Communicate the Value of Social Media to the C-Suite

By: Guest | July 18, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Tyler Orchard

It is a precarious journey when it comes to communicating the value proposition of social media to the C-suite.

Often, this is because there is a gap between social media’s perceived benefits and traditional business measurement.

This has led us to attempt to quantify our sales pitch. However, to be successful in persuading senior management—or anyone for that matter—we need to resist the urge to become dependent on speculative analytics.

First, allow me to preface this post by stating that quantifying social media’s ROI is a necessary endeavour. However, it is best saved for analyzing strategic programs (post-implementation), rather than steering our initial pitch.

Instead of getting stuck in the quagmire of hypothetical ROI scenarios, I recommend we focus our pitch on what social media does best: Protect and enhance a business’ intangible assets, such as reputation, brand, trust, insight, perception, and knowledge of a target audience.

Of course, many corporate decisions are viewed through a quantitative, financial lens. However, social media’s buy-in value does not fit that rigid space—not at the outset of a strategy anyway.

A recent study conducted by Queen’s University School of Business in Kingston, Ontario revealed business leaders perceive social media’s top benefits to be:

  • Increase brand awareness;
  • Recruit talent;
  • Gain a deeper understanding of customers; and
  • New business/growth and networking.

It has also been found that many executives, although investing in social media, aren’t taking the right approach.

These findings identify that, during our pitch, the emphasis should be less about attempting to tie social media to pseudo-quantified metrics and more about communicating and solidifying the qualitative benefits that influence the foundations of business development, market share, and image.

Communicate the Qualitative Value Proposition of Social Media

Trust, reputation, thought leadership, or sociological and anthropological knowledge of an audience are not easily quantifiable elements. Therefore, at the outset, we should be highlighting, in qualitative, cost-benefit terms, the clear difference between those who use social media correctly and those who neglect it. This approach cuts through the ambiguity and identifies a clear, realistic value proposition that makes sense.

For example: Use the social media insight umbrella which contains qualitative, empirical data from conversations to identify competitor weakness, build thought leadership, and capitalize on market opportunities. Without a practical social media strategy in place, a company would not have this capability. Quantifying this type of value-add argument just does not work, yet we still try to.

Further, we can’t quantify what a company can potentially gain through untested insight and participation, nor can we apply certain quantified findings to individual, unproven cases—not to the extent that we seem to believe. In order to provide the analytics that speak to social media’s ROI we need to first get management to buy into its true foundations and known benefits.

Promising any sort of ROI before strategic implementation blurs reality and expectations. This is due to the fact that attempting to articulate and quantify the potential costs and benefits of social media depend greatly on individual objectives, tactics and unrealized experiences.

It isn’t a secret CEOs want to see ROI. That’s why creating benchmarks and analyzing after implementation can speak to specific progress and scalable value. Investing time in generating a clear lineage between ROI and social media at this stage is what spurs innovation and brings rigor to our industry—not the other way around.

When we discuss social media with decision makers we must take the time to strip social media down to its known benefits (as mentioned above). Second, we need to tie those elements to the company’s intangibles and build out from there.

What are your experiences with communicating social media’s value proposition? What worked and what didn’t?

Tyler Orchard is the manager of strategy and social media at Zync Communications Inc. in Toronto, an award-winning strategic marketing communications and branding firm. After finishing his masters degree from the University of Guelph, he spent time in political PR and began his own consulting venture. Tyler believes that our growth as professionals is dependent on our ability to challenge assumptions and create ongoing debate. Connect with him on TwitterLinkedInFacebookhis blog, or the Zync blog.

