By adaptive - August 29th, 2012

Getting buy-in from key internal stakeholders is a still a daily challenge. And now cost is increasing around social, there’s more pressure to show progress to your C-suite than ever. It is cr...

Getting buy-in from key internal stakeholders is a still a daily challenge. And now cost is increasing around social, there’s more pressure to show progress to your C-suite than ever.

It is critical to get the people that matter on board. Otherwise, you simply won’t have the support – or resources – to make your social efforts a success. But to do so, you must speak on their terms and in their language.

Every corporation is now actively using social media, but for companies to really lever these spaces for commercial benefit, the board must understand how social media can deliver real world gains, and why what can be substantial investments are needed urgently.

The C-suite isn’t anti social media, but need to clearly understand how this new environment has radically altered the relationships their corporations have with their customers. This insight has to be communicated in language that is concise, yet provides enough detail for investment decisions to be made.

James Cox, Managing Directory,Tracepoint“Getting buy-in for any change involves a structured approach,” says James Cox, managing directory of marketing firm Tracepoint. “Regarding social media, it's important to do your research and present a compelling business case. Take it step by step to bring along any skeptics with you and pre-empt obstacles with a well thought-out plan to combat fear and hostility.”

A corporation’s board might not understand tweets and mentions, likes and Klout scores; but they will understand the ‘bottom line’ and ‘brand reputation’, prospects and sales. This is how you get buy-in – through a formal and detailed business plan that they not only understand, but were probably managers when those concepts were first invented.

It cannot be a figure-based spreadsheet because you cannot realistically project a hard return on investment; but you can outline the soft returns. You can present the arguments for and against a social media policy.

For such an approach there is nothing better than to start with a SWOT analysis: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. And you'll get brownie points for also including the weaknesses and threats inherent to your proposal – so don't dissemble.

Defining your analysis

SWOTThe precise SWOT content will depend upon your own specific business. Start with the SWOT graph, a simple square divided into four. Label each square and then start to list the arguments. For instance, in Strengths you can include ‘low capital costs’, ‘global marketing reach’ to ‘new audiences’, ‘measurable marketing effects’, ‘immediacy’, and – to put a positive spin on a negative event – the fastest fire-fighting you can hope for.

Weaknesses would include the reverse of fire fighting. With social media, a bad image can spread across the world instantly. The biggest weakness, however, is that a company social media policy can only be as good as the person who controls it and the policy itself. Getting the right person is the most difficult and potentially the most expensive part of operating an effective social media policy. It’s like football: a good team with a bad manager will fail; but a mediocre team with a good manager will be able to punch well above its weight.

Opportunities include the ability to promote the company in thought leadership, by getting useful information (not just about your own products or subjects) to a wider audience. Think of Sophos (an anti-virus company) and its NakedSecurity blog. It uses the blog, promoted via LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, to discuss almost any aspect of security news – so successfully that the company’s image is now one of leadership in all aspects of information security and its spokespeople regularly appear on and are quoted in the BBC.

But the big opportunity provided by a successful social media policy is that it lets you do everything you’re already doing – and a whole lot more – to a focused audience at little cost.

Threats come from an uncontrolled social media policy. Any company that does not have a formal policy will almost certainly have an informal, uncontrolled one, even if it doesn’t realise it. It isn’t feasible for any company to be without at least some members of staff operating their own personal LinkedIn or Facebook accounts. Without a formal policy, you have no way of influencing what is said on these accounts – and it could easily seem as if any mention of the business, however damaging, is official.

Management buy-in

Martin Brindley, Managing Director of the Davies Murphy Group“The time of a laissez faire attitude to social media has passed,” warns Martin Brindley, managing director of the Davies Murphy Group. “It is important for organisations to enforce a company policy for employees posting content via social media channels, either as adding an appendix to your existing Internet appropriate fair use policy (and if you don’t have one of those create one now),” he adds, “or generating an entirely separate document. It is important that all employees – whether senior management or admin staff understand the obligations and liabilities when posting under the name of a company, especially anything that may have a detrimental effect on the organisation or your customers and partners.”

It is far better that the company ‘owns’ and operates its own company pages, and has an ‘official’ Twitter account to manage the public face of the business – and has a clear policy on personal staff comments. Threats to an uncontrolled policy range from a poor brand image to socially engineered phishing attacks using data gleaned from those staff accounts.

The great advantage of starting with a SWOT chart is that it forces you to evaluate your proposal in great detail while still having something to present to the board. Senior management has an innate ability – part, in fact, of the DNA of management – to open a book apparently at random and immediately focus in on its weakness.

In addition, the SWOT analysis forces you to evaluate all of these weaknesses, as well as the advantages, before you present to the board. That's how to get board buy-in: tell them everything they need to know in the language they understand.

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