Getting Executives on Board with Social Media

by Ken Mueller on October 24, 2012 · 13 comments

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Today’s post is a guest post written by Marianne Griebler.

Recently Ken wrote about the need to have buy-in from staff at all levels in order to successfully implement social media campaigns:

Everyone in your business or organization, from top to bottom, and bottom to top, needs to be on board. They need to be aware. They need to at least understand what you are doing with social media and why. The social media mindset needs to permeate the culture of your business.

Ken reminded me that sometimes our toughest sales pitches are internal. Upper management, in particular, needs to be wooed and won.

When I led the public relations team at a large nonprofit with a nationwide presence and a membership whose donations paid the bills, we drafted a campaign to do just that. I’m happy to report that we got the green light to move ahead with social media. And within a few months of implementation executives began to ask,

“What are members saying about (topic/issue/cause) on Facebook?”

Sweeter words we’ve rarely heard. You can hear them too.

Our Tactics

Check Your Relationship Status

Ken mentioned the need for upper management to trust the people they hire to do marketing and PR. Yes indeed. But it’s a two-way street. What are you doing to earn their trust?

Prior to proposing social media as a viable component of our marketing/PR efforts, we invested a lot of time and energy in bonding with the executive team.

We strove to be responsive, respectful, diplomatic and transparent. We took great care in assembling bi-weekly reports on how our efforts aligned with organizational goals. We treated those infrequent meetings with executives like gold. During crises I was never more than a text or a call away, 24/7.

You can do that too. If you’re not there yet, take a step back and see what you do to move the needle on these important relationships.

Listen

C-suite folks have lots of fears about social media. They worry about losing control, about damage to the organization’s reputation, about the potential impact on the bottom line. Frankly, we’re being nothing short of disrespectful if we don’t treat those concerns with the TLC they deserve.

It’s too easy to dismiss those who question the value of social media as dinosaurs stuck in a tar pit. That’s just being lazy, people.

Executives share a heavy burden of accountability with shareholders or board members. Help them carry some of that weight by making a solid case for how social media can support business goals.

Listen more than you talk.

Get answers to their questions, pronto.

Show how social media can solve important organizational problems based on performance potential, not fads.

Build Your Case

Upper management is not going to say “yes” to a Facebook page or a Twitter account if you haven’t already brought the idea up … repeatedly. And proven, repeatedly, that they can help to achieve measurable goals.

Do your legwork.

Is your audience on social media? If no, why are you proposing it?

If yes, where are they hanging out? In our case, it was Facebook. In fact, we decided not to put our efforts into Twitter because very few of our members were there. And we could respond with lots of facts when someone said, “Well, how about that Twitter thing?”

Show your work, please: don’t collect all that data to keep it under wraps. Gini Dietrich urges us to measure everything, including proving that social media makes sense for your business or organization.

I’m also a big fan of the competitive analysis. And if your competition is successfully using Facebook or another social media platform, that’s a small victory for you. Share their success stories. Whet the interest (and envy) of executive staff.

Finally, demonstrate how you’ll impact financial goals.

Our Facebook posts, for example, were an eclectic mix of promotional and social. For every handful of posts designed to build community (a fun question, an inspirational quote or photo, for example) we’d put up one that supported a fundraising initiative. The week of in-home delivery for a direct mail campaign, for example, we’d post a success story to warm our donors’ hearts, followed by a compelling “ask.”

But Don’t Oversell

In our enthusiasm to convert key stakeholders to social media, we can sometimes spin it a bit too much. I beg of you, don’t. Social media will not heal the sick or solve all your organizational struggles.

This new addition to your tool kit doesn’t replace marketing best practices; it simply offers new opportunities for reach and engagement. Don’t make the mistake of pitching it as the latest and greatest brand of snake oil.

And as for the myth of the affordability of social media … well, maybe yes and maybe no. The networks may be free or cost-effective; the people time is not.

Planning, updating and monitoring your networks can be a huge time suck, especially during the early days of a campaign or a crisis. If you don’t have the staff or volunteers to manage this, you’re doomed to failure. Sorry.

Show, don’t tell, anxious executives who want to know who will be paying attention to your online presence. In one tense meeting I got really granular. I shared my editorial calendar for Facebook and our schedule with staff assignments for posting and monitoring, including weekends. I bored them to death with minutiae. And you could feel the temperature go down in that room almost immediately.

Executives will appreciate your candor about what social media can and can’t do. That will earn you a truly priceless commodity: credibility.

Find Your Champions

Courting your allies is as critical as soothing and reassuring skittish executives. We were fortunate enough to have several highly placed supporters who were vocal in their enthusiasm for the work we were doing.

Treat them well. Give them the tools and information they need to sell your case in meetings where you’re not present. And you know there are many, many conversations that go on without you.

