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How to Market Social Media to Execs

How to Market Social Media to Execs Sam Decker

Recently I was a panelist for a Forrester boot camp on Emerging Channels and at Forrester's Marketing Forum. A top question from both events was "How do we convince senior management to buy-in to emerging channels and user-generated content?"

Remember the adage, "customers buy on emotion and justify with fact"? I've found it's no different to get executive buy-in to an idea like social media and user-generated content with executives internally. The answer is in combining logic and emotion to make your case.

Executives, like everyone else, have experiences and a context that shapes their point of view on any idea, even before hearing the facts. They have to defend their strategies to others just as you do to them. If you think of the CMO or SVP perspective, they need much more confidence in the P&L impact and risk vs. reward. Ultimately, they have to defend whatever they do to the CEO, and they need to believe it is the right strategy given a multitude of other priorities.

As such, measurements are your friend, because with limited resources and high opportunity costs, they're going to ask you to justify and validate their opinion with facts tied to P&L impact. It is this data that can help create the emotion to act, decide and make change happen.

Resistance to new strategies is usually due to opportunity costs (prioritization) and lack of predictability of impact. Corporations, and the managers, have a need to drive predictable growth and mitigate risk. Priorities are driven based on familiarity of strategies that drive confident results. Something that can be proved to drive better results and meet or beat forecast excites executives.

Let's say you're pitching a social media strategy, program or test. First, brainstorm rational questions to which you need to answer in your presentation, or be prepared to answer. Here are some of the potential questions, and some hints on how to approach the answers:

How much has social media impacted our business?
Hint: Show examples, data and trends using tools such as Google, blogpulse, technorati, MySpace and YouTube.

What sort of short-term and long-term impact to revenue can we expect from this strategy?
Hint: Since this is hard to forecast, use outside examples as proxies.

What resources are required to launch AND sustain this strategy?
Hint: Show a phased approach, less resources in the beginning and growing with impact.

What are our success measures? 
Hint: Relate the strategy to measurements that are clearly part of the business model that drives revenue.

What are the costs / ROI compared to existing strategies?
Hint: Show how word of mouth and user-generated content as a growing asset and revenue impact can scale fixed investments over time. ROI gets better every day.

Can you calculate the downside risk?
Hint: Create three possible scenarios of impact.

Now, blend in some emotion with fact. In my experience, there are three emotions that drive executive action:

I'm putting this first because fear is the biggest motivator in the human psyche. One of the most feared scenarios is losing progress against the competition. So, can you show how competition is having success with a strategy that you are proposing to do better? The first reaction for executives when they see a competitor doing something successful is to react. To do something. It's a call-to-action event. If a competitor is launching an emerging channel strategy, your executives have to decide: do something or do nothing. Use this opportunity to drive your recommended strategy.

Can you show logic of the business impact for a campaign, project or program? Great! Don't stop there. Extrapolate the larger or longer scenario of the impact over time. Will your project make an impact next month? What if you continued and optimized the strategy every month? What does the entire quarter or entire year look like? Show pro forma P&Ls to illustrate the impact with or without your strategy.

In contrast to fear of falling behind competition, forward-thinking executives want to be first to market, innovative and cutting edge. While some executives may truly recognize evolving their marketing strategy as the right thing for the company, others want to be the first to something cutting edge; even sometimes for the purpose of career growth. Use that. Your strategy to move them to action can center on language and positioning that they will evolve their marketing strategy with this new program; maybe even get some press for the company with their quote!

If you're reading this you are probably one of the more forward-thinking marketers in your company. And if you're in an agency, maybe not. In either scenario, your goal to a sustained social media strategy is one that is embraced from the top to the bottom of an organization. This requires you to convince top management on the right strategy. Tell a story that incites fear, excitement or pride. Answer the logical and rational objections to justify a decision. If you meet resistance at first, innovate your approach, use repetition, and reach more people. Hmmm…this sounds like marketing!

Sam Decker is vice president of marketing and products for Bazaarvoice, Inc. .

Sam Decker is Co-Founder and CEO of Mass Relevance, a social engagement platform that discovers, filters, and displays real-time content anywhere.  Prior to Mass Relevance, Sam was founding Chief Marketing Officer at Bazaarvoice, the leader in...

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