Whether it’s explaining your role to executives or relatives, people in the industry are weary of having to justify the merit of their projects and for many organizations it can feel like a constant battle for resource and vindication.
That’s not to say things are bad. It’s been a long road from isolated social media managers ‘sitting on Facebook all day’, and those working with social data now enjoy larger budgets and team sizes as the field grows ever more sophisticated and valuable to the operations of a business – but it can still seem like an uphill struggle for many.
A social data leader, depending on circumstance and organization type, can include anyone from social media managers to CMOs. A common challenge sticks out among these leaders and that’s the very nature of proving the worth of their programs. It’s the struggle to establish internal credibility, gain recognition of successes with social, and about securing resource for future initiatives.
Wrapped up in this topic is the issue of demonstrating return on investment. Proving ROI holds the keys to unlock the justification challenge – especially as social continues to carve out more budget against traditional forms of media.
There is plenty of broad data that demonstrates the value of many social endeavors in general. It’s a smattering of micro case studies, but both Unilever and Coca-Cola have publically stated that they have observed a direct relationship between social activity and sales.
The trouble is that these case studies mean nothing when faced with a disapproving executive. Management teams aren’t typically interested in such generalizations, and walking this path is unlikely to get many social leaders very far in achieving their objectives. So what else can be done?
Many are moving towards using social to represent the value of other programs, and are extending the tendrils of social data across their organizations.
Measuring the performance of, say, a TV campaign or product launch, is a means of associating social data with something bigger than just social media marketing. It also distinguishes the value of social programs as something inherently and continuously useful, not just something tied to the success of a social campaign.
Whatever your ultimate goal and specific strategy for getting management buy-in for your social initiatives, there are a number of techniques that can be employed to convince and convert those at the top. These principles can provide a helpful process to follow for those seeking to get a bigger chunk of attention from the individuals that matter.
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Setting out the expectations as early as possible with social data projects is critical. Very often the cause of friction between management and social teams rests upon a disparity between what is expected and what is delivered.
Take ownership of this from the start. Make the terms and desired results of the work as clear as possible. Ensure they are documented and agreed upon by the relevant stakeholders, as it can act as a stabilising point of reference as further decisions and reflections are considered in the future.
Ask yourself – what do the management expect from this? Is what she wants from the investment the same as what you want? Don’t do anything until you’ve spent some serious tame making sure that those expectations are aligned.
TIM GRIMES, SOCIAL ANALYTICS expert
A vital part of this process includes listening and making sure the goals of the social leader meet the goals of the organization overall. When setting out the objectives for a particular initiative, the most successful leaders will spend time understanding what executives actually want – vital information when planning the program.
Listening will inform the process and provide the justification for why then we need to expand the analytics, why we need to engage, why we need to be there.
TRACY BELL, ENTERPRISE MEDIA MONITORING EXECUTIVE, BANK OF AMERICA
A common problem in this area is that, like all other disciplines inside an organization, social data is inherently flawed. There are drawbacks to social, and fundamentally it’s important to acknowledge the parts that aren’t going to work.
Dark data and the unseen offline effects of social will never find their way into monthly reports, yet social analytics teams regularly find themselves forced to defend the integrity of their data. The answer here is to confront those weaknesses, those biases and blind spots so closely entwined with social media, and present them as valid caveats to management before projects are undertaken and deliverables agreed.
You can use all the quantitative data you can get, but you still have to distrust it and use your own intelligence and judgment.
ALVIN TOFFLER, AMERICAN AUTHOR AND DIGITAL REVOLUTION EXPERT
This mind set should continue as programs are rolled out and enacted. Admit failed endeavours and accept shortcomings as they happen.
While agencies may feel the need to desperately defend the success of their campaigns, and will seek to distort the data in such a way to paint the most positive picture they can, someone that is brand-side will be in a position to assess each piece of work in a more honest way.
Once again, exposing the real disappointments as they happen will serve to create much more robust foundations for the moments when you really need to underline the value of your work.
Quite soon after establishing the purpose of a project or investment comes the inevitable demands for proof. Proof that it was a good idea. Proof that it delivers results.
Cintas are probably the largest organization you’ve never heard of. With over 30,000 employees, Cintas are behind the unmistakable employee uniforms of brands as instantly recognisable as Starbucks and UPS. Troy Pfeffer started the enterprise’s intelligence department eight years ago, and discovered that achieving executive buy-in was the biggest obstacle he faced in making the program a success.
“Establish a new program with no precedent immediately puts you in risky territory. Winning the trust of the executive team was essential if I wanted this thing to work.”
TROY PFEFFER, COMPETITIVE INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR AT CINTAS
Typically it’s from the very first moments after the initial sign off takes place when pressure begins to mount on those proof points. Troy believes this is one of the most crucial periods in any project involving new budgets or resource: “Until you do anything worthwhile, the jury is very much out. Your first priority should be to start delivering value as soon as you can, and not to get distracted by the big payoff in a few years’ time”.
Long-term decision-making should, of course, not go neglected, but there is genuine merit in the idea behind front-loading your communication of results.
With any project, there is likely to be an air of apprehension that can be swiftly blown away by some real, value-laden results.
Look for low-hanging fruits and go after those first, focusing on the elements that are easier to demonstrate the value of. With social data, a key part of this will be to distance the results from socially native metrics, such as followers and mention counts, and move towards universal business language such as sales, retention or net promoter score.
Compartmentalization can be an effective strategy. Rather than attempt to justify the entire social operation, sometimes isolating the ROI for each project, or even hire, can make it easier to communicate the value upwards.
This is echoed by comments from the VP of Analytics at a popular teleshopping retail brand in the US, who says that she isolated the specific benefits associated with new hires not in terms of input, but in output.
Speaking on the topic of weighing in on securing new headcount, she revealed she was able to add people to her team one person at a time in a piecemeal fashion – with associated increases in committed metrics for each new person added to the team.
We were looking at two potential new roles. For me, I knew they were going to make a difference, but I had to get management to see that too. In the end, I wrote down all the ways in which these people would affect the team’s performance – not just in the amount of work we could get done, but in the results of the department overall. And I committed to those results. That was enough to seal it.