How do I get my boss to understand social media?

In my position as a teacher and a consultant, this is one of the most common questions I hear. So let’s get it out on the table and take on this big topic of SPONSORSHIP.

NEWS FLASH: If you are not being supported by your boss and you hope to pressure him/her into supporting your nascent social media initiative through a “grassroots” effort, it’s not going to work. Not in the long run. For effective, lasting organizational change to occur, it must be supported from the top. How do you gain that support when your boss doesn’t get it?

Who is the “sponsor” of your social media effort?

Let’s be clear about the term “sponsor.” The person who controls the budget and job assignments of the people working on social media is the “sponsor,” in our definition. This may not necessarily be your boss. It might be your boss’s boss or even the head of the company. When winning support for your project, be clear on who the real decision maker is!

Here are six ideas to get the boss on-board:

Conduct a “pilot” program. One of the most effective ways to get something started is to propose a temporary project. For example, go to your boss and tell her you want to try a new idea for 12 weeks (which sounds shorter than 3 months!). Explain that you will do this as an added, incremental effort that will not interfere with your normal job duties, you will measure and re-evaluate at the end of the period, and together you’ll decide whether to continue or not. Once the effort gets going and gains momentum, it’s going to be difficult to stop unless you completely blow it. So don’t blow it. : )

Money really does talk. Whatever you do, don’t go into a meeting with a company executive explaining that you want sponsorship to measure your company’s “quality of conversations.” If you are still buying into the “it’s all about the conversation” hype, read this (measurement and ROI) and this (focus on money). Of course the social web is about relationships, but everything measured in an organization SOMEHOW relates back to money, whether it’s profits, donors or funding. Social media is no different. Be prepared to explain how your initiative ties to the company’s objectives. If you can’t, you’re not ready for this discussion.

The 140-character classroom. Most professionals truly want to do the right thing for the company … if they understand it. So you need to patiently, relentlessly educate your sponsor on the truths of social media. Here’s a good way to do it: Pretend you’re on Twitter … all the time. Begin sending your sponsor timely, 140-character emails with a link to an article and an explanation of why the information is relevant. If you use this discipline, you will send information that actually gets read. Follow up. Discuss. Repeat as needed.
The small victory strategy. Here’s another simple idea that is remarkably effective: Plan your social media pilot program around easy “small victories” (SV). An example: “By week one, we want to have 100 followers, by week 2 we want to have 25 mentions, etc.” Notice how different this is compared to “we want to increase our customer satisfaction rate 28% by 2012.” SV’s allow you to announce lots of happy news when you need it most — at the BEGINNING! People will get behind a winner. Establish a culture of support and enthusiasm by building easy wins into the program and promoting those SV’s every week!

Preach fear in the morning and redemption in the afternoon. Scare ‘em. Seriously. Fear is a great motivator: Fear of what the competition is doing, fear of being left behind, fear of missing a trend, fear of making a wrong decision. Then, after your boss is shaking in his boots, explain what you can do to beat the competition, keep your company ahead, and make your boss look great … for absolutely no investment!

Plan for problems. When implementing change in an organization, it’s important to have a counter-measure for every obstacle you’re likely to face. Literally write down every possible argument and reason people will argue against your social media proposal and then formulate a reasonable counter measure to address them. And the hurdles aren’t just money and resources. It could be politics and competing priorities. Get your supporters to help you think-through effective answers to anything your boss can throw at you and be well-prepared.

If your boss is intelligent and well-meaning, eventually they should come around. If they are not intelligent and well meaning, getting them to understand social media is probably the least of your problems!
What problems are you having with sponsorship?

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  • Nitin Gupta

    I like your idea of "start small" and focus on "quick wins". As you show the ROI, you can convert the biggest non-believers.

    Drawing from my career in sales, one other suggestion is to create a "sphere of influence" around the sponsor. Don't limit selling your idea only to the sponsor (usually head of marketing or VP. Sell to some of the other members of the group and maybe even to the internal client group so you have other people promoting your idea as well.


    @Nitin That is an excellent point, and one I considered but cut due to length. Probably worth an entire blog article just on that topic!

  • Nicole

    Excellent post! Your employer is still paying for advertising space and branding with your consistent time and dedication, whereas before they may have viewed this time spent on an immediate product result, like a TV commercial, magazine ad etc.

    Would they want someone creating their company's WorldWide commercial or print ad without a say so?

    It is also a reminder to each person involved in the business side social media that while it is about establishing & nurturing relationships, the time dedicated to SM needs to impact the bottom line.

    The concept of social media is still very foreign and massive to so many people. This article is a great reference tool those of us who have been involved in SM and those who are just getting started.

    I am enjoying your articles and insight. Thanks to @HowellMarketing for sending us the links!


    Thanks for your insights, Nicole. For the sake of brevity, I actually cut an entire section out of this post asking readers to consider this: Could your boss be RIGHT? There might be very good reasons to postpone a social media initiative, including budget and competing priorities. If it is just a matter of timing, it might be better to wait than to pick a fight. Your boss is not always right, but your boss is always your boss! : )

  • Pingback: Piloten, Geld & kleine Siege: So erkläre ich Social Media meinem Chef | SMO14 - Digitale Markenführung()

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