5 strategies to help your execs to better understand digital marketing

A post by fellow communicator and blogger Shel Holtz concerned me last week. Its premise? In Shel’s words: “The uneven adoption of social media is, by and large, a failure of organizational leadership.”

As usual, Shel backed that claim up with a slew of findings including:

* According to a study by the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University and The Conference Board, only 32% of companies monitor social media to detect risks to their business activities

* That same study found only 14% of companies use metrics from social media to measure corporate performance

* According to study commissioned by MIT Sloan Management Review, more than half of respondents ranked their own organization’s social maturity business at 3 or below (out of 10); only 17% said their companies were performing at a ranking of seven or higher.


Pretty damning stuff, right? And, as Shel eloquently lays out, it points back to leadership.

So, why this lack of understanding around social? And, why the lack of commitment to it as a real business tool? After all, we’ve been at this for 5-plus years now?

I think a few factors are at play:

* Media adoption always takes a bit longer to funnel its way up an organization.

* For better or worse, social is still linked to “corporate crisis” in the minds of many executives (just look at all the retail and food-related companies experiencing these “crisis” recently)

* On the heels of the Great Recession, many companies are still “playing it safe”, sticking with more “tried-and-true” marketing tactics that have produced results in the past. Why try something new when the old standbys continue to work?

But, some companies are pushing the envelope and working hard to educate their senior executives.

Recently, the Campbell’s team (and digital leader Adam Kmiec) prepared a “Digital Fitness Accelerator Kit” designed to help bring execs (and employees) up-to-speed on all things digital.

The kit included such items as a Roku, a Jawbone and Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation. Basics, for sure. But for those not accustomed to leading more of a “digital life” these may be new to many folks.

I thought this was an interesting way to go about educating senior execs about the digital life many of Campbell’s customers surely lead. It wasn’t too direct–it was just subtle enough to get them interested but not bang them over the head with their lack of knowledge about digital.

And, that got me thinking, what other strategies could companies use to educate their executive leaders about digital and social media? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

I have a few ideas. Some might be crazy. Others seem more doable. I hope this gets you thinking about how you can get your executive leaders on board with digital–not just in the way of “We need a Facebook page”, but instead in the “this is how we’re going to use social/digital to drive business and efficiencies for our company.”


Give them “Required Reading” (and help them set up a digital reading system)

Business leaders are busy people–but they do read. So, why not give them a few digital books to work into their reading queue? A few I think may work well: Jay Baer’s new Youtility (just read this–I think execs would relate); Groundswell (timeless); and The Long Tail (another classic–I think these less “social media-y” books would really resonate with leaders). That’s a good starter list. I’d also consider helping them set up a digital reading system via something like Feedly. Don’t go giving them a bunch of social media blogs to read. Make it relevant for them. Find some good business blogs they should be reading and sprinkle in a few high-level digital marketing blogs (maybe something like Mark Schaefer’s blog? I feel like his stuff doesn’t come across so “social media-y”–why do I keep saying that?)


If that doesn’t work, print out “required reading” regularly and ask them to read it on business trips

Another thing we know about business execs–they travel a lot. And guess what they do when they’re traveling a lot? They read. But, many are still “hard copy” readers. They want that newspaper, book or document in their hands. So, make it easy for them. See your CEO is heading out on a week-long business trip next week? Set her up with 5 articles on digital marketing she should read before she gets back.


Sit down with him/her and get them started on Twitter

I remember back in about 2007/2008 Scott Monty came to Minneapolis as part of the BlogWell series. He talked about how he got Ford CEO, Alan Mullaly, on board with social media. He talked about how he actually sat down with him, in his office, and walked him through Twitter. How to sign up. How it works. The whole deal. I’m sure Alan didn’t really “get” Twitter right then, but the point was Scott was taking time to show him the ropes first-hand. Right there in his office. Could you do the same? It might help demystify a few things. And, you only need 30 minutes of time.


Take your executive partner to a digital industry event

I know execs are short on time, but is there a local event you could take your leader to that would help introduce them to the digital trends and concepts of today? Even if it’s one of those hour-long events sponsored by Social Media Breakfast or AMA or AdFed. As a side benefit, this would be a great way to get time with one of your business leaders. After all, how many people get an hour-plus of uninterrupted time with their leaders on a daily basis? As a side benefit for your leader: By bringing them to an industry event like this, you’ll be introducing him to a whole new crowd. Great networking. Leaders like networking.


Create networking opportunities for your executive leader with other leaders who “get” digital

Another common tactic for digital marketers to coach up their leaders is to show what competitors are doing in our space. You’ve seen this, right? Heck, some of your probably practice it (I know I have with some clients). It’s effective. Show how your competitors are using digital to drive real business results, then ask: “Why can’t we do this, too?” But, I’m suggesting a little different approach here. Introduce your leader to leaders of other companies who are more savvy when it comes to digital. Some of that savviness is bound to rub off, right? All jokes aside, this is a win for a couple reasons. 1) You’re introducing your leader to other people like her–again, leaders love to network and meet peers, and 2) They’ll hear the same messages you’ve been sending about the importance of digital–but it will come from the mouth of a respected peer. Now, don’t take that the wrong way. I’m sure your business leader trusts you. But, when that same advice you’ve been doling out comes from an industry peer, it’s a whole lot more powerful.


So, those are my ideas. What do you think? Have you tried any of these with your business leaders? How have they worked? And what do you think of Kmiec’s plan with the digital fitness kits?

Note: Photo courtesy of Zolli07 via FlickR Creative Commons.

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20 comments on “5 strategies to help your execs to better understand digital marketing

  1. Nikki Little says:

    Smart advice, Arik.
    I also think showing examples of what other companies are doing and how they are achieving success with social media helps. Trying to explain what type of content should go on Facebook or a blog may get you a glazed over look. But, if you show examples of how other companies are doing it and explain how that relates to your ideas/strategies, then some lightbulbs may start to go off. Visuals, examples and successes from other companies can help tremendously.

  2. Wiebesick says:

    @Nikki Little Great suggestion, Nikki. 
    Here’s another approach I’d add to the list: Whenever there is important company news to share, the social media manager can send an email with scripted tweets, Facebook posts and LinkedIn posts to senior leadership to share on their personal social networks. Remember to offer several variations in wording so not everyone tweets the same thing.

  3. Nikki Little says:

    @Wiebesick Yes, good one! Spoon feed them the info to make less work for them.

  4. aumcore says:

    Very nice ideas to help business leaders to understand the importance of digital marketing. However, I do think that if we present some success stories along with the reading material then it will be more helpful and convincing.

  5. One good marketing idea: Never give 100% information at first, make the people curious.

  6. I love #2– sit down and get them started on Twitter. I find that “hands on” approach is best with new digital media. Plus, it’s exciting to learn that way.

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    It’s good but would be time consuming, specially with slow learners.

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