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5 business lessons social-media advocates must learn before they can earn leadership buy-in

3 min read

Social Media

It’s almost a cliche at this point: The stodgy old CEO, the technophobic board of directors, the knee-jerk legal department — all with their fingers in their ears and muttering “no, no, no” any time anyone suggests the company give social media a shot.

Faced with this dilemma, what else can social-media advocates do but patiently try to explain how social media can do all manner of good things for the company. “If only the CEO understood social media,” they say. “Then we’d be able to move forward.”

It’s a familiar refrain — but unfortunately, it’s backward. As a group of panelists explained at a discussion on social media and leadership buy-in at the BlogWorld Expo on Thursday, the secret isn’t getting business leaders to understand social media; it’s getting social media leaders to understand business.

A few of their key takeaways:

  • It’s not about knowledge; it’s about trust. Your CEO doesn’t need to understand the finer points of social media any more than he or she needs to understand precisely how the company’s computer system works, said Jaime Punishill, former social-media manager at Citibank. It isn’t the CEO’s job to know everything, he points out. CEOs need to be able to find the right people, provide them with leadership and then trust them to do good work. Instead of making the case for social media, marketers should be making the case that they’re capable and trustworthy, he says.
  • Know who you’re really trying to convince. The most effective social-media advocates in any organization are the ones who understand the organization’s power structures — who makes the decisions and how. The person you need to convince may not be the boss; it may be the person the boss looks to for counsel or the one who can create consensus among other managers, Punishill said.
  • Don’t make it all about you. Find ways that your proposal benefits other groups, such as middle managers or the legal department, and then enlist them to help make your case, added Jason Keath.
  • Stop speaking in social-media metrics. Those terms don’t impress the C-Suite. Instead, use metrics they can relate to — such as talking about customer retention instead of engagement. The goal should be for the company’s leaders to begin to see social media as just another channel, H&R Block’s Zena Weist noted.
  • Think beyond the first “yes.” It’s not enough to get the greenlight from the boss. You need to tie social media to your organization’s strategic goals to make it a sustained effort, Keath said.

Image credit: Viorika, via iStockphoto