How To: Effectively Talk to Execs and Clients about Social Media

I’ve heard a lot of people explain social media and most are doing it ineffectively.

As 2008 approaches many individuals are trying to involve social media in their plans for the coming year, in the exception of a few companies, this requires the buy-in from a person of power (and likely someone foreign to the movement) to approve. I know that many individuals within companies are running it up the flagpole, and many interactive firms, pr firms, and social media firms are gearing up for this upcoming year.

Background information
I hear a lot of pitches, and look at a lot of websites of vendors (in fact, I maintain massive lists tracking of the industry) and know what a good pitch is and what a bad one is. I also have had to lead social media within my previous company, the conservative Hitachi Data Systems. It was a good learning experience, then at PodTech (on the vendor side) I helped sales teams understand social media, and was on client calls and visits.

Know the differences between Technology, Features, Benefits, and Value
A balance is needed when introducing these concepts to new people, especially if they are foreign to them. The worse thing you could do is ramble off a bunch of technology buzz words, or on the flip side spill out marketing bull sh*t that has no structure or resemblance of sanity.

Find the right amount of balance to communicate what you’re trying to convey, without going exclusively to those edges by focusing on Benefits and Value. What are benefits? That’s the end result (nothing to do with technology) to the business or their customers. What is value? The net result to the business, subtracting the cost, incorporating opportunity cost a new program could bring to a business.

Weak: Focus on Technology
We need Web 2.0 tools like Ajaz, Blogs _____ (insert technology) to add to our website so we can socialize and aggregate. They are very popular right now.

Average: Focus on Features
We can connect to customers using using blogs, social networks, and RSS

Strong: Needs Assessments with Benefits

You mentioned the need to increase focus in the SMB market, I’ve data to show that they are using social media to connect to each other directly, often without our involvement. I suggest we look at ways to be part of that dialog by using the same tools they are, would you like to hear how social media can be part of this solution and make you more effective?

Stronger: Needs assessments with Value Statement
You mentioned the need to increase focus in the SMB market, I’ve data to show that they are using social media to connect to each other directly, often without our involvement. I’d like to get your opinion on a proposal to decrease our hard dollar marketing costs and increase our marketing reach/lead generation and customer retention by using social media tools to reach to new customers and embrace existing customers by creating a community.

So instead of focusing on terms like “Web 2.0” or “Ajax” focus on terms like customers, trust, community, and connections.

Look at other forces
Still have an unconvinced stakeholder? Consider showing screenshots what the customers are doing in this space, (Blogs or social networks) as well as competition. Focus on how customers have self-assembled in forums, social networks and are communicating to each other. Bring up the trust information (you’ve seen this on my decks) as a way to stimulate conversation.

The strongest force? Their kids. I’ve started a dialog with a CEO of a Fortune 5000 company by asking him how his kids communicate. He observed his kids were on IM, MySpace, watching TV, while doing homework and he wasn’t sure how they got any of them done. I asked him to look closer so we could discuss that in our next meeting. A month passed and he realized what was happening and how this next generation was going to enter the workplace, soon he adopted a few of these tools for his communication uses. This was my CEO at HDS. (careful when pulling this card, it could backfire, make sure you’ve already got a relationship of understanding with this executive before doing this)

Watch for indicators: verbal and physical
Reactions from the person you’re explaining it is key, facial expressions are usually key to this. If the conversation shifts to a tool discussion and spirals down the infinite number of risk variables you’ve headed the wrong way, quickly elevate and talk about customers. If this person asks about costs or risks, that’s a good sign but also shift back to values.

Rehearse having these conversations with others, if you’re on the career path I’m on, you’ll have to explain this movement to people that are not in it, or don’t get it (or worse, resist it) I’ve trained myself to have conversation with colleagues, executives, family, and my ‘good ol boy’ friends that don’t get this world at all. I’ve learned how to have an introductory conversation with them without discussing one tool or mentioning the term ‘web 2.0’. Instead, I prefer to focus on people, how they connect and how that changes things…mainly the shift in trust.

You’ll know you’re ready as you’ll be able to have a conversation about the impact of ‘social media’, without ever mentioning that term.

If you’ve gotten this far, great news, as now you’re ready to deploy and tie it back to your business (watch for an upcoming post)

Good luck, I’m rooting for you!

Related Resources

  • Explaining OpenSocial to your Executivesv
  • Chris Brogan learned from how to demonstrate Value
  • Explaining Social Graph to your Executives
  • Update: Aiden gives great examples of how to talk about value
    • Great article Jeremiah.

