Six ideas to win executive sponsorship for your social media effort

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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  • Great information.

    The money and fear points were especially effective when we pitched the need to the owner of our property management company. One specific point I would throw out there in the money discussion is the reduction in alternative forms of advertising. We were able to demonstrate real savings in the areas of reduction of print media and paid internet listings.

    Hope your day is a compelling one.

  • Mark – I hope all is well with you, and the rest of the intelligent and well-meaning {grow} community.

    This post was a great summary of ways to make a change. The Heath Brothers outline a great model in “Switch” which posits the need for both rational (money, vision, goals) and emotional (fear, outrage, belonging) forces at play. When paired with concrete ideas on how to work on cultural and environmental path, you get the trifecta of change,

    One of my favorite ideas within the model is the strategy to “shrink the change” – place the change in context, scale and perspective so that people don’t think they are signing up for something too abstract; rather a focused test and learn approach that earns deeper commitments through concrete evidence of performance. A good and effective way to spin fear in the opposite direction.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent ideas that go beyond social media to many other kinds of initiatives.

  • Hey Mark – thanks for the insights. As with any communication tool, we have got to have a set of clear objectives that tie to the organization’s business objectives. We occasionally get the reputation for chasing the latest toys without regard to their connection to the business. I think that’s changing for the better with social media, but I’m still surprised at how many weak, un-measurable, disconnected, nonspecific or even nonexistent goals I see. The base rule of thumb should be to measure at the output, outtake (or communication outcome), AND the outcome (business results) levels.

    Ask yourself, “How will social tools help us sell more product, save more money, enhance relationships with customers, prospects and other constituents?” Turn those answers into SMART objectives and THEN see what the C-level says when you pitch social.

    Hasta la Vista!

  • Being a “goal-setter” I love the Small Victory strategy. Great piece!

  • Good point. Certainly a possibility!

  • I have got to read that book. Thanks for reminding me. A superb contribution to the discussion. Thanks for sharing your wisdom today Bill!

  • Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • Gosh Sean it’s great to see you back in the comment section. It’s been too long! This is a keen observation and I agree. See the same thing. People get lulled by this “free” myth and honestly, there a lot of gurus out there saying we don’t need to measure because this is the “new email.” Of course i disagree and I know you do too. Thanks very much for adding your insight to the discussion!

  • Thanks Krysia!

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  • There really is a ”
    significant first-mover advantage” in social media, and really any online community development.

    If you’re going to do it, you’re better off starting sooner than later, so this article couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for those dealing with this; NOW.

  • Totally agree. I think customers have difficulty forming an attachment to multiple platforms. They will “bond” with the one they see first! : )

  • Very good article, Mark, it’s really instructive and easy to understand: FEAR and money with planned small victories. Fear to lose, money for earning.

    A big salute from an European fan!

  • Many thanks my friend!

  • The best example I can give is one that I dared to do myself. It is right on the lines of ‘ask forgiveness rather than permission’. hey – sometimes you gotta do it! So, I knew social media was something we should be doing – at least I thought so. So I dabbled and setup tracking to see what would happen. In one of my weekly meetings, I threw up a slide that had lead sources, conversions and the percentage of those leads that turned into deals in the pipeline. LinkedIn was #2 after Google. The CEO interrupted me and said ‘LinkedIn gave us that? what did you do?’ So I shared what I had been doing to which he replied ‘Do more!’

  • Oh my gosh, that is great! Ha!! Good for you! Happy for you.

  • Mark – this is SUCH an important topic. When I started in social media marketing in ’07, I was lucky enough to be in a digital agency who understood the forward a couple years and I was in a place where the targeted age was 18-35 and we weren’t doing anything digital. I dealt with trying to convince management the need for social, and it took me almost a year. What worked for me the most was:

    1. I explained to them the implications on SEO – specifically in niche social media marketing strategies (everyone understands what it means to be ranked higher on Google at this point)

    2. I showed them actual cases in our industry. I contacted digital agencies and got case studies of success, and my boss related to those a bit more.

    3. I volunteered to conduct “Social Media Tutorials” for staff. Theses were so well attended that my boss started to realize the importance in our strategy.

  • Thou rocketh. Such a wise comment Hannah. Thanks for contributing this to the discussion!

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  • CedarBrown

    An awesome and very valuable post Mark, great job! I created the Twitter account last summer, for an internship, at a large company because I knew it would be beneficial, but didn’t think about this type of approach. The lack of backing made it extremely difficult to be successful. Another issue is that many people I worked with just plain didn’t like the platform and because of that bias attitude, they were really missing out on another valuable social marketing tool. Traditional companies really struggle to see any reason to create a presence on any platform other than Facebook, regardless of the numbers. You might just say it is bad leadership.

  • I think that the hardest thing I’ve
    found out about social media is that it’s not a science it’s an art. And as in
    all art everyone who uses it finds a different picture to paint from
    the same view of the world.

    So while we might like social media
    to be something we can weight and measure we can only see the results and
    measure them. For we must seek out and find engagement and through that
    engagement develop relationships if we are to gain from social media.

    And while it’s easy to share with
    people through social media it’s not easy to engage those people and develop a
    relationship. And it’s relationships that make social media worthwhile. That’s
    true no matter what we are seeking to use social media for. As everything from
    business to finding people to chat with all need relationships between those
    involved if anything meaningful is to take place and social media is a way to
    make those relationships happen.

    That means we study and find the
    tools, activities, and methods that work for us to engage people and through
    that engagement we build relationships. But at no time is there a magic method,
    tool, or way that works for each of us.

    So dare to reach out and try all the
    different ideas and guidance you can find. And from that activity
    will come engagement just most likely not from what you expected. But like
    all serendipitous events we must be for ever vigilant if we are
    to recognize engagement and the resulting relationships when they

  • Great post! In many ways applicable to anything that is really new.

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