“We’re not doing social media. It’s just too risky…. It’s a waste of money… We’re doing fine without it.”
And with that one sentence, your plan to bring your company’s marketing into the 21st century is scuppered.
Gaining internal buy-in for a social media programme is still one of the greatest digital obstacles many companies face. In the pharmaceutical industry, it can be particularly difficult. The sector has been very slow to adopt social media, for a variety of reasons, and according to a recent survey by PMLiVE, 17.2% of people working in or for the sector still think that management approval is the biggest challenge of all.
So if you’re a comms or marketing director who understands how crucial social media has become in every sector; or if you are a visionary CEO or vice-president who is eager to reach out to stakeholders – how do you overcome the scepticism of your colleagues and (possibly) bosses?
Here are 10 strategies to consider:
1. Know your audience. As anyone who wants to enter social media should know, the key to all good marketing is understanding who you’re selling to. And if you’re going to try and persuade your colleagues that social media is a must, you are selling – a concept, a strategy and an investment.
Get a good idea of their objections. And understand that many of them will be unspoken – as well as personal and emotional. While your CEO might claim that the reason he’s issuing a veto is to do with the regulatory environment, he may be equally put off by something negative one of his peers has said, his own fear of technology or a reluctance to alienate his amazing sales director, who is totally against the idea. You need to get to the root of it.
2. Make sure they understand what social media is. One of the greatest challenges is ‘selling’ social media to an executive who may have very little personal experience with it, or understanding of how it works. They may have many prejudices, misconceptions and blank spots that are stopping them from buying in – without any real foundation.
If this is the case, introduce the concept of social media with some very basic training, before you discuss any complex strategy with them. This will help de-mystify it, and make them much more open to using it.
3. Speak their language. Once you are at the stage of discussing how social can be leveraged for your company, you need to build a business case for it. The people at the top of your company are going to want to understand how much it is going to cost, and what kind of ROI they are going to see. Make sure you have worked out at least an initial budget, and that you can clearly show how you plan to measure and demonstrate success.
It will also help if you can show how your social media plans fit in with the company’s existing goals and marketing strategy. These are things they (presumably) already believe in, and they will find social media much easier to get behind if it is framed in the right way.
4. Get your legal team in early. In pharma, as in other highly regulated industries, one of the major objections is likely to be the regulatory risk. Working out how social media can be done responsibly, with the approval and cooperation of your legal team, will allay many fears.
Make sure that everyone understands, as well, the steps you can take to minimise risk, and that there is a plan in place to carry these out.
5. Use social proof. Your management team may know a great many other companies who are not using social media, and therefore feel under no particular pressure to adopt it. You need to show them the enormous number that are, particularly in their own sector and that the momentum is entirely in their direction.
It will also help if you can show solid case studies of how social media has worked for other companies – again, within pharma. This will make an abstract idea more concrete; show that ROI is possible; and demonstrate that it is already a valuable marketing tool, which is used safely, within the sector. They will also see they are falling behind – see next point.
6. Emphasise the high cost of doing nothing. Avoiding social media is not – contrary to what they may