How To: Effectively Talk to Execs and Clients about Social Media

I’ve heard a lot of people explain social media and most are doing it ineffectively.

As 2008 approaches many individuals are trying to involve social media in their plans for the coming year, in the exception of a few companies, this requires the buy-in from a person of power (and likely someone foreign to the movement) to approve. I know that many individuals within companies are running it up the flagpole, and many interactive firms, pr firms, and social media firms are gearing up for this upcoming year.

Background information
I hear a lot of pitches, and look at a lot of websites of vendors (in fact, I maintain massive lists tracking of the industry) and know what a good pitch is and what a bad one is. I also have had to lead social media within my previous company, the conservative Hitachi Data Systems. It was a good learning experience, then at PodTech (on the vendor side) I helped sales teams understand social media, and was on client calls and visits.

Know the differences between Technology, Features, Benefits, and Value
A balance is needed when introducing these concepts to new people, especially if they are foreign to them. The worse thing you could do is ramble off a bunch of technology buzz words, or on the flip side spill out marketing bull sh*t that has no structure or resemblance of sanity.

Find the right amount of balance to communicate what you’re trying to convey, without going exclusively to those edges by focusing on Benefits and Value. What are benefits? That’s the end result (nothing to do with technology) to the business or their customers. What is value? The net result to the business, subtracting the cost, incorporating opportunity cost a new program could bring to a business.

Weak: Focus on Technology
We need Web 2.0 tools like Ajaz, Blogs _____ (insert technology) to add to our website so we can socialize and aggregate. They are very popular right now.

Average: Focus on Features
We can connect to customers using using blogs, social networks, and RSS

Strong: Needs Assessments with Benefits

You mentioned the need to increase focus in the SMB market, I’ve data to show that they are using social media to connect to each other directly, often without our involvement. I suggest we look at ways to be part of that dialog by using the same tools they are, would you like to hear how social media can be part of this solution and make you more effective?

Stronger: Needs assessments with Value Statement
You mentioned the need to increase focus in the SMB market, I’ve data to show that they are using social media to connect to each other directly, often without our involvement. I’d like to get your opinion on a proposal to decrease our hard dollar marketing costs and increase our marketing reach/lead generation and customer retention by using social media tools to reach to new customers and embrace existing customers by creating a community.

So instead of focusing on terms like “Web 2.0” or “Ajax” focus on terms like customers, trust, community, and connections.

Look at other forces
Still have an unconvinced stakeholder? Consider showing screenshots what the customers are doing in this space, (Blogs or social networks) as well as competition. Focus on how customers have self-assembled in forums, social networks and are communicating to each other. Bring up the trust information (you’ve seen this on my decks) as a way to stimulate conversation.

The strongest force? Their kids. I’ve started a dialog with a CEO of a Fortune 5000 company by asking him how his kids communicate. He observed his kids were on IM, MySpace, watching TV, while doing homework and he wasn’t sure how they got any of them done. I asked him to look closer so we could discuss that in our next meeting. A month passed and he realized what was happening and how this next generation was going to enter the workplace, soon he adopted a few of these tools for his communication uses. This was my CEO at HDS. (careful when pulling this card, it could backfire, make sure you’ve already got a relationship of understanding with this executive before doing this)

Watch for indicators: verbal and physical
Reactions from the person you’re explaining it is key, facial expressions are usually key to this. If the conversation shifts to a tool discussion and spirals down the infinite number of risk variables you’ve headed the wrong way, quickly elevate and talk about customers. If this person asks about costs or risks, that’s a good sign but also shift back to values.

Rehearse having these conversations with others, if you’re on the career path I’m on, you’ll have to explain this movement to people that are not in it, or don’t get it (or worse, resist it) I’ve trained myself to have conversation with colleagues, executives, family, and my ‘good ol boy’ friends that don’t get this world at all. I’ve learned how to have an introductory conversation with them without discussing one tool or mentioning the term ‘web 2.0’. Instead, I prefer to focus on people, how they connect and how that changes things…mainly the shift in trust.

You’ll know you’re ready as you’ll be able to have a conversation about the impact of ‘social media’, without ever mentioning that term.

If you’ve gotten this far, great news, as now you’re ready to deploy and tie it back to your business (watch for an upcoming post)

Good luck, I’m rooting for you!

Related Resources

  • Explaining OpenSocial to your Executivesv
  • Chris Brogan learned from how to demonstrate Value
  • Explaining Social Graph to your Executives
  • Update: Aiden gives great examples of how to talk about value