It’s almost 2013, and let’s be honest, most people – even executives – now understand that this thing called “social” does have value. But that does not necessarily translate into even a basic knowledge of what social is or why it is so important, and it certainly doesn’t always translate into adequate support or funding to put social on par with more traditional marketing efforts.
There are a host of ways to try to change the mindset at a company, but one of the most successful ones can be to go straight to the top: educate the executives and secure their personal sponsorship of social media programs. Yes, plenty of organizations have successfully managed to advance social from the bottom up, but this post is focused on seven tips for gradually converting executives into social media champions.
- Have a Plan – First, make sure that you have a coherent plan and strategy in place. Your plan should show that this is not a fly-by-night idea, that you’ve already been making progress, that you’ve got others on board, and that a lot more can be accomplished if the executives throw their weight behind it. You of course should already have a full social strategy if you’re doing your job right, but you’ll want to tailor it and narrow it down to a few key points for when you get in front of an exec.
- Get in Their Face – Sometimes the most challenging step is simply getting in front of the execs. While it’s unlikely you’ll have a chance to present your full social strategy directly to the leadership team (if you do, see tips 5 and 6), think about other ways to get in front of them. Stop them in the hallways if you see them or speak up and ask a question at an All Hands meeting. Consider setting up posters near where execs congregate to spotlight social, or install TVs showing a feed of customer complaints on social.
- Make Friends – As you’re looking to get in front of execs, look to others to help as well. If it’s going to fall on you exclusively, you’re in for a much larger challenge. Arm teams, friends, colleagues, and anyone else you know who may have contact with execs with a few key data points and an elevator speech. Think about setting up an intern/exec buddy system to pair social-savvy interns with the executives who you’re trying to teach social to. And of course make friends with the executives’ EAs.
- Start With One – If you can get the ear of even one executive, use it to the fullest extent. Try to figure out a particularly suitable “gateway drug” to get that individual involved in social so they can develop an understanding firsthand. If they’re good on camera, start a video blog. If they’re known for brief, value-packed comments, start them up on Twitter. Then focus on promoting their activity to drive up their stats and play to their ego, which in turn can convert them into an evangelist for all things social. Note, however, that some execs can require extensive coaching or start focusing on the wrong stats (follower count, etc), so don’t expect it to be an easy process. But it can often be a contagious one; if one exec dives in, the rest won’t want to be left behind.
- Showcase Successes – If you have any sort of social media program, chances are you’ve been able to achieve some level of success with or without the desired level of executive sponsorship. Use those existing successes – whether metrics or anecdotes – to build momentum for your social program. Create succinct case studies in a format that will resonate with executives and start sharing them up your own chain of command and with anyone else who will listen. If you get those around you excited about what you’re achieving on social, that enthusiasm and those success stories will gradually make their way up to executives.
- Demonstrate Value – As you develop these case studies, focus on the value that they drive for the company. Rather than spotlighting the number of new Facebook fans in the past month, point to examples – even anecdotal examples – of social media impacting corporate priorities or especially the bottom line. Ideally you should be able to point to social referrals as part of your website’s conversion measurements, but even that only accounts for some of the social ROI. Talk to the other teams, especially the sales teams, to find out if they have stories to share, and don’t be afraid to use anecdotes to demonstrate value.
- Go Grassroots – Finally, never underestimate the impact of a grassroots campaign. Train employees across the board on social – especially in-person training where you can give them rewards, stickers, or some sort of schwag that can spark others to ask them where they got it. Leverage those already involved on social (whether personally or professionally) across the organization to help contribute to and amplify success stories. Get as many folks excited and involved on social as possible, and you’ll soon start to see that enthusiasm spread quickly across – and up – the organization.
There are certainly challenges with going straight to the execs, not the least of which that it’s often difficult to get in front of them. Just as important, though, it is often (though certainly not always) difficult for execs that have a very limited understanding of social to truly “get it” without repeated coaching and patience. It’s a process, a gradual process, but hopefully these tips can help make it a more successful one.