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Summary:

Social media, while white hot with professionals working in the space, has yet to catch fire with clients. How do you convince reluctant clients that it has value?

bullhornThough I couldn’t attend OMMA Social San Francisco (I’m so far away, and my travel budget is currently non-existent), I did enjoy this article from MediaPost summarizing five key takeaways from the social media conference. The article’s author, Catherine P. Taylor, makes a number of good points, but what interests me most is the impression she got that social media, while still white hot with professionals working in the space, has yet to catch fire with clients.

The problem is a familiar one. Those of us who champion the use of social media tend to be fairly zealous about its use, but trying to transmit that passion to others, especially to key decision makers, can be a trying affair. For instance, I’ve had recent experience with a Managing Director who actually didn’t use a computer, so you can just imagine how easy it was to convince him of the value of having a corporate Twitter account.

Of course, it’s to be expected that senior executives exhibit a degree of technological inertia. Luckily, they all still speak the same basic languages: Return on Investment (ROI), Brand Recognition and Corporate Image. Even if they don’t speak all three (take a small consulting firm, for example, which depends on word of mouth rather than aggressive branding), they will understand one of the above: ROI, which is what I’ll be covering in this post. Social media is a hard area in which to gather solid ROI figures, but it’s not impossible. Plus, it can be very easy to sell on the expenditure side, since most of the time the only cost involved is the labor of the resource tasked with setting up and maintaining your social network accounts. That alone is a convincing argument in a business climate which is shy with its advertising dollars but eager to maintain a public presence.

You can show ROI by gathering info on click-throughs from links posted via Twitter, or on Facebook, on profiles, groups, and pages. I find Twitter especially useful for attracting clicks, since your tagline, not the URL itself, is the seller, thanks to URL truncation. If you can write clever copy, users will click, and they won’t necessarily feel as “marketed” to if they don’t see your corporate address in the URL.

Providing the decision-maker with comparable examples of successful social media program implementations in your space is probably the best, and easiest, way to show verifiable ROI. If you can’t find any examples in your specific field, collect near misses and play up the fact that you’ll be a pioneer in your area. Mashable has a great article on establishing ROI for social media that talks about setting a success metric, and benchmarking competitors will help you do that.

If they’re not sold on the fact that online presence makes good money sense, you might want to sell them on the business card metaphor, which goes as follows: You would never leave a business meeting, lunch, coffee, etc. without exchanging business cards with the other party, would you? Even if it’s a sales call that wasn’t particularly promising, you leave the card, and hope your name comes to mind when they need something down the road.

Imagine the cumulative time your company spends doing work online as a business meeting, and then imagine that, to date, despite all that time spent with prospective clients, you’ve been leaving them with nothing but a hastily scrawled phone number on a bar napkin (your email signature, for the purposes of the metaphor). That wouldn’t fly in the real world, and it shouldn’t be allowed to suffice on the Web, either.

Of course, your boss or client could counter with the fact that you have a web site. Explain that just having a web site is like leaving a business card tacked to a public bulletin board and hoping people will take interest. Social media is the handshake, the lunch meeting, the phone call during which you ask about the family. In other words, social media brings that priceless “people” factor online.

It may seem silly at this point to still have to sell clients on the value of social media, but it only seems that way because we live inside that world every day. Impossible as it may be to believe, there are still some, like that Managing Director I mentioned before, who dictate their emails to their assistants. Talk about someone who needs the perspective of a helpful evangelist!

What strategies do you use for convincing clients of the value of social media?

  1. Well I’m not a social media expert and really find the constant talk about how important it is quite annoying.

    However…

    There are a few things I’d try to focus on:

    1. Focus the discussion on action and tactics, not strategy. Keep reinforcing how easy it is to do, not how important it is. Sending a Tweet is as easy as leaving a business card is more convincing to me than any kind of argument about how important it is.

    2. If the client is technophobic, and you can’t find success stories in their industry, then forget the idea. They are not going to be leaders in getting their industry to adopt new technology. Late adopters and laggards don’t change their spots.

    3. Try to make “social media” the punchline rather than the headline. Starting a sentence “social media is…” to a technophobe puts you on the back foot immediately. It’s like saying, “please ignore the rest of this sentence”. ;)

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  2. PS Why not build a sample Twitter account (not using their name) for the client, and follow people who appear to be relevant to them. Then show them the home page — they see lots of people talking about their industry, and also a big box that lets them join the conversation. I’d imagine that is pretty convincing!

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  3. I try to show them a real life example. If it’s Twitter I’ll run a twitter search with their company name – someone complaining about customer service or what not. Then I’ll @ the person and ask them how I can help them (get them the solution, or an email of someone with in the company) and then show the company the excited response from the client.

    I try to steer the conversation away from advertising terms and back to sales/customer service terms. That’s what makes the lightbulb go off.

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  4. Darrell

    Great article. We face this challenge everyday: illustrating how social media can help the client gain a marketing edge. I have found that the most effective way to “sell” clients on the necessity of a social media marketing strategy is to compare social media tools to old school marketing techniques. After all, social media networking is really just about building relationship, dialogue, branding and ultimately being “memorable” as an authority on the respective area of expertise. Traditional marketing techniques have now simply gone digital.

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  5. We try a ‘test & learn’ approach.

    Recommend to clients ringfencing an SM R&D budget (usually expressed as a time investment).

    Set a hypothesis (e.g. tweeting about my new XXX will net more RT mentions that XXXX channel). Use ‘Search RT @brandXXX’ for quant evidence

    Clients are taught to understand results are not guaranteed.

    Learnings and benchmarks are applied for next round of iterative testing.

    Simple!

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  6. Good summary of some key challenges. It’s important to address the assumption that everyone will ‘get it’, and (even more foolish), the idea that if they don’t, they’re somehow lacking vision or smarts.

    I particularly like the handshake analogy.

    Like@Tabitha, I’ve had personal success by showing people a live stream of web conversation about their product or brand.

    Let them peer into the zeitgeist and help them understand that it’s both ok, and easy, for them to take part in those conversations. This stuff can be alienating and confronting. A safe, dynamic real-time example communicates more than any siloed pitch could.

    And always, a focus on the people, the personalities – or – the practicalities (how is this thing relevant to my need, right now), is critical in messaging. Avoid spouting obtuse marketing dogma through shiny new megaphones. Over zealous ‘social media’ spin will likely further distance you from your client and their needs.

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  7. I read some weeks ago an article regarding Twitter and European companies. There was a comparison between EU and American companies regarding the use of microblogging for business purpose. And it seems that European companies are doubtful and they don’t understand how Twitter could help their businesses.

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  8. Well, for starters, I’m not getting into something as advanced as ROI. I’m talking basics and people do not understand it. So, I explain it to them in a language they understand…even blogged about it since others can use that story to sell the potential of the tools first.

    http://itwofs.com/beastoftraal/2009/02/03/social-media-for-the-web-1-web-0-and-web-10-generation/

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  9. [...] WebWorkerDaily » Archive Preaching Beyond The Choir: Get Clients Jazzed About Social Media « [...]

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  10. [...] ‘Get Clients Jazzed About Social Media’ – “Just having a website is like having a business card tacked to a bulletin board… social media is the handshake.” [...]

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