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How to sell social media to the C-suite: it comes down to the bottom line.

We might think that everyone is using social media, bat it seems at least one key group is not. The 2013 Social CEO Report looked at CEO engagement on four major social networks (Twitter, Linkedln, Facebook and Google Plus). With the exception of Linkedln, which boasts a participation rate of about 30 percent, participation among senior executives is decidedly dismal. Is it any wonder that so many of us are stymied in our ability to sell the C-suite on the value of social media?

Members of the C-suite understand traditional advertising because they have been consumers of traditional advertising for quite some time. They may even understand the value of having a robust website. But it appears that few CEOs and other senior executives are as familiar with, or convinced of, the benefits of communicating via social media.

Communicators can share some of the blame for this. After all, many were swept up in the allure of social media early on and eagerly embraced all things social. Some tried, failed and ultimately gave up. Others have stalwartly continued to engage. But many are missing the mark--and missing the opportunity to demonstrate to their senior leaders that social media can generate real results that go beyond followers, friends and retweets.

Taking a seat

Brian Massie is a communication consultant with American Timing Group LLC in Waynesboro, Virginia. He's also a former CFO. The disconnect between communication and the C-suite, he says, "is usually the fault of the communication operative." These high-level executives, stresses Massie, "are only interested in net revenue. It is therefore the responsibility of the communication operative to sell them on the effective use of social media."

That effort should include three main topics: message control, engagement and lead generation. "Older C-suite members likely do not understand the importance of social media the way you do, so you have to explain and show them how it should be taken seriously," Massie says.

Some have been able to do that in meaningful ways, based on a thorough understanding of the metrics that can point to results.

Suzanne Sawyer, CMO at Perm Medicine, the University of Pennsylvania Health System, has incorporated social media into communication strategies and seen real results. But doing so, she says, is "a process, not an event."

Her team accomplishes the work in three phases: building a social marketing plan, executing the social media plan and ad campaign, and measuring the results. For example, to generate interest and awareness of the health care system's bariatric surgery program, the team created a multichannel campaign that used localized print ads and digital ads on Facebook; the digital ads were highlighted through Google Search as well. The combined effort resulted in a marked increase in monthly leads for the program within a year--to about 73 per month from about 20 per month.

That's the kind of measurable result that makes a difference. But communicators also need to learn how they can turn messages into metrics that have meaning.

Getting it right

Christopher Penn, vice president of marketing technology with SHIFT Communications, an integrated communication agency with offices in Boston, New York City and San Francisco, notes, "The system of measurement we use examines the impact of social media as an integrated part of the communications landscape." SHIFT's tracking, both for its own use and on behalf of clients, attributes the impact of social media to six areas beyond social metrics: search, paid media, representative sample surveying, marketing metrics (such as email list growth and lead generation), sales metrics and traditional audience metrics from the PR world.

"It's simple, but it's not easy," says Penn. His No. 1 piece of advice for communicators: "You absolutely, positively, must get good at tagging and tracking everything."

While outcome metrics like revenue are obviously important, effective communicators should have a solid understanding of the value of the different actions that people take on the way to that outcome. For instance, when someone signs up for your newsletter on your website, do you know what the lifetime conversion value of your newsletter is? "You should be able to assign a value to the newsletter subscriptions, with the understanding that it may not yield revenue today but it's going to be revenue down the road," explains Penn. The same is true of any other levels of engagement that people have with you, such as visits to a landing page or requests for information.

"Tag everything so you know what you're looking for," he says. "That will allow you to understand the value of all of the activities that anyone can take."

Initially, though, it's all about strategy. Social media are, after all, just another tool. They don't necessarily play a role in every communication campaign you will undertake. In fact, sometimes they are simply irrelevant. Social media tools aren't for everyone in the same way that television advertising or outdoor events are not for everyone. In addition, not every social media channel will resonate with every audience; you must identify which channels are most appropriate for the audiences you hope to engage with. When the objectives and audience point to social as a tactic, though, there are some best practices that communicators can follow to ensure relevance--and results.

Best practices

The best advice for promoting social media strategies to senior leadership is the same as the best advice for using any communication tactic:

* Make sure you know what's important to your organization. Get a copy of the strategic plan and find out what the company is measuring.

* Start with specific communication goals and objectives, and tie them back to organization objectives (e.g., not "increasing the number of followers," but generating leads or sales).

* Identify the target audiences clearly.

* Research the media most likely to reach and connect with the target audiences, which may or may not include social media.

* Create and document your strategies for the communication effort (tactics should be tied to these strategies).

* Develop an evaluation plan: What metrics will you use to measure success? Focus on outcome, not process measures, when you're reporting results to the C-suite.

* Communicate about what's working as well as what's not. Don't hide your data if the results aren't what you expected.

Communicators can effectively engage with the C-suite if they learn how to tie their social (and other) communication efforts to the bottom-line metrics that keep those executives up at night. Sure, you may know that the more followers you have, the more likely you are to generate the leads and sales results you're looking for, but those aren't the metrics senior leadership is looking for. Translate marketing lingo to C-suite lingo, and you'll be better able to build your credibility within the organization.

social media in the boardroom

What do corporate directors and senior managers know about social media? It's a good question--and the title of a 201 2 study produced jointly by the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University and The Conference Board, which surveyed more than 180 senior executives and corporate directors at public and private companies in the U.S. and Canada. Of particular interest to communicators looking to convince their organization's senior leadership of the value of social media, the study found:

* Only 14 percent of respondents said that their organization uses metrics from social media to track the success of its business activities.

* 7 percent of board members and 23 percent of senior managers said they get reports summarizing information and metrics gleaned from social media.

In this video, the study's lead author, David F. Larcker, director of the Corporate Governance Research Program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, discusses some of the ideas and fears senior executives have about social media, including whether it increases the value of the business.

For more information, download the entire study.

by Linda Pophal, ABC

Linda Pophal, ABC, is a freelance business journalist and communication consultant based in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. She is active on Linkedln and Twitter: @LinWriter.
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Title Annotation:social media: best practices
Author:Pophal, Linda
Publication:Communication World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2014
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