How to get organisational buy-in for your social media strategy

We’ve recently run some events for social media managers in the public sector. As part of our preparation for these events we asked attendees about the main challenges they faced regarding social media use in their organisations. The answers clearly showed that there were five broad categories of challenge that social media managers across the public sector shared. They were:

1. Getting organisational buy in for social media use
2. Lack of resources allocated to social media management
3. Developing sufficient content to populate social media channels
4. Making sure the tone of the content is appropriate
5. Protecting the organisation against reputational damage

At our events we’ve had fruitful discussions that generated lots of ideas regarding how to deal with each of these challenges, so I thought it might be useful to put some of them down in a series of blog posts. Each post will focus on one particular challenge and suggest some possible approaches that I hope you’ll find helpful.

In this first post in the series I’m looking at the fundamental issue of getting organisational buy in for social media use. This is something that comes up as an issue again and again when we talk to clients. We often find that there are small pockets of social media enthusiasm in a local authority, for example, but with little support from managers higher up in the organisation. Another common scenario is that one manager or a small group of managers are keen to make more use of social media but they find that their staff are very resistant to adopting the ‘new’ channels. Resistance can also come from elected Members who can sometimes be sceptical about whether social media really provides them with any value.

So, with that in mind, here are some ideas regarding how to encourage social media buy in in your organisation, based on what we’ve learned from talking to successful local government social media managers.

  1. Establish a social media champion at the most senior level – Ideally you want a social media champion at the very top of the organisation, at Chief Executive level. It needs to be someone who has real clout in the organisation and whose opinions carry weight. Senior managers tend to have the most formal power to get things done. However, the most influential people in the organisation aren’t always the most senior. Organisations all have informal networks of power based around who’s been there the longest, or who has the widest network within the organisation, or who is the most popular. Think about identifying these people and getting them on board, rather than simply concentrating on lobbying the top tier of decision makers. Ultimately you’ll need a decision maker on board to get things to happen financially. However, you’ll also need a network of influential individuals in different departments and at different levels if you’re to encourage proper adoption of social media at a day to day level.
  2. Focus on the benefits that are likely to be most meaningful to different groups – Different groups will have different concerns and are likely to be motivated by different things. For example, your customer service operators will probably be interested in understanding how social media can make their lives easier or enable them to provide a better service to customers, but this same motivation might not apply to elected members. For them, a better strategy might be helping them understand how social media can enable them to better establish meaningful relationships with journalists and decision makers.
  3. Frame your project as a pilot – Even if you’re already committed to going all in, it can be useful to talk about your social media project in terms of it being a pilot to start with. Managers and others who remain to be convinced about the value of social media are generally much less likely to be resistant to the idea of a pilot project that they might be to a fully fledged social media strategy across multiple channels right out of the gate.
  4. Prove value and demonstrate success – Ultimately we find that resistance usually crumbles away when managers and others truly start to understand the economics of social media communication as compared to other channels. In these times of austerity when local authorities are having to deal with ever-deeper cuts to their budgets, it’s the economic argument that often wins the day. Channel shifting your high volume low complexity transactions online can save huge amounts of money compared to dealing with the same transactions over the telephone or face to face.
  5. Communicate social media successes to employees – This can take the form of more traditional internal communications. For example, we talked to one public sector social media manager who sends out a monthly social media bulletin via email. The bulletin simply lets people know about what’s going on within the organisation as far as social media is concerned. It includes examples of successes – this could be campaigns that have worked effectively, or even examples of particular interactions over social media that show how it can provide value to citizens and staff alike. It might also include examples of social media successes from other organisations. Sometimes it can be useful for people to see what other similar organisations are doing and how they’re making social media work.
  6. Training and support – Often the challenge is trying to persuade people who don’t use social media personally that it could have some value if they were to use it professionally. It’s easy to assume nowadays that everyone knows what Facebook is and understands how it works, but that’s simply not the case. Particularly when it comes to elected members and others from an older generation, they may be resistant to social media simply because they don’t understand it. There’s also a fairly steady stream of horror stories about social media ‘fails’ in the mainstream press, so customer-facing staff who maybe aren’t sophisticated users of social media in their personal lives can be very nervous of using a medium that they don’t really understand professionally. Training and support are key here. This could mean anything from regular social media drop in sessions where people can ask whatever questions they might have, through to formal training courses introducing people to each network and how it works. It could mean face to face training or it could mean online training, developed by your own team or provided by external experts. Talk to us about the social media consultancy and training that we provide.
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