David Jenkins, co-founder of Mickey Llew, states that a Board is typically comprised of C-suite executives from similar industries, as well as legal, accounting and corporate governance experts. However, the dramatically increased impact that online properties, social media and other digital considerations have on operations means that a new non-executive director portfolio needs to be added to the Board: a Director of Digital.

If the role of a company’s Board is to provide oversight, insight and foresight, its members need to be skilled and experienced in diverse disciplines and industry sectors to provide holistic guidance to its executive team. 

The online universe is arguably bigger and substantially influential in comparison to the bricks and mortar world, and sincere and meaningful boardroom debate and decision-making can no longer continue without taking digital platforms and events, and their repercussions, into account.

Boards need someone on hand who understands the whole digital ecosystem, as it has become a major strategic pillar in planning for marketing, advertising, sales, distribution, communications and customer engagement – even more so since the global Covid-19 pandemic that has pushed even more consumers away from stores and into online retail. 

Furthermore, before customer-centric strategies can even be implemented, a business should understand that there is so much more to playing in the digital playground than having a website. Every step along the digital journey – for brands and their customers – needs to be strategically considered.

For example, many Boards do not understand – at a strategic level – the scale of the impact that the Google context can have on a business. It is not just a search engine. It is the digital highway, and not creating a careful strategy around every point of a brand’s exposure online, and properly setting up systems to mitigate reputational risk, online security, and fake news, is a sure recipe for failure. 

Other considerations include legalities surrounding online properties and imagery, and which country’s governance standards apply to those properties, as well as understanding the implications of employees’ online behaviour, and how that intersects with freedom of speech, for example.

Most Boards have sub-committees that investigate, strategise and report back to the main Board, as an effective way to examine and understand complex issues – and having a digital industry expert contributing to discussions around online reputation management will have indirect benefits too.

The Institute of Directors South Africa has highlighted the importance of innovation being a regular agenda item in Board discussions, while also highlighting that social media is a key reputational risk. At the very least, having a Board member on hand to advise colleagues about the governance issues relating to the blurring of personal and professional voices on social media could avoid embarrassment.

At the most, a business with digitally knowledgeable and experienced leadership at its most strategic level could take the lead on the digital highway, outpacing competitors and offering greater value to shareholders than ever before.