One of the most difficult problems in the social media world is getting the boss to understand and support an initial effort.

Executive sponsorship is a vital topic.  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. : )

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 two 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!

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.”  Present the opportunity in the language of the company. If a priority is brand awareness, or customer service, present the opportunity in those same terms.  Remember that any activity in an organization SOMEHOW must relate 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.

Patient education.  Your boss probably truly wants to do the right thing for the company … if they understand what to do.  So many times before jumping into an initiative, you need to patiently, relentlessly educate your sponsor on the truths of social media.  If your executive sponsor doesn’t “get it,” begin sending regular links to articles that explain why social media is relevant to your business.  Bring in guest speakers.  Maybe get them to attend a conference.  Follow up.  Discuss.  Repeat as needed.

Preach fear in the morning and redemption in the afternoon. Scare ‘em.  Seriously.  Let’s be honest — 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.  There is often a significant first-mover advantage in the social media space. So if the competition is gaining ground, or customers are dialing you up on the social media “phone,” they really need to pay attention.

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 and how are you addressing them?

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