How Can Social Media Buy-in Across the Board Help UK Businesses?

03/02/2012 11:31 GMT | Updated 03/04/2012 10:12 BST

Achieving social media buy-in with senior management and the board can create comms harmony within an organisation, but why is this essential and why is this about more than just marketing?

Social media is a buzzword forced upon us daily, but for many it's intangible in achieving business goals. However, as with its digital marketing relatives it's increasingly quantifiable.

This is evident through the perceived value of some of the bigger social networks (Facebook's initial public offering (IPO) is a recent example). These networks, that may be worth more on paper than in the real world, have enormous influence across both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) realms and this shouldn't be ignored.

A PwC whitepaper late last year highlighted how businesses were failing to manage social media and for the most part, it isn't surprising. It revealed that although B2B companies were investing between $416,000 (£269,615) and $1.85 (£1.19) million in social media, the infrastructure to manage it was not in place, nor were systems to measure its return on investment (ROI). All businesses obviously behave differently, but certainly share similar incentives needed to stimulate the board and senior management to consider a much needed change.

The art and science of social media

It's one thing knowing that measurement is becoming a better art and science, but quite another convincing the powers that be upstairs that investing in the use of social media is to the benefit of the business.

Social media buy-in is important because it's more than comms and marketing, it should transcend through all facets of an organisation. It's a channel that should include and feed into customer service, research, sales et al with all departments pulling in the same direction. Education is the major element on the route to buy-in and although it may be thought leadership that is perceived to be coming and managed from the top, this needs be a multi-level affair, where in a sense hierarchy should take more of a back seat to make it more inclusively adopted organisation-wide.

The integration social media across an organisation

Successful social media integration across an organisation will be dependent of all working parts working cohesively and this has a better chance of working effectively if management is behind it. More importantly the propensity of success is greatly increased if the board and senior management are actively engaged using it, instilling that ethos and openness across the organisation.

So, how to achieve this and have it work it from the top down? Results are the language of finance directors, senior management, the board and a number of other stakeholders. This needs to be managed organisation-wide, but not excluding all of the working parts that play an important role, so they need to be included in planning and strategy - helping the business reach that happy place.

Strategies can be a daunting prospect for any business, but there needs to be clear direction outlined for management to understand the journey they're being taken on, the stops along the way, when they arrive and what they do when they get there. To deliver a full and rich journey, producing a social media strategy could be limiting in the long run, because it could be a narrow view for a business. Instead, any strategy should incorporate social media into an overall approach, ensuring it seeks to create longevity for an organisation as well as working across departments (as mentioned above).

When journeys are clear for the individuals that make decisions based upon an approach and/or strategy, it paves the way for success and you're on the way to getting a boot in the door. Of course the strategy will inevitably need to cater for caveats, especially with emerging or developing channels with possibly some bumpy roads ahead. The prevention before cure approach can only afford a certain amount of protection. Building possible scenarios that explore, balance and mange expectations can educate the powers that be to realise that any courses taken shouldn't be without change, and indeed how they may to adapt to meet challenges.

Time is your challenger, so how do you circumvent this?

Maximising the time to manage a new approach in order to maintain interest and support is paramount. Therefore, it would be prudent to report progress from a flexible strategy that adapts to the requirements of the organisation, employees, its environments and of course its customers. Creating bite size reporting from measurement that addresses pre-determined goals and meets key performance indicators (KPIs) could produce actionable decisions, which ultimately is what you're striving for. Who doesn't love a great chart, graph or the flavour of last year, an infographic, but they need to bring relevancy and data producing options for management to make informed decisions. The short answer is that in achieving social media buy-in and implementing it successfully will require patience.

The social media learning curve

In summary, both the social media advocates and the board will need to experience learning curves as with any new developments, which can radically change external and internal environments. This should never be underestimated.

Print, radio and television and indeed the web itself are testament to how organisations needs to evolve and adapt to meet challenges head on, and many lessons can be drawn from this. Be forewarned that reaching the minds of individuals that sign the cheques will require more than being armed with amazing graphics, figures and statistics to demonstrate return investment (ROI). Winning hearts (again across the organisation) by instilling how the channel is connected to the psychology of customers and the decisions they make is just as important if not more so, and can't afford to be ignored.

Social media buy-in is essential in taking necessary and careful steps to create more healthy environments for businesses (as discussed last week) it's not on your agenda, it needs to be.

Top tips for maintaining social media buy-in to achieve success

Note, they are not in any particular order and isn't an exhaustive list

  1. Develop a flexible strategy that's inclusive across the business with realistic goals and timelines, ensuring it's adaptable to change as required with all levels contributing
  2. Ensure there is a social media policy (that should sit across and be included in other relevant policies and procedures) to ensure that the business is adopting changes ethically. Don't operate this in silo
  3. Outline investment to support social media growth and chart how the changes are having an impact across all facets of the business as all stakeholders contribute
  4. Employ measurement to benchmark activity in line with pre-determined objectives that can demonstrate the return on investment (ROI)
  5. Provide bite size digestible reports for management and for use across the organisation that can easily presented to all relevant departments
  6. Educate management (alongside business-wide teams) and develop knowledge nurturing its learning on a regular basis
  7. Instil the mindset that social media is another channel that needs to be aligned with other direct and digital approaches in a seamless fashion
  8. Ensure there are regular inter-department meetings including relevant individuals that allow discussion and learning together
  9. Steadily allow the use the social media within the organisation and provide training if required. Listen, monitor, review and understand the channels and how it is used before jumping in
  10. Above all, make the integration and use of social media across the business enjoyable and rewarding for all levels of employees. Seek expertise if it doesn't exist in-house