  • Great post @tylerorchard 
    I think the biggest problem is that the Social Media Industry wants to be stand alone. And that is the big fail. It can not stand on its own alone. But book writers, gurus, social agencies, are selling this as stand alone. It should be part of an integrated plan. I had a discussion on twitter recently along these lines. I was judging the new Ford Fusion launch and their social campaign. I felt as a stand alone it wouldn’t significantly impact car sales. The head of Ford’s Social Media Scott Monty said he would rather have 10,000 engaged people than 50mil who half paid attention to commercials. Reality is you need both. And the 10,000 engaged can be given some sort of value just like the 50 million who watched the commercials.
    You mentioned how we try to figure out ROI with Social in a way that maybe doesn’t fit. The fact is it is very hard to figure out ROI for advertising/marketing period. That includes TV, Radio, Digital, Billboards etc. Social is no different. I feel Social is being used as a scape goat by traditional advertising as a way to deflect their own short comings.

    •  @HowieSPM Thank you for your feedback, Howie. This is a fantastic reply. You though on a lot of things that need to be discussed–especially the idea of integration. Far too many companies/agencies see social media as a stand alone element that needs to produce quantitative ROI in order to be validated. I fully believe social media is a brand building tool first and foremost. The benefits of brand come in qualitative form. We have almost be forced to pursue quantification on the sole reason of “just because”. Traditional marketing and advertising–as you mentioned–have a tough time quantifying their ROI. Social media should fit the same bill. 
      As I noted in the post, finding the true ROI of social media that influences financial elements of a company (the hard and fast ROI) is something that we need to pursue. Whether we find it ever is a whole other discussion, but we need to remain innovation. However, and especially at the pitch or initial campaign stages, quantified ROI should not be discussed because in reality any discussion of it is unrealistic and blurs expectations. We need to be realistic in our field. Benchmark analytics post-implementation speaks to progress and can only be vaguely attached to a bottom line.
      Thanks again!

  • From my experience, there is typically one champion or at a minimum, a minority group who are trying to convince the C-suite. It takes baby steps to show and like you said, some qualitative results – who called it the COI; cost of ignoring it. 
    Once they start to see the small wins, they get excited about diving in deeper. Showing what the competition is doing is always important, too. 

    •  @Lisa Gerber You’re completely right, Lisa. I don’t think it is an industry-wide thing, but we keep coming full circle to ROI. There is a need for it–I agree–but it shouldn’t influence our initial objectives, discussions and expectations. We will get there…I think it will just take those small wins–we can’t leap forward too far.

  • Nice piece, and I agree with @HowieSPM that it cannot be viewed in isolation. It has to be part of a bigger mix and the reality is that there are some things you cannot fully measure. The old adage of “I know 50% of my advertising spend is wasted – I just don’t know which 50%” is still true. There is a danger of getting lost in the detail. Good post, thank you

  • Hey Tyler, are you playing for the Tampa Bay Rays in your spare time?
     @HowieSPM Whadda ya think Howie? 

  • love this. hammer on the head in your opening sentances. I think we need to spend more time on explaining to old scholl SEO’rs and management of companies that might not know about the benefits of social media. Such an imperative part of the game now that people do need to understand the benefits.

    •  @PaulLint Thanks a lot, Paul. I couldn’t agree more with you. We need to spend more time in amplifying the qualitative benefits of social media–those benefits that have been put into the shadows because we can’t quantify them. It’s a process and an uphill battle, but the benefits I mentioned above have considerable influence on a company’s bottom line and sustainability–we just can’t prove it with numbers quite yet.

  • TylerOrchard

    @coledouglas7 Thanks for sharing, Cole. I’m glad you enjoyed the read.

  • TylerOrchard

    @dslunceford Thanks for sharing, Steve! How’s the week going at your end?

    • dslunceford

      @TylerOrchard nice piece…and pretty good week, thanks!

  • EricTaubert

    @ShellyKramer @ginidietrich Really enjoyed this!

    • TylerOrchard

      @EricTaubert @ShellyKramer Thank you both for sharing. Glad it offered value to the ongoing discussion – especially from your perspectives.

  • Erik_HPU

    @markwschaefer @ginidietrich Yesterday, I was completely flabergasted
    reading that conversate is NOT a word!

  • TylerOrchard

    @gjegreene @TracyGamble I hope the read can be useful. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need any help.

  • Great post. I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.

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