LAS VEGAS—It's easy to dismiss social media as something the grandkids waste their time on. But that's a mistake.

"Social media right now is not just about playing FarmVille and following your friends. Reputations, businesses, brands live or die on social media," said Molly McPherson, a media relations veteran who now helps clients communicate effectively in the digital world.

McPherson came to the 2018 NRECA Directors Conference to explain why Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms should matter to the board of directors.

"The more open you are online, the more goodwill you earn. And you're sharing how open you are with your membership and the public," said McPherson.

"But the more closed you are, and the less you speak, that's when the antennas go up on people's heads."

That's led to angry consumers forming closed Facebook groups, where the administrator decides who can—and cannot—join.

"This is happening fast and furiously," she said. "And for co-ops it's difficult because you don't have access to it."

McPherson knows firsthand—citing the example of a closed Facebook group targeting the investor-owned utility serving her home.

"These customers think they're spiking the rates and there's something wrong and shady," she said of those who've joined.

Armed with an action plan available online through the group, members are organizing protests at utility offices and attracting media coverage.

But there are less drastic reasons for your co-op to embrace social media.

"I love, love, love Facebook Live," McPherson said. "Facebook Live is a powerful tool for electric co-ops." She cited livestreaming the annual meeting as just one example of how it can be used.

McPherson also called YouTube "a great platform for co-ops," encouraging loading as many videos as possible.

"Your members will go to it. They love video."