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Brian Solis. Photo by CC ChapmanIf part of your job involves building a business case and winning executive buy-in for social media initiatives inside organizations, you don’t want to miss this episode with Brian Solis, released on the eve of the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas.
 
Over the last few years, Future Works founder Brian Solis has shot like a rocket to the top on the social media influence pyramid.  His Conversation Prism has become the de facto graphic for appraising social media channels.  His first book, “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations,” which he co-wrote with Deirdre Breckenridge made the argument for social media engagement, and his just released new book “Engage” provides practical guidance for piloting social media initiatives inside organizations.
 
In this episode, which was conducted in association with research I’m currently conducting for a book on B2B applications of social media to be published by Wiley late 2010/early 2011, Brian reveals how he wins buy-in and acceptance for social media pilot programs with corporate stakeholders inside organizations.
 
SHOW NOTES:
 
01:24 – Brian talks about the “ah-ha” and “uh-oh” moments, which usually crystallize the perceived need for social media engagement inside organizations.
 
02:49 – Using the Conversation Prism to collect meaningful research by searching the each of the different social media channels to uncover where the hot spots are for any given organization.  And based on the findings from those queries, Brian talks about designing social media initiatives that address tangible business needs.
 
03:31 – Without the research that comes from a thorough investigation of who’s saying what where about a given product, brand or service, there’s no way to ask the right questions to have the “ah-ha” moment.  According to Brian, it is important to understand that conversations are constantly occurring online that drive all kinds of business decisions.  And unless we actually seek out and gauge in the right conversations by listening through filters those decisions will be made without us. It’s the realization that there are not just conversations taking place across the social web. 
 
03:46 – “There are not just conversations taking place across the social web.  There are influential decision-making steps and processes and considerations that are taking place that are transpiring right now, without us.  And when you can demonstrate the exact cause and effect of what’s transpiring and to what extent, then that “ah-ha” moment is pretty profound,” Brian explains.
 
05:54 – Successfully implementing social media initiatives inside organizations requires that the projects lead ultimately transition from champion to diplomat, because it is critical to raise awareness of what needs to be accomplished and the required resources to pull it off among the executives who can fund pilots, and who or may not be directly involved in the initiative.
 
06:33 – “What’s going to be important to these folks [decision makers with P&L responsibility] is that we apply information to them in a way that they’re used to measuring it.  Even though this is new medium, we have to help them learn by speaking their language, and then ultimately teaching them something new, almost like learning a new language through immersion,” says Brian.
 
07:12 – Much as when ad agencies bid accounts on spec, in order to make the case for a social media initiative, it is necessary to invest the time and resources to figure out where the relevant conversations are taking place, and to try and determine which departments of the organization are most impacted by these conversations.  Are the conversations surrounding customer service issues, engineering issues or marketing-related issues?  The idea is to collect and attribute online conversations to the specific business units or departments inside the organization that they apply.  For Brian, the key to winning buy-in is research, but once he’s got it completed, he’s still not done. 
 
08:01 -- Brian takes all his research, puts into a snazzy PowerPoint deck and presents it to the C Suite business decision makers to win buy-in.  It’s important that the presentation be distilled to the point where it’s not overwhelming. It must provide clear overview as to the opportunities that exist, and provide tangible suggestions of what can be done to address them and then how those efforts will be learned over time.
 
09:43 – When it comes to the argument about whether or not it’s necessary to justify the ROI of social media engagement, Brian takes the high road.  “Change isn’t always something that’s easy to embrace.  Maybe the demand for metrics or ROI is stall tactic, because there’s this fear of change or what have you.  But whatever it is, don’t spend your energy and resources debating it.  Just work with it,” says Brian.  And social media can be measured more effectively than old school marketing and public relations.
 
11:21 – When it comes to measuring social media, Brian likes to establish the cost per action because in his mind, that’s the most tangible metric for determining the value of a conversation. In other words, what happened as a result of the conversation?  Whether its click-throughs, links, registrations, shares, downloads or sales, cost per action focuses on the outcome of the conversations, rather than the conversation itself, but it’s important to note that sales are not the only measurable transactions that have real business value to organizations.
 
12:18 – The most common question Brian gets from stakeholders inside organizations about social media implementation is, “What is that we’re going to accomplish?  How many people is this going to take?  And what’s going to cost? And then, what does success look like?  I hear that in every single conversation,” says Brian.  And one way to get those answers is through research, which he has a blue print for conducting at www.conversationprism.com.
 
13:01 – By documenting, categorizing and quantifying the results of your research by issue and the part of the organization impacted, you build the business case.  Based on the formula Brian lays out in his book Engage, finding relevant conversations, engaging whoever’s behind them, monitoring for their response and then following up  takes roughly 25 minutes of someone’s time.  So if you’re going to try and measure cost per action, it really comes back to the amount of time you’ve invested in a conversation to try and stimulate that action.  So if it’s 25 minutes per action, you just look at the research and evaluate which conversations the organization has the organization has the most to gain by engaging, count up the number of conversations and multiply by 20 to 25 minutes per engagement, and that will give you some idea of what kind of resources you need to address that opportunity.
 
15:14 – In terms of where the pockets of resistance for social media engagement are inside most organizations, Brian says it’s different every time.  But a lot of it has to do with where the champions for social media inside that organization are.  “The thing that I’ve learned is this.  If there aren’t already champions there -- and based on the research you will find that there are multiple opportunities, you just have to prioritize which one it is that you pilot based on the data that comes back – everyone has concerns, or they also have incorrect perspectives with respect to what can be accomplished through social media.  So there’s a lot of education there.  So having answers to all the skeptical questions that you could possibly get before you go into that meeting is going to be extremely helpful because people will ask you more questions that will postpone doing it the right way.  So having those answers is what it’s going to take to get at least some, initial level of support,” says Brian.  You might not get enterprise wide acceptance from the get go, but that’s okay.  Focus on getting the resources for the pilot program and use that as an opportunity to demonstrate value to others inside the organization.
 
16:42 – When Brian is doing his research, his uses the Katie Paine method of coupling words indicative of a bad customer experience with the company’s name inside all the search boxes of all the social media channels in the Conversation Prism. So he takes words like suck, or die or hate to surface those conversations with the greatest sense of urgency.  Brian says this is a very powerful way to raise eyebrows and incite action.
 
18:43 – According to Brian, you can’t bill for educating customers to reorganize for social media.  “There is a general misperception that social media is centralized.  And it’s not.  Because when you do the research, when you do the listening aspect of it, you will find that the more meaningful conversations directly align with divisions of your organization,” says Brian.  “You can always map it perfectly to HR, sales, marketing, the executives, PR, what have you.”  Brian recommends creating a chart that shows the percentages of conversations that apply to the different divisions, so the stakeholders have a sense of which parts of their company are most under siege.  In order to win the support you need across the entire organization, they have to see who it impacts. 
 
20:30 -- “The conversation takes place online.  If you aren’t there to hear it, did it really happen?  And once you can show that it did,” says Brian.  And once you show those opportunities that were missed, you can show them what they could be doing to turn those conversations into measurable business gains.  “The only reason you have skeptics and push back is because they don’t know what’s taking place.  And if you can show them not only what’s happening, but what the opportunities are that lie within, you can start to bring people to the table in a collaborative format,” continues Brian.
 
21:15 – “Every business is going to become more not just socially but socially engaged and that is, any division of a business that’s affected by outside activity is going to have to pay attention to what’s going on, and eventually they might ask to start participating in that in order to steer it in the right direction,” says Brian. “Every division needs someone to almost be like what was a community manager for the entire organization, now has, sort of a community manager specifically for that division.  You don’t just suddenly create the social media team overnight,” says Brian, who can see the day when, in the vein of a brand style guide, social style guides will be created to help community managers effectively manage a brand’s personality through social media.
 
25:27 – The key to overcoming pockets of resistance within the organization, especially in legal and HR, is again, the data, as well as the extent and effect it has on the organization’s goals. When it comes to measuring the influence of a conversation, Brian looks at how many people are following the person driving the conversation and how many people does the conversation touch.
 
26:11 – Defining a common goal is a critical first step to getting stakeholders on board. The easier you make it for others to support you, the easier it is to execute the pilot program effectively, which Brian says is often overlooked by organizations. But tools are available, they’re free and as long as you’re willing to invest the time, you’ve got a relatively good prospect of success.
 
27:22 – If he’s acting in the capacity of a champion, he asks himself, “What are we trying to accomplish” and then works backward to determine what type of research and metrics are indicative of opportunities. There have to be some kind of business objectives behind your social media initiative, and you have to be able to define them.  If he doesn’t know what those objectives are, he’s asking probing questions to find them so he can map tools to tactics.
 
28:53 – Brian is hosting the Blogger Lounge with Stephanie Agresta and the Windows Phone team at SXSW this year, and they’re kicking off a party with the Tech Set on Friday night.  Brian says the Windows 7 Phone looks awesome, and remarks about AT&T’s miserable phone service.
 
31:43 – End
 
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ABOUT THE PODCASTER
@EricSchwartzman provides online communication training, strategy and governance to public relations, public affairs, corporate communications and marketing specialists. He has extensive experience integrating emerging information technologies into organizational communications programs through public speaking, hands-on training seminars, consulting and the development of corporate policies on social media usage. His clients have included Boeing, BYU, City National Bank, Environmental Defense Fund, Government of Singapore, Johnson & Johnson, Southern California Edison, Toyota, UCLA, US Dept. of State, United States Army, US Embassy of Athens, the United States Marine Corps and many small to medium-sized companies and agencies.
 
Schwartzman is currently co-authoring a book on business-to-business social media communications with Paul Gillin, to be published by Wiley in Fall 2010. He is the instructor behind PRSA’s top-rated social media and emerging treads training seminars, the Social Media Boot Camp and the Social Media Master Class, which are offered monthly in the US through PRSA. Since 2005, he has been producing the weekly, award-winning public relations podcast “On the Record…Online” (@ontherecord) about how technology is changing the way organizations communicate, the official podcast of the PRSA International Conference for the past three consecutive years.
 
On the Record…Online is the Official PR Podcast of the 2010 PRSA International Conference.  Subscribe via RSS or follow us on Twitter @ontherecord.
 


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