7 tips for pitching Social Media to your skeptical boss

We spend hours on Twitter building a following, creating dialogue, making new contacts, monitoring streams and keywords; we subscribe to dozens of RSS feeds, read countless newsletters, we research, blog, make comments and moderate them; we link, we create profiles, we watch how-to videos (or sometimes make them ourselves) … We fill our entire day learning, interacting and engaging. After your boss sees how much time you’ve spent doing this, he or she might ask you what the value is to the company. As a communications professional, you’re used to talking until the cows come home, but suddenly, you’re at a loss for words. How do you even begin to explain the magnitude of social media to someone who sees social networking as “social NOTworking?” You know that your work in social media adds value to the business, but how do you express it clearly to someone who is either inexperienced in the realm of SM, skeptical or – the dreadful combination of both? Let’s explore this. First, you must address their fears and do your best to quell them: 

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Addressing the fear: 

First, realize that for some people in upper-management who are SM-inept, the whole concept might be a bit scary and they may have many valid reasons to be afraid. Some reasons include: 

  1. A fear that SM will eat up their budget
  2. Afraid of the time it will take to manage
  3. They might not be accustomed to the idea of smaller, segmented marketing
  4. They might worry that turning to SM will give the customer too much control
  5. Perhaps they are scared to know what customers are really saying about the business
  6. Fear of security breaches

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Explain that you understand that delving into social media can be scary at first, but with your guidance as the social media consultant, the company can progress its communications and harness the power of web 2.0 to achieve business goals and objectives. 

  • Your diplomatic rebuttal:

1&2 – Budget/Time: When it comes to social media, the biggest expense will likely be in the form of TIME. Yes, time is precious but this is your selling point. You, as the SM consultant, have that time to spend. Explain to your boss that most SM sites are free or very inexpensive and that his/her concern rests in the amount of time it takes to manage a social media strategy. Your boss will likely agree to your proposition if he/she sees the associated ROI. Therefore, start by taking some baby steps; complete one or two small-scale objectives by using SM. This will prove to your boss that it was worth the time invested. 

3-Unaccustomed to smaller, segmented marketing: Advertising used to be about reaching as many people as possible with one shot. How times have changed. The public relations focus must always surround communicating with the right audience. Otherwise, you are throwing money out the window. If you reach your customer, even in the smallest of niches, you are spending your ad money wisely. Ask your boss to pretend he or she is the owner of a shop (or maybe they already are ;) ) Ask them whether they would rather have 100 people walk in the door, look at things and leave without buying anything or have 10 people come in and spend their time and money in the shop. It’s all about qualified customers.  

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5 – They’re scared of what the customers are really saying about them: Fair. No one really likes to hear the negative things people are saying about them behind their back. But if you cover your ears and eyes, it’s not going to make it go away – what will, is addressing the issues at hand by reaching out to those who are using SM to try and talk with your organization. Meet them halfway. Also, remember, if your company is refusing to listen, they might also miss out on the good things that are being said about them. 

6 – Fear of security breaches: Another very valid concern. This is why a social media policy is so necessary to put into place. Even if it’s just you managing the SM for your company, you should have a policy in effect to ensure your butt is covered. A chat with your legal department is probably a good idea as well. 

  • Pitching it:

Begin by asking yourself, “will social media help us reach our goal(s)?” Seems like a childish question to ask, but if you jump the gun and start going social media crazy before thinking about whether SM is really the appropriate tactic, you will only set yourself up for failure. Not only this, you will perpetuate the notion that SM is not a useful business and communications tool. That being said, before you start any social media plan, there should be a darn good reason for it. Ok, so let’s say that you’re decided that SM is going to help you reach a business goal and now you have the opportunity to pitch the idea to your boss. Here’s what you can say and do before and during your pitch to help convince them of the value behind your social media work: 

  1. Keep it business-focused. Don’t spend all your time talking about how sparkly and pretty social media is (even though it is kinda irresistible that way) Rather, look at it from your seniors’ point of view. Focus on the benefits to the company as a whole. Looking at it from this angle, create an overview of your ideas that includes some rough costs/resourcing estimates and your predictions about the payoff.
  2. Present some case studies. If, for example, your SM strategy revolves around creating a corporate blog, show them a case study of a company who reached their goals by blogging.
  3. SHOW THEM IN REALTIME. (I love this idea of Laura Fitton’s!) Connect your laptop to the projector and perform a Twitter search. Identify what conversations about your brand are taking place online. Show them what their customers are talking about and what they want. This is also a quick way to educate them on how Twitter works.

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  4. Relative the point #3 above, explain that these conversations are happening whether we like it or not. It’s no longer a question of “should we use social media?” but rather, “how should we use social media?” Help them realize that being part of the conversation is critical to transparency and trust.
  5. The proof will always be in the pudding! Since upper management will be very interested to know how your social media efforts will provide ROI, explain to them how you can provide both qualitative and quantitative results. You should relate the ROI back to the original goal (and this is where you’ll get the buy-in from your superiors), but don’t disregard the other valuable information you will get after some good SM engagement!) Click here for 10 ways to measure SM success.
  6. Show the execs how social media can be used on a daily basis to enhance inner-office communications and increase productivity. Educate them by using different web 2.0 tools within the workplace. Jason Falls has written a great post on this concept.
  7. Arm yourself with some facts about the cost-effectiveness of SM. Chris Brogan provides some excellent examples here.

Your turn: What methods do you use to convey the value behind social media and how do you pitch it to your higher-ups?

Thank you to Chris Brogan, Laura Fitton & Valeria Maltoni for your brains and insights.

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