Patience, Grasshopper

I had a teacher in grammar school that loved to remind us Rome wasn’t built in a day. Good for Rome, I’d always think. But I find that even now I use that phrase whenever I’m getting too twitchy about progress on a goal.

So goes it with the paradigm shift that is social media and your organization or business. Breathe deeply. Don’t despair. Look for small wins and hard data. Keep educating upper management and providing them with the information they need to make the switch.

And, of course, you have a commenting policy for your networks and a style guide and a plan for quality assurance and … well, that’s all a topic for another day.

How have you tried to get buy-in from executives in your business? What level of success have you had?

 

Marianne Griebler is a writer, marketer and strategist living in Chicago. She’s experienced in direct marketing, public relations, web management and development and customer/member engagement.  She’s currently seeking a new position in marketing communications, ideally in a virtual environment. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

 Getting Executives on Board with Social Media
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11 comments
bookluver321
bookluver321

Lisa Anderson, senior supply chain and operations executive and founder and President of LMA Consulting Group, Inc., has come out with a great book titled, "Leverage Social Networks to Drive Business Results."  I highly recommend this book to CEO's and Executives who would like to use social networks to boost business.

http://www.lma-consultinggroup.com/

SocialMediaDDS
SocialMediaDDS

LOVED this post @magriebler ... I always KNEW @KenMueller was a brilliant man....he has proved it by having you guest post!  ;-)  

People that are comfortable in the Social Media world sometimes forget how to expound the virtues of SoMe in a way that isn't overwhelming or even threatening.  As always, getting the "team" to be on board requires skills in patience and listening.  Frenetic passion will more often turn people away than it will entice.  Excellent suggestions Marianne!!

HughAnderson
HughAnderson

I can't fault the logic, the rationale, or any of the points made in this post. Thank you, it is a really helpful way to present the subject. I feel that those that are already climbing up the curve of social media adoption will intuitively "get it" and need less convincing, but there are still a lot of senior execs who are lower down (at the bottom!). One thing that would help is being able to present simple, concrete case-studies where social media marketing has definitively helped drive business results and these can still be relatively elusive - would you agree?

rdopping
rdopping

Man, this post comes in a timely manner. 

I am part of two initiatives. One is at the firm where I work as part of a social media test pilot team member where I do not have direct influence over the executive and as a volunteer with a global non-profit in the real estate sector as a member of a marketing committee. My role is to evaluate the social platforms that the company uses to address the local chapter's involvement and potential growth. 

While I am not a neophyte with social media I find the information here invaluable as a way to logically and responsibly address opportunity while building the trust of my fellow members for both efforts. Part of the job on both fronts is to find resource material that supports the growth of the corporations involvement in social platforms. 

Excellent post and thank you for offering this. I look forward to testing these ideas.

magriebler
magriebler

@HughAnderson This might be a time where quality trumps quantity. When I provided a competitive analysis -- using those case studies you mention -- I didn't have a huge amount of data. But I was careful to include our biggest competitors; there's always subtle pressure in demonstrating that others in your market have already climbed on board. Finally, I made sure I did due diligence about reporting the impact of our campaign so that I began, in essence, to build my own internal case study to support future campaigns. 

And I wholeheartedly agree with @KenMueller that realistic expectations are key. When we oversell, we doom our efforts before we've even gotten off the ground.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@HughAnderson There are a lot of case studies out there, you just have to search for them. A lot of it comes down to your goals and what you are hoping to accomplish through your use of social media, as well as having realistic expectations.

magriebler
magriebler

@KenMueller @SocialMediaDDS Thank you, Claudia. :-)

What kind of resistance to social media do you see with your colleagues? Lawyers I've spoken to are really skittish about it and I'm wondering if there's comparable concerns with medical professionals. I'd read a blog post about that.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@magriebler @rdopping Glad you found this helpful, Ralph. I just like the idea that you have the task of evaluating what's out there. Most people just don't evaluate, they merely jump on what they think will work. 

SocialMediaDDS
SocialMediaDDS

@magriebler @KenMueller @SocialMediaDDS I'm actually not sure if it's "skittish-ness" amongst dentists so much as it is an uncertainty of the unknown combined with a bit of fear of change.  So....how vague does THAT sound?  Most dentists get really excited when I talk to them about incorporating social media into their marketing strategy...and then....there is that long pause....and that pause is not so much concern-based as it is practicality based.  They (as many) are hoping for an easy (if not magical) panacea when it comes to digital marketing.  Suddenly, the feet drag and the uncertainty sets in.  And THAT is when the skills in patience and listening come in very handy!  Baby steps is certainly a mantra when it comes to enrolling this particular community into embracing social media.  And...that's okay!

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