business man holds together two links of chain
While it would be easy to think that most companies are already using social media for corporate communications, the reality is that the further businesses get from consumers, the fewer social media accounts you’ll find outside the marketing department.  Even where a business has one or more social channels, running those accounts can be left to an isolated individual fighting against a company where social is seen as a lower priority than more traditional (and therefore better understood) comms work, such as media relations. Social media may even be seen as a waste of time: barely tolerated and perhaps denigrated by others fighting for budget from other departments. As we believe that success in media relations and social media activity are inseparable today, this all seems more than a little ironic. The true challenge is not to get permission to start a social media account, but to achieve a deeper level of social media adoption and understanding that stretches far beyond the comms and marketing teams.

Adopting social media can be an organisational headache: silo working (and thinking), historic workflows and output measurement, command and control structures are all common blockers. It’s easy to see, therefore, that fundamentally this is a far-reaching cultural and behavioural shift. While any new communications approach needs the buy-in of the leadership team, this is even more necessary with cultural changes, especially those that will have ripples across the organisation.

However, the majority of leaders still have many pre-conceptions of social media without any professional experience: they may have heard about social media crises, they may think it’s just for FMCG firms, or they may just think it’s about telling everyone what you’ve had for lunch and sharing cat videos.  Little surprise therefore that in many organisations the leadership team aren’t being seen to actively support social adoption.

In our recent breakfast think tank, led by Sue Llewellyn, we discussed some of the difficulties of achieving social media adoption and how to get around them. The easiest method is to find a board member who either is already keen on social, or is at least willing to listen: and then convert them into your social media champion, who will help you to get the ear of the CEO. Case studies from your own industry, preferably from your biggest competitors, are an ideal persuasive tool: while many of the most widely touted case studies are FMCG and other consumer brands there are many good examples in less obvious (and potentially more challenging) corporate and B2B settings. The closer to home you can make it; the more likely it is to strike a chord. You’re not asking them to buy into every possibility that social can be used for: only those that suit your business and your audience.

Quick wins are another great persuasive tool. Dive in with a short, targeted campaign, with clear SMART goals, and then report the results and the learnings. The idea of a short term pilot can be easier to buy into than an indefinite commitment and helps to demonstrate more clearly what you might hope to achieve from social media. It also introduces the concept that social media is fast moving, with strategies and approaches that evolve with time, and in response to data gathered (rather than being set in stone for a year or more).

In some situations, adopting enterprise social networks (ESNs) such as Yammer, Jive and Salesforce Chatter, can help to pave the way for social in cultural terms, albeit quite slowly. As internal networks, the perceived risks are slightly different, and the network has the potential to open up social behaviours at all levels of the organisation. As CEO and board involvement is essential to ESN adoption, this gives them a direct experience of social networking, and internal social networks essentially form a microcosm of the external social environment. Once the value of the internal network has been proven, it can be easier to extend those arguments to external stakeholders.

Finally, while leadership support should be your ultimate goal, the more support you have from your colleagues across all functions, the more likely you are to tip the balance. HR are clear candidates – if they’re not on LinkedIn already, just show them the cost savings for recruitment and they soon will be! Legal are also good people to get on side: they tend to see the risks and don’t appreciate the benefits, but taking the time to explore their concerns and find solutions could turn your biggest threat into a great ally.

If you’d like to talk to about your social media adoption and leadership barriers and how to break them down, give us a call on 0207 348 0548 or email