Many of us understand the idea that in order to have a successful social media or community program, you need some executive- or senior-level buy in for the long term. You’ve got to make a case to the executive team as to why this is important to your business and your customers.
(I’m a big believer that renegade ideas from grassroots places can win, but we’ll save that for another day).
But getting that buy-in demands that you present your ideas and plans from the perspective of a business leader. To do that, avoid the seven mistakes that are sure to kill your plan before you get started:
1. Thinking Departmentally
You have a job description, and you’re likely part of a vertical area or department of your business. But presenting a social media plan from the insulated perspective of your job description or singular area of responsibility ignores its potential impact on the rest of the organization.
Instead: Be sure you consider the implications of your plans on all areas of the business, both customer facing and not. How will this affect customer service? Sales? PR? Product management? IT? The executive team cares about broader business implications as well as just how it’s going to improve or impact your world.
2. Skipping your Homework
There’s nothing worse than showing up for a meeting unprepared, and the executive team isn’t going to walk you through all the considerations you need to make. When you decide you’re going to pitch a social media initiative, come prepared to answer questions that go broader than your strategy or tactics.
Instead: Ask questions and do research ahead of time to understand the global goals for your business, from sales to growth to product and service innovation, and be prepared to discuss how social media may or may not align with those things. Know what your competitors are doing in the space, and discuss what they’re doing well and where they’re leaving opportunities on the table. Understand the state of your industry overall as it relates to social media, and be prepared to present a case for why trends or opportunities exist for you to lead or join as an organization.
3. Speaking In Tongues
“Join the conversation”. “Be human”. “Return on Influence”. “Build relationships”. Too often, we try and sell our bosses on the idea of social based on our passion points and phrases we’ve become comfortable with. The trouble is that few of those phrases have any meaning in a hard business context whatsoever.
Instead: Skip the jargon. Avoid social media lingo and all the verbal shortcuts we use to sound smart or line up with what we read. Use real words, business terms that have meaning and substance, and say what you mean. Know the true definition of ROI and use it properly. Understand the difference between impact, correlation, and causality when you’re justifying strategy. If you want to discuss qualitative metrics, that’s fine, but keep them away from fuzzy emotional ideas and tie them to qualitative business goals like awareness or customer loyalty and satisfaction.
4. Forgetting Dollar Signs
Social media people recoil sometimes at the notion that sales and commercialism can be part of what we do. That the connections and conversations we’re facilitating are driven to enhancing nothing more than the bottom line. So instead, we talk of furry cuddly things, of relationships and people connections. Those do matter. But:
Instead: Sales are the ultimate success metric. The notion is that better relationships, better communication, more people that like us all eventually drive dollar signs. That’s okay. That’s why we’re in business after all (and even if you’re a non profit, this counts for your donations, too). Make sure your social media strategy explains how you’re going to help the company ultimately get its bills paid and make the shareholders happy, even if it’s not a direct revenue channel itself. The relationships and conversations and openness along the way are catalysts for growth.
5. Lacking a Blueprint
Hypothesis is good when based in research, but it’s important to back up your educated assumptions with a true, well thought out plan. You don’t have to (nor can you) guarantee results, but you do have to craft a blueprint that minimizes the variables to getting there. If you walk into the executive offices with nothing more than “everyone has a Facebook page so we need one too”, you’re going to get laughed out of the office. Trust me.
Instead: Build a plan, even if it’s simple. Include elements like goals and objectives, risk assessment, resource planning for money, people and time, costs (both soft and hard), training and education plans both internal and external, measurement and reporting.
6. Overlooking Plan B
If you’ve got a goal, there’s more than one path to get there. Don’t make the mistake of presenting a plan that’s the one-shot deal, or one that doesn’t have any alternative paths to success.
Instead: Create contingency plans. If your blog doesn’t take off as expected and your goals aren’t met in six months, what then? Outline a strategy for assessing success or failure, and illustrate what you’ll do with the learnings when you have them. Demonstrate flexibility in your plan that allows you to optimize it as you go.
No really! There’s no downside! It’ll be fabulous! People will love it! Everyone’s doing it! Your boss doesn’t buy that, and neither do I. If you’re selling a plan, don’t make the error of presenting it as though it’s infallible, or that there’s no potential downside. There’s no such thing as bulletproof.
Instead: Do a solid risk assessment. Consider worst case scenarios for your plan and walk them through, including recommendations for how to deal if something does go wrong. Be honest about execution challenges, like unpredictable resources or measurement that’s hypothetical to start with. Lay out reasonable expectations for goals you can achieve instead of what you think the boss wants to hear.
Ultimately, you CAN sell a solid social media plan into the executive suite. But you need to speak their language, and consider that what you’re presenting is a business plan. Your boss wants to see that you’ve thought it out thoroughly, given it broad consideration, and mapped out clear goals, strategy, and tactics. Demonstrated responsibility and accountability can go a long way to ensuring that your plan gets the attention it deserves.
So what would you add? What have you done successfully to make the case for social media? Or if you’re brave enough to share, where did you fall short so we can learn from you too? The comments are for you.