Selling Social Media to the C-Suite

Even the most curmudgeonly CEO has to acknowledge the massive and still-growing popularity of social media sites, which include countless platforms for online discussions, reviews, content-sharing and social networking. The number of active social media users is staggering. Facebook’s Second Quarter 2013 Operational Highlights reports that, as of June 2013, the site had 1.15 billion monthly active users. To put that 1.15 billion number in perspective, consider that Facebook had just topped 50 million users in October 2007.

Businesses can’t afford to ignore the numbers. It’s not simply lucrative to reach out to customers and clients via social media anymore. It’s essential.

Getting Them to Listen

The most significant challenge marketers face is convincing the C-suite to both listen to and develop a relationship with the millions of potential customers who share, like, post, comment, pin and tweet on a daily basis – and that doing so will have a positive, measurable impact on their company’s bottom line. Before spending several thousands of dollars on the research, designing, writing, editing and posting of a potential “featured post of the day” on Tumblr, any responsible CEO is going to demand an explanation of how that spending will impact the business’ gross profit.

So what exactly do executives need to see from marketers before committing the time and money needed to develop a social media strategy?

The Tangible and Not-So-Tangible

Marketers need to provide CEOs with ROI data that shows a correlation between a company’s social media initiatives and end of the quarter “revenue-driving conversions,” more commonly known as “sales.” However, the business benefits of social media include many intangibles that arguably help to build customer demand and drive sales of products and services.

In the realm of the tangible, social media can connect a company to new customers, provide data to help measure a brand’s market share and introduce new revenue streams. Notwithstanding the aforementioned several thousand dollar-priced Tumblr “featured post of the day” and the continued efforts by Facebook to monetize its site, social media remains one of the most cost-effective means of brand marketing.

The benefit of using social media to build brand loyalty and manage a company’s reputation is harder to quantify. However, a growing number of high-profile, financially successful CEOs – including Virgin’s Richard Branson and ING DIRECT’s Peter Aceto – are utilizing outlets like Twitter and Facebook to create and participate in online conversations (both positive and negative) about their respective brands.

“Your customers are already talking about you online,” writes Vanessa Fox in Marketing in the Age of Google. “The best thing you can do is participate.”

And speaking of Google, those millions of potential customers sharing on Facebook or organizing their pins on Pinterest are using social media in combination with search engines to determine where to purchase products and services. A company’s marketing plan should include strategic efforts to secure highly-ranked search results, and a four-star review on Yelp or a lively conversation among customers on a company’s blog can help increase their profile and reputation.

Selling Social Media

CEOs become less skeptical of the potential for social media when marketers are able to explain, in terms of ROI, how both the tangible and not-so-tangible factors will increase customer demand for their company’s products and services. Marketers can “sell” social media to the C-suite if they understand a company’s business goals. CEOs in turn must understand that, unlike numbers provided by a CFO or legal advice from a lawyer, the benefits of social media are not-so-tangible, but no less crucial, for the success of a 21st century business.