Recently Infor won an Altimeter Group Open Leadership Award for our social media strategy. While accepting our award, Charlene Li asked me how I was able to get Executive buy-in for my strategy. I found this was a common question that many strategist are asking. I jokingly said that we didn't get by-in, but the reality was that our Executives were deeply involved and significant thought was put into how to engage them. So while developing Infor's social strategy, I formulated a two part approach.
Bottom Up Approach
My first approach was to create a grassroots groundswell leveraging the most social employees in the organization. This was often the younger new hires or early adopters already using social media tools. I identified that the primary barrier to increasing their involvement was an official corporate stance that allowed them to participate. Thus one of my initial action items was to create corporate guidelines that created guardrails to protected them as well as the organization.
Next I created a private Yammer community for them to participate and share their experiences. I wanted to use this internal community to drive Word of Mouth Marketing for the adoption of social tools as well as provide use cases. Users were encouraged to invite their non social employees to take part, initially just by listening to the various conversations occurring, then actively engaging. This accelerated the groundswell of awareness and eventually engagement.
Some of the reasons I think this was successful is that there was zero cost associated with it and it was an unofficial extension to official interactions occurring on our Intranet and Wiki sites. Additionally the speed of communication and sharing illustrated the power these new social tools had. Also, I had numerous case studies and an army of early adopters that I could leverage for my second approach.
Top Down Approach
To directly get buy-in by Executives and make social computing part of our corporate strategy, I again had to identify the different barriers in front of me. As with any disruptive technology, I found that Executives were in one of three places:
- They didn't want anything to do with social media for business
- They had preconceived (right or wrong) ideas of how social media related to business
- They thought social media was fundamental to the future of business both internally and externally.
I targeted working with the last group to leverage them as advocates for my strategy. Starting with individual conversations, I presented my plan to them, highlighting risks and rewards. Eventually I was tasked with developing and executing this plan myself (i.e. assuming the risk).
Some of the reasons I think this buy-in was successful is that I found some early adopters that were key influencers within the organization. Also, I presented a low risk, high reward plan, with little upfront cost, and directly tied to our business goals/campaigns. Lastly, I enlisted these advocates to provide cover for me; for any questions that might arise from the other two Executive groups (i.e. minimizing my risk).
Next, for the other two groups, I focused primarily on the second one, who may or may not have a clear understanding of what social media was. I communicated daily via various internal channels three things:
- Case studies by their influential peers on social media
- Different use cases for social media in (our) business
- Stats and KPI's as to my plan's effectiveness.
Some of the reasons I think this was successful was that I positioned myself as a facilitator and let other advocates and key influencers do the influencing. Most importantly my strategy was driven by existing business goals/campaigns and was measurable.
For the first group that didn't want anything to do with social media or saw no value for it in business, I didn't come across this often, so I didn't focus a lot of my efforts here. 20 years ago I had similar resistance from those who said the Internet was just a fad, primarily for kids. Eventually these people will come around, but there is nothing you can easily do to directly influence them. Most likely some form of external crisis will be the catalyst (e.g. losing market share to competitors leveraging social media, negative brand perception via word of mouth, etc.).
So when promoting and getting buy-in for my strategy I used different tactics for different groups. I first started with listening to what reservations they had and identifying barriers to success. Profiling them into different groups, I regularly communicated to each (enlisting other advocates & key influencers), addressing what was important to them and increasing their understanding. In reality, I used social media tactics to gain social media buy-in.
As for next steps, getting buy-in will be an on-going process as Executives come and go and this space keeps evolving. One thing that is already changing is the importance of how social computing affects the bottom line for companies and how this is measured.
Different departments have different criteria for measurement and success, but in the end, everything ties back to revenue. In my next post, I'll cover how we are measuring our social media effectiveness and some best practices that are emerging in this field.