Marketing and PR professionals continue – in droves – to realize the business value of social media within an organization. They know it can foster collaboration among internal teams, enable real-time customer service, and create communities of fans and advocates who can help to shape a company’s products, services and brands. Getting the C-suite to open the company doors to social media, however, can be tricky. Management often cites concerns over privacy, security, brand erosion, and employee training, and they remain unwilling to invest in or allocate the proper resources (both human and financial) to allow social media to contribute to the company’s success and bottom line.
Brian Solis , principal at Altimeter Group and author of Engage, says failure to convince the C-suite to embrace social media across an organization often happens because marketers are simply having the wrong conversations with their executive management. They feed into what is often a natural hesitation on behalf of management and fail to alleviate their fear of the unknown when it comes to integrating social media into the company’s business strategy and culture. Furthermore, many internal advocates and social media pundits don’t come to the table speaking the language of the C-suite; management needs to hear about facts, figures, and corporate goals, not intangible benefits and promises of what might be.
In a recent webinar, “Impacting Business with Social Media ”, (you can watch the complete archived version for free) Solis included some words of wisdom from an executive at a leading global company who explained the right way to approach a C-level exec with social media:
“If you come to me with a request for budget and resources for social media, to make it a priority for our business, you will lose every time. If you tie social media to our business priorities and objectives and demonstrate how engagement will enable progress, you will win every time. Social media must be an enabler to our business; just show me how.”
Selling the C-suite on social
So what can you do to start building a business case for social media  within your organization? Here are five tips to get you headed in the right direction:
- Talk openly about how social media affects your company, not everyone else’s. Sure, it’s great to talk about what your competitors are doing with social media, and how they using it to court your customers. But, while it’s great to keep your competitors in your sights, you’ll lose management’s attention if you fail to tell them how your company will benefit by embracing social media. After all, your corporate goals and objectives are your own, so just talking about what everyone else is doing probably won’t strengthen your argument.
- Focus on your customers, not the technology. Social media is not about shiny new tools, and it’s about much more than how your company can be creative with a Facebook page. At the core of social media is audience engagement  and connecting to communities that matter to your organization. It’s about listening to customers and improving their experience. When you focus only on the tools and applications, you make social media impersonal, and often fail to convince your C-suite that social media can deliver anything of real value.
- Demonstrate the value proposition of social media across the entire business, not just in marketing and PR. Sorry, marketing department, but it’s not just your team that benefits in a social-media enabled workplace. Open and direct lines of communication between and company and its stakeholders means that every department – from product development to finance – can benefit from customer feedback, and make business improvements as a direct result.
- Establish specific goals in line with business objectives. Be sure that when you position social media to the management team, you have a concrete plan in hand that supports the company’s goals and works in tandem with its strategic direction. Be clear on what you are trying to achieve on behalf of the company. Is it better brand awareness? Lead generation? Increased market share? Competitive intelligence? All of these things? It’s critical you know your stuff before stepping into the CEO’s office to argue the case for social media. After all, if you can’t explain how it can help achieve business goals, it’s unfair to ask management to support you.
- Assign appropriate resources. You probably don’t hold the company purse strings and can’t make decisions on how big your team of community managers should be. But you can be honest in your proposal to management and explain that social media is not a part-time job or something left to an intern. The investment can be big or it can be small, depending on the company’s objectives, but it’s important to drive home the message that building a social media team – and a corporate social media presence — means appropriate resources need to be allocated to help ensure success.
Above all else, when it comes to building the case for social media within your organization, you need to remember that your job isn’t to outline the challenges of social media to executive management; it’s to help them understand and embrace the opportunities at hand. How are you going to rise to the challenge and make your company a social media company?
For more insights, tips and tools, be sure to download the Sysomos white paper, “Building a Business Case for Social Media. A Guidebook to the Benefits of Social Media and How to Sell it to the C-Suite .”
To better understand the changing media landscape and the new world of communications, check out our free eBook, “Mastering Audience Engagement: Reinventing Your Role in the New Media Landscape .”
Read “The Pulse ” and follow the PR, MarCom and advertising agencies who are doing great things with social media.