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Selling Social to the C-Suite: Trust, But Verify

I’ve been totally immersed in Susan Emerick’s and Chris Boudreaux’s excellent The Most Powerful Brand on Earth: How to Transform Teams, Empower Employees, Integrate Partners, and Mobilize Customers to Beat the Competition in Digital and Social Media which debuted at The Social Shake-Up in September and remains the best compendium to date on where we are with social business and where we need to go. The book is loaded with practical ways for large and small businesses to both address the concerns of managers for whom “social” is more closely associated with either failed political movements for what their wives do at the country club, as well as practical steps for how to bring about a modern marketing organization once you do get some support. 

Interestingly, the authors spend a fair amount of time breaking down what I see is the most important issue facing those of us who have some convincing to do: finding a common measurement that translates into a language of conversions.

Every time a brand strategist, marketing professional, or communications expert walks into the executive’s office to pitch a social strategy, the CEO, CFO, CIO, COO—no matter which C-suiter—is financially focused first.

Social media is no longer the province of early adopters. Twenty-three percent of marketers invested in blogs and social media during 2013, up from 9 percent in 2012, according HubSpot’s 2013 State of Inbound Marketing. That 23 percent is also expected to hit the jackpot as we enter 2014. But it also means we have another 77% out there who are holding back: either because social hasn’t sufficient garnered significant data for industries that don’t think they need it, or because we’re still using squishy pitches for its value.

A recent Stanford study of 180 top CEOs reported that most understand that what is said on social media can impact their organization, but only 32 percent of companies monitor online conversation for potential risks, and only 14 percent use social sentiment to measure performance.

So to get the executive suite to put money on social media, we social media professionals must know the hand the C-suite hopes to hold:

Learn the Language

If you don't know the rules of social media, you might as well throw your company’s money away. Learning the rules helps you understand the odds and bet strategically, not by chance. What’s the goal of your social strategy? What problems and opportunities will social business address? How much time will it take and by who? How easy and realistic will it be to implement it? Most importantly, how much will it cost?

The main C-suite goals are to grow revenue, make the customers happy, and get services and products to market. If you can connect the strategies to these, you’ll win. You’ll please the CEO, who looks for revenue growth. The CFO, of course, will be interested in the cost savings and prudent use of capital. The COO will want to know about the implementation since they execute strategy with organizational alignment. CIOs are interested in integration, especially into CRM systems and existing marketing automation. So knowing the ease and practicality of implementation is what they’ll want to know.

Conversion rates are key

IBM has done extensive research on their conversion sources, some of which you can find in The Most Powerful Brand in Chapter 1.  But you and your company alone have the keys to understanding how the investment in social is paying off in sales and customer satisfaction for your own company (or industry). Obviously, you’re going to need to have input from sales and customer service to make your case.  Use this knowledge thoroughly and share it repeatedly at your own level with your colleagues in other departments, and push to have the C-Suite review your data on a regular basis. CEOs are also constantly monitoring competitors.  Have good competitive data on hand to show how your social investment compares with others in your industry, especially if those who are gaining on you are considered leaders in your field.  Further, as any seasoned manager knows, or any good salesperson for that matter, remember to under-promise and over-deliver. Here’s a good webinar that will help, too.

Although social measurement is evolving, it still has a long way before it reaches a language the C-suite immediately understands. Chapter 7 of The Most Powerful Brand has down-to-earth guidelines on building the business case, finding the right metrics, and perhaps more importantly, having a plan to report on evolving value.  As seasoned corporate warriors, the authors also know that you only go into C-Suite engagements  equipped with the support of your colleagues.

Social Media Converts to Social Business at the Biped, not Binary, Level

It’s not just listening, however, that needs to improve, it’s the actual language we use to make our pitch for social.  Language, in the form of measurement, has a long way to go before we can hear each other.   The C-Suite, even CMOs, are not all that enamored of using “impressions” as a lingua franca, because there are few reliable ways to measure the real business value (sales, customer satisfaction, time to market) using impressions, and all too often in the past (and present) impressions are so pumped up by bots and excitable management to be unreliable.

Human capital within and customer enthusiasm without, however, measured by real people and at their level of real engagement (not in “likes” but in honest-to-god engagement) are a more substantial measure and something that your COO or head of HR can understand.  Employee advocacy, along with customer advocacy, can be measured in real bodies.  Further, their contributions can translate into cost-savings when compared to paid awareness campaigns (using, one of our partners at Social Media Today, Social Chorus, Dynamic Signal) which the CFO will understand, by competitive intelligence (Unmetric and others) which the CEO and head of sales will like, and finally, with your own conversion data.

Boudreaux and Emerick are proponents of this people-centered approach:

“While most of us realize that online advocacy drives sales, many people do not realize that sales correlate strongly with the number of people who advocate for a brand, not the number of online posts or messages advocating for a brand.” (authors’ emphasis).

Show the Winning Hand

Share Pew Research Center’s study with the executive suite, which found that 73 percent of online adults use social networking sites, with Facebook as the most popular site (71 percent of online adults using it); and LinkedIn in the No. 2 spot (22 percent).

Then hit ‘em with how IBM shared that social is now a business model, after doing face-to-face interviews with 4,183 executives in 70 countries. Customers actually play a larger role in driving strategy than the board of directors says Dr. Saul Berman, Leader of Strategy & Transformation at IBM. The digital world of social media and big data, combined with increased customer information and consequently expectations, has escalated the customers’ role where they are helping with not only strategy but also product development, service, sales, and talent recruitment.

This means listening is key. If the C-suite pays attention to the customers and bets carefully on the best ones, it gives the company an advantage.  It’s up to you and your team to prove the value of listening… using the best data you can find outside the company married to the best data inside that you can find.

Join The Conversation

  • Susan Emerick's picture
    Feb 13 Posted 3 years ago Susan Emerick

    To answer @WahibaChair question on measuring ROI, you may find this post helpful: and related as well is this one:

  • Robin Carey's picture
    Jan 28 Posted 3 years ago Robin Carey

    That's a great question and the first thing you need to do is to respond with a question: "how would you measure your ROI?"  or business value.


  • WahibaChair's picture
    Jan 28 Posted 3 years ago WahibaChair

    Hi Robin,

    Thanks for the book recommendation. Will look it up on Kindle!

    While we as marketers can leverage your strategies to further support the value of our work to the C suite, quantifying the ROI remains the holy grail. So many variables and it requires a close case study and clear objectives; i.e. cannot be determined before starting the work and closeley monitoring it for a while. 

    How would you approach a prospect client (or C level executive) who asks "What is the ROI of working with you on our social media, campaign etc." 

    I think that's a question we all found ways to address but curious as to your recommendations. 



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