      We share the same opinion on this matter. In fact, I recently wrote a post entitled, “Web 2.0 Needs To Be About the Benefits”. Let me know what you think.


    • That’s a great piece Aidan, Ill add it to the post.

    • Thanks Jeremiah.


    • Jeremiah and Aidan – valid points all. Seems like many technology companies caught up in Web 2.0 forgot most of the basics around positioning things. Demo2Win ( covers many of the same topics – but Jeremiah nailed the core construct here.

    • Jeremiah, great post. Aiden I’m on my way to yours. This sort of thing is so very, very handy; my CEO is from traditional media (radio at that!). Trying to nail down ROI in a way that makes sense to him is challenging to say the least, but fun at the same time. This sort of thing is wonderfully beneficial.

    • The biggest frustration is when clients still try to go for online brochures. I do a lot of consulting to uplift social networking sites for my travel clients. This is the main reason I keep my blog which I use to pass the message subtly. (

      I think all marketers who try to convince others on web 2.0 should at lease have their presence on the community sites and have a blog. This will help in “walking the talk” with your piers. Gone are the days that we can speak of concepts.

    • The following is an excerpt from Lisa McNeill of Ignite Social Media

      “Undefined social media marketing objectives are basically blogging just to “start a blog”, or having a Facebook group page to “have a Facebook group page”. Companies that employ this “strategy” going into their social media marketing campaign will likely find it nearly impossible to quantify or measure its success. However, if objectives are set from the beginning, measurement is much clearer and easier to quantify.

      Objectives should be inspired from the needs of the company. If an e-commerce company wants to start a blog about “product reviews”, then it should measure the funnel of traffic from the blog to the e-commerce site. Through that, the site should further analyze the percentage of products purchased from this segment, and analyze the value of these purchases against other methods of entry.

      To give another example I’ll use Ignite. One of our objectives of this blog is to ultimately to gain more clients and further expand our network in this space. With this clearly stated, we track the source of all business leads, so we can quantify the number that are a result of our blog and the quality of those leads. To measure our network, we monitor and track comments, trackbacks, and the social network activities that we are involved in.”

      I guess it comes down to knowing who cares about what. So meeting business goals should be first priority.

      CMO cares about customer. conversion rates
      CIO cares about security and other things
      Creative services team cares about efficient collab
      Legal council would rather it all go away

      I remember reading somewhere the average number of decision makers in a SMB is 7.5, but I could be way off.

      It’s imperative to talk about benefits but we it will have to be catered to the needs of each decision maker and I’m assuming that will require more in depth knowledge of practical applications of social media.

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    • One of the things I have found in working with non-techy but business savvy clients is to find their individual sweet spot. One client is an SEO freak. So we showed them stats of site traffic and search rankings pre and post blog/podcast. The numbers were so compelling, they did the evangelizing for us.

      For other clients who are big on “reputation management”, we’ve used Google Alerts as a really simple sort of syndication to show them the practical application of new tech. It’s back to basics – knowing what concerns already are in play for a customer, and then finding the tech that will address them successfully.

      Thank you for pulling all of this together – the what not to do is as useful as the what to do.

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    • Thank you, Jeremiah, for some great insight and direction.

      I am a recent addition to who’s primary purpose is to provide a real-time solution through customer [+]Feedback to increase customers retention, communication, reduce marketing costs, understand different customer needs differently on every page, can be in 30 languages, and measure what they like or dislike, while monitoring the influence, brand and functionality of the website.

      Over the past 4 weeks of my recent employment I have been trying to better understand why brick walls exist when doing B2B sales in a customer dependant environment? Is it better to provide a great product, or is it better to provide a great understanding for the need, and then determine if our product is their solution? Can you determine this as you bounce through hopeful key decision makers [kdm] who may or may not be the KDM?
      From gate keepers to time limited executives…how! how! how?!

      As corporations move forward, do they all take a simultaneous step to become trendy in certain categories, such as Social Networking. My understanding of corporate strategy was to: provide vision “internal” and “external” customers while providing problem resolution, leveraging global markets, develop productivity, moral responsibility and contribute to the betterment of the “blank” industry…and all of the sudden there is this rude awakening!

      Hey, I wonder what our customers think?

      What are your suggestions as to brick walls to reach KDM, before the opportunity to offer value?

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    • Very true….make sure to stay professional and lead them through the funnel….Good Luck

    • Jeremiah and Aidan – valid points all. Seems like many technology companies caught up in Web 2.0 forgot most of the basics around positioning things. Demo2Win ( covers many of the same topics – but Jeremiah nailed the core construct here.