“Everyone talks about getting buy-in from executives and solving business problems with social media,” says Amber Naslund. “But I’ve been a VP and a CMO. And I wish more managers would ask their CMO to spend 15 minutes with them. It’s really simple and can help close that disconnect between social and business strategy. Book some time in your CMO’s calendar. Ask your CMO ‘What are the big business priorities right now?’ And then go away and think about how social can help your company win in those areas.”

Amber speaks from experience. She’s the coauthor of the best-selling business book The NOW Revolution, former SVP of marketing for Sysomos, and, while VP of social strategy at Salesforce Radian6, advised Fortune 500 companies such as L’Oréal, American Express, AMD, Dell, Avaya, CDW, Kraft Foods, and Coca-Cola.

She now works at Hootsuite, helping our enterprise customers navigate digital transformation and understand how it will impact their business.

We asked Amber to teach us how directors and managers can better understand the mindset and goals of CMOs and other executives. When it comes to social media, what metrics will impress leadership? How can social media teams gain executive support and increased budget for new social initiatives?

How to secure executive support for your social strategy

The one question every manager needs to ask their CMO

The willingness to see things from the perspective of the C-suite is what differentiates a good social marketing manager from a great one.

“I’ve been a CMO. And I would completely respect if a manager or director booked 15 minutes in my calendar to ask me what the current business priorities are. Just ask: What pressing things are we trying to solve right now as a business? And then go away and think about how your social media strategy can help the business reach those objectives.”

If your executive is on social, Amber recommends that you go through her LinkedIn profile and see who she’s connected with and what she shares. Do the same on Twitter and any other channel that she maintains a professional presence on. Once you have a list of the people and resources that matter to your CMO, follow those accounts and you might start to better see things through her lens.

“Internalize the challenges and risks that your CMO has to answer to the CEO for. Make them your own at the appropriate level—be accountable. Do that and you’ll stand out,” Amber says.

“As a social marketing manager, you may not know or be worried about the P&L [profit and loss] statement, but your CMO does. Go to her and say ‘I know you care about the P&L. What do I need to know about that? Can you give me a 15-minute overview of what role that plays in your world?’ If you do that you’re going to impress the hell out of her.”

After sitting down with your CMO, it’s likely you’ll realize that executives don’t care about shares, clicks, and views. “A smart social team will tell the CMO they want to ladder up their goals to marketing goals, which then ladder up to business goals,” Amber says.

“You might not tie social media directly to sales, but you need to show how it’s having an impact. How is social getting people to consider making a purchase? How do these channels push prospects to places they might actually buy? What types of media are moving people from one point to another on the customer journey?”

The value of social media doesn’t have to have a direct dollar correlation, Amber says. But again, attribution is key.

“It can be: ‘For every dollar I spend, I increase my pipeline by $500,000.’ If you can make those correlations it will be easy for you to keep your job versus simply saying, ‘Oh hey, we got a bunch of people to look at this piece of content’ without knowing what those people did afterwards.”

“Most CMOs today care about moving their organization from a cost centre to a revenue centre and being able to prove that,” Amber says.

Every CMO cares about 5 things—include these in your strategy

“CMOs are tired of hearing about social media as this end-all be-all,” Amber insists. “They’re tired of hearing that it’s going to save their souls and that they’re fools if they don’t jump in with both feet—with no consideration of the risks or cost involved.”

“For those of us that have been doing this for a while, these digital shifts are nothing new. Leaders don’t want to hear that social media is some sort of holy grail because 10 years ago the holy grail was having a website. And 10 years before that it was we had to be doing automated customer service. There’s always something new.”

When you are looking to sell your CMO on the value of social, explain to her how it supports and fits into a broader marketing strategy. Know how much budget, resources, and people will be needed to do it right. And know what kind of content resonates on which channels within your industry.

When you speak to your CMO you should be talking about the big five CMO concerns: revenue, cost, efficiency, differentiation, and customer satisfaction.

“Those levels of conversations are much more important than the number of likes, followers, shares, and retweets. The average CMO doesn’t care about that level of stuff,” Amber says.

Don’t tell your CMO about the power of social—show them

Managers and directors see the value of social. But your CMO may have never used social listening. Amber recommends that managers demonstrate the power of these insights by building a simple listening stream for your CMO to check daily. Include mentions of your brand, its products, customers, other industry executives, and competitors.

“Listen for negative brand mentions of the competition. If someone says ‘competitor XYZ is awful,’ that’s what I call an opportunity signal. And while it’s a little skeevy to hop all over that if it’s a one-off, it’s worth paying attention to if you start to see patterns. If people are repeating the same complaint, that might be a weakness that you can exploit.”

Email your CMO a quick social media highlight package once a week

Some CMOs might never log in to your listening stream. To combat this, send a quick regular email update with social insights. Break it into three categories. Limit your update to three to five points. Send this email every week.

The first paragraph should include industry news. What happened in your industry? What are people talking about on social? Did somebody get bought? Did somebody get sold? Did somebody have a complete train wreck of a week on social media?

Next, report on brand metrics. How the brand did on social? Did we release an ebook? Was there a product launch or webinar?

Conclude by highlighting any red flags for your organization or the industry. Was there a crisis in the industry that she should be paying attention to? Was there a particularly newsworthy headline that we ought to have a point of view on? Did we screw something up? If so, make sure you’re clear on what the impact of that will be.

“You’ll also want to create a system for things that your CMO needs to know about right now. I call these Bat Phone-type emails. Put 911 at the beginning of a subject line. With the real-time nature of social, you need a mechanism that says ‘open this email right away, this is something we need to respond to in the moment.’”

Social metrics are fine, but they need to pass the ‘So What’ test

Social teams talk to customers every day. As a result, you’ll likely have a lot of positive interactions—such as a glowing customer tweet about your product—to share with leadership. So how should you frame qualitative data for a CMO?

“If you’re going to put something in a report and call it out as a metric, I need the ‘so what’ factor,” Amber says. “You got all these likes? Great. What does it mean for the business? You got a million impressions? So what? What does this mean for our business? What’s the benefit?”

The key, says Amber, is to look for patterns, and then form a hypothesis that you can layer with quantitative data.

“Let’s say you think that customers who follow you on Instagram are really loyal and that all these engagements with your team [are] fueling that brand loyalty. Create a hypothesis. For example, ‘Customers that follow us on Instagram are more likely to have higher order value when they purchase from your store.’ Create that hypothesis and then go run that analysis. Chase down the data and figure out if that proved true. Then you’re showing your CMO that those interactions mean something, and then she will start to care.”

If a reporting method doesn’t exist, you can get creative and build one. “If you think that it’s something that could actually illustrate business value for your business, make it up, but create a model for that to be repeatable and show me how you connect the dots in that equation.”

Don’t hide the risks—highlight them

“As a leader I’ve had a lot of social marketers come to me with rainbows in their eyeballs and say, ‘Oh my God, this is going to be the best thing ever—we can’t lose with this!’ And my response is always ‘Okay, but what if this or this happens?’”

According to Amber, marketers need to be more honest about the risks in any social media marketing plan. “Demonstrate to your CMO that you have a really strong grasp of what might go sideways. That shows her you have the business maturity to take this on.”

A good business leader at any level—whether it be CMO or manager of a social team—looks at not only the benefits but the potential risks to the business as well.

“There are some very real business concerns that some companies have about social,” Amber explains. “Banks don’t want to be on Instagram because there’s all kinds of ways for them to violate FINRA and other regulations that are pivotal to their business. The possibility for them to screw it up on Instagram is simply not worth the potential gains.”

Have an honest discussion with your CMO about your proposed social strategy. Lay out the benefits alongside the potential downsides. Are there compliance or security issues that must be addressed? Have a plan for mitigating these risks.

You also need to have a remediation plan for when things don’t go as planned. Leaders are thinking of where things fit strategically, and a lot of time practitioners don’t pitch those details.

“CMOs often don’t care how you get it done, they just care that you do get it done. If you promise your CMO a certain result she’s going to hold you to that.”

Not every trend is worth following

Organizations can’t jump on every social trend and expect to do it well. Even if you have all the money and resources in the world, not all channels are right for all brands.”

“Should a multinational accounting firm like Ernst & Young be on Snapchat? I don’t think so.”

Focusing on a few things and doing them really well is way more important than spreading your efforts too thin and doing a lot of things in a mediocre way. Deciding which platforms to use should be a data-driven decision. Figure out where your customers are and focus your efforts there.

“I think a lot of companies would benefit from teams that don’t try to move faster, they try to move smarter. When it comes to trying new tactics and channels, start with a solid hypothesis about why it’s a good idea and show you’re CMO that you’ve considered the risks and investments required to do it well. Lay out a thoughtful business case.”

Watch Amber Naslund’s master class on proving social ROI to executives. In this on-demand webinar, Amber teaches you how to build a measurement framework that earns the praise (and budget approval) of your executive. 

Watch the Webinar Now

With files from Michael Aynsley