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Turning Executives into Social Leaders

When it comes to implementing social initiatives, taking a top-down approach and getting executive involvement is vital to success. But getting executives to consistently participate in social media can be an arduous task. It is essential to train executives so they can lead the way and set an example for the rest of the organization. I've worked with a variety of tech companies to develop social strategy both internally and externally. Executive participation has always been crucial to the success of the program. From this experience, I developed a 6 step process that was successful for me (and hopefully will be for you too):

Step 1: Find the naturals. As Deirdre Walsh, Senior Social Media Manager at Jive Software, put it in Does your organization have Social DNA?, "Find a leader that is willing to experiment with social." Do your homework. Look for your executives on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. and see which ones have the most developed profiles and the most activity. The executives with the most social engagement should be the ones you reach out to first.

Step 2: Link to business goals. Explain clearly and concisely how using social will help your executives achieve their business goals. For a deep-dive on how to do align the use of a social intranet to business goals, check out Align Your Community with Your Business Strategy by Jennifer Kelley, Senior Strategic Consultant at Jive Software. When encouraging executive participation in social externally, emphasize the impact it has on brand loyalty and awareness. Bottom line: people want to talk to people, not faceless brands. No matter how cleverly worded your marketing messages are, it is difficult to build loyalty without a persona. I've worked on social media strategy for a variety of companies and the content that consistently performed the best (received highest engagement) was either posted by employees or had a face attached to it. Not to be forgotten, this is also a great opportunity for executives to build their thought leadership, which improves brand awareness.

Step 3: Provide the proof. Executives need evidence. Supply your executives with case studies and concrete examples of the impact of social has on an organization. Remember to highlight that the executives are a critical component to creating a social organization, both internally and externally.

Step 4: Train them. When training executives, I strongly recommended one-on-one sessions. With a group training there will inevitably be questions left unasked due to fear of appearing dumb. Another benefit of one-on-one training is that you are able to provide very specific, tailored advice. When I conduct executive social training, I prepare by looking at their existing social profiles and create a list of specific parts that need to be updated. If you opt for a presentation, a live demonstration is much more effective that reading through a slide deck. That being said, you should still develop step-by-step instructions on how to use the social platform to leave them with for future reference. Conclude the training with a practice session to get them familiar with the platform.

Step 5: Make it easy. The biggest hurdle you will encounter is the "busy" factor. Have you ever looked at the CMO's calendar? I have. As you can imagine, it is scary. Give your executives ideas of how to work social into their daily workflow. Provide them with suggestions of what to post. Initially, you will want to consider drafting sample posts for them. Also, make it easy to post by giving them different ways to access the social platform - yes, I mean mobile. Every major social network has a mobile application, as does Jive's social intranet.

Step 6: Make a competition. Nothing gets people fired up like competition. Create an competition between your executives. This does take some planning - you'll need to determine what they will be measured on, how you will measure those KPIs, and the time frame of the competition. You can measure things like the number of posts and amount of engagement the posts receive. Let's say you choose the duration of one month. At the end of each month, send a note out internally congratulating the most social executive.

If you want your executives to become social leaders, remember to check-in with them periodically to acknowledge their effort or remind them to participate. A gentle push and a friendly reminder go a long way to ensuring continued engagement.

What is the biggest challenge you've encountered with getting executives to be social?

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