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Social-Media Pushback
Social-media marketing seems like a perfect fit for our tech-savvy market. But when I suggest this approach, management kills my ideas. How can I overcome the internal resistance?

When talking with my clients about social media as a marketing strategy, most are enthusiastic about the endless possibilities – and minimal cost – it offers their programs. But often, just as our brainstorming session hits an "aha" moment, the event planner will pull an Eeyore and say, "Yes, this strategy would be great for events. But it will never work here because our CEO (or manager, or legal team, or PR department, or whoever) will never go for it."

And then the negative thinking kicks in big time. Surely, your company is the only one on the planet that can't see the light when it comes to social media. And while everyone else gets to frolic in the social-media waters, you'll forever be sitting on the shore because your management's Stone Age thinking will never change no matter what you do. So why bother even trying? Case closed.

First, you need to realize you're not alone. While you might assume that most companies sail down the road to social-media success without hesitation, the fact is that many companies who end up with stellar social-media campaigns often started with trepidation if not outright resistance from execs. So these obstacles are normal.

Second, however, you mustn't let these barriers stop your quest. When supervisors veto your plans, there are several steps you can take to provide naysayers with a compelling case for social media. Here are four tips to help win over the Negative Neds and Nellys.

Assemble a Choir – In most organizations, there are individuals or groups that are early adopters of social media. If your chief technology officer is a huge Twitter fan, for example, invite him or her to your management meetings to share why he or she uses the medium. Or if your company's product managers or customer-service reps – people who have their finger on the pulse of your target market – see social media as a viable marketing tool, enlist their feedback and integrate it into your arguments.

The idea is to help executives understand that you're not the only one who comprehends the value of social media as a marketing tool. When the top brass says "no," harness the power of your allies.

Show, Don't Tell – Unlike other marketing vehicles, which are typically invisible to the general public and nearly impossible to track, social media is incredibly transparent. So conduct an informal audit on what is happening with your industry, your competitors, and your company's brand in social channels, and then show management the results. Putting a spotlight on the social conversations that are happening right now (with or without your participation) has been one of the most compelling methods I've found to convince the Doubting Thomas executive that the time has come to take the first step.

Hootsuite, TwentyFeet, Seesmic, SocialMention, and BrandMonitor are just a few of the social-media monitoring tools that can provide different views and data on what's happening with your brand and industry. You can also use Facebook and LinkedIn searches to determine which key competitors are using these mediums, and how much engagement they're generating compared to the void your company's absence provides.

Also, track industry efforts as they relate to certain trade shows, events, or calendar periods. For example, monitor an exhibitor's Twitter hashtag and see if the company's followers spike right after its social-media campaign at the International Consumer Electronics Show. Or try to determine if a specific firm has an event-related LinkedIn presence that has grown remarkably over the last six months. More likely than not, management will be more interested in dipping its toes in the social-media pond if it has proof that competitors are already splashing away in the water and garnering returns for their efforts.

Pilot a Single Program – Rather than trying to launch your presence across Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube simultaneously – which, given your limited experience, will likely hinder your effectiveness – pick one channel and pilot a strategic program. Instead of doing a bunch of things "so so," do one thing extremely well so you can deliver results to your management straight out of the gate.

Creating instructional video channels on YouTube or developing an enhanced corporate presence on LinkedIn, for example, are better options for your maiden voyage than, say, a highly visible customer contest on Facebook. Your first trip down the social-media road should demonstrate success on a small scale to build your knowledge and experience, and to help management realize not only the power of social media, but also your ability to execute a successful strategy.

Develop Guidelines – One of the biggest and most legitimate issues company execs have with social media is that there are few, if any, control mechanisms. Once you put something "out there," it's immediately available to the world, and you can't take it back. Thus, it's critical to ensure that the message and the messenger are appropriate for your company, and that any negative reciprocal communication from customers or the public is handled appropriately.

Before you launch any campaign, do your homework and leverage industry best practices to set some corporate guidelines for internal use. Prior to pitching your idea to management, you should be able to explain the processes and procedures you will put in place to ensure all goes well and/or that your company will react appropriately when it doesn't. For example, you have to be able to tell the brass what happens when a customer posts a negative comment on Facebook, or one of your employees goes rogue with a LinkedIn response. You must address their questions about who will post on behalf of the company, and who will monitor public responses and/or track effectiveness. Offering guidelines up front will ease management's fears and hopefully appease internal control freaks.

So when your supervisors try to abort your social-media plans, don't assume all is lost. Remember that this resistance is a common hurdle and then use the preceding strategies to help you sail over it. After all, as NCAA basketball coach John Wooden said, "Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."

– Desiree Lehrbaum, principal, Lumen Consulting, Morgan Hill, CA

Help Wanted
Send your tough questions about exhibiting to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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