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.