facebook “Likes”, public opinion has created an on line perception about products, companies, and their policies.

The initial premise of “social media” is simple: Being “social” in the digital age means creating and exchanging user generated content on line. 

The complication arises when anyone, anywhere in the world, can praise or pan your brand and its performance to a worldwide audience.

Public opinion and commentary is not new for CEOs and board chairs.  What is new: the speed and the scale of amplification to connect millions of points of feedback that quickly permeate all groups from news media to customers to investors instantly.  Every action (or inaction) is now publicly scrutinized and then talked about instantly. This scale of social commentary involves not hundreds but millions.  That’s a very large magnifying glass and it can generate a lot of heat.

So who’s got your back in the digital age when you are operating in a “word of mouth at scale” world?

What Got You Here May Not Keep You Here!
Today CEOs must work in a world where connectivity is leading to the re-imagination of EVERYTHING.  Yet getting to the top is as hard and tough as ever.  However you and your company probably won’t get to stay as long.  In the last ten years tenure in the CEO’s office has dropped from 8.1 to 6.3 years, and is trending down.

Most CEOs got their job the same way as their predecessor: a carefully developed network that provided information on opportunities and threats, and the tools to outperform competitors.  That same tried and true network has operated for years in person behind closed doors and via the phone.  That’s old school connectivity.

That was a world where careers weren't derailed by:  NOT GR8 NEWS:  U R FIRED.

Boardroom Risks in the Digital Age
Mark Schwartz, Board Member, MasterCard Inc. was recently asked: “What worries you when you look at what’s happening in the boardroom?”

His answer speaks to CEO and board chair challenges: “How can we be on top of things when there’s so much happening on a continuous basis 24/7, and so much information available not only to us but to our competitors, to regulators, to shareholders, to all of our stakeholders?  How can we capture all of this information, make the right judgments at our board, at our senior management level?  How can we react smartly, prudently, thoughtfully to really manage all of the risk attending to us around the world? That’s the greatest challenge in the boardroom.”

In the first wave of the digital economy, the focus was on the conversations corporations were having with their customers.  And the marketing department was in charge of overseeing that information was carefully controlled and distributed.

We are now in the second wave of the digital economy where silos are being replaced with connections and less not more hierarchy.  Information about your company, its products, and its policies can no longer be carefully controlled and distributed.  As you and your board become digital citizens, you will be leading socially enabled enterprises with your stakeholders, board members, and key investors.

What Can A CEO Do To Lead In The Digital World?
Get your arms around Big Data. It is more than what you can learn about your customers. It is about proactively building moats around your existing businesses and identifying new opportunities. Incorporate your existing tools like SWOT and risk identification using social media data.

Don’t wait for your board to ask about social media.  Tell them how you are mining the opportunities from big data and monitoring risks.  Directors will want to help you drive value by drawing unique insights from digital data and leveraging it with your new enlarged networks.

At the beginning, we asked: who has your corporate back?  Tap your risk manager (or general counsel if you don’t have a chief risk officer) and your director of strategy or business development. This component of their job description is increasing exponentially.

And do not forget the magnifying glass works both ways.  There is a treasure trove of information about competitors, partners and strategic opportunities for new business initiatives swirling in the social media pool.  There is information about the activities of your key investors and where they are seeking new investment opportunities that you need to know about.  Let big data filter the noise, so you can do more, better, faster, cheaper.  Get help to learn the tools that are available now to keep you ahead of your competition.

If your internal team hasn’t acquired these skills, they will; or they will not survive.  That’s what winners in the digital age will be doing: accessing new networks that feed them real-time information!

Fay Feeney is CEO and Digital Whisperer at Risk for Good, a global firm accelerating governance into the digital age.  She can be followed on Twitter @fayfeeney #corpgov


About the Blogger

This blog features op-eds on the broad topic of corporate governance. Board members, corporate secretaries, GCs, and other management team members who would like to submit an op-ed for consideration, please email your article to webeditor@boardmember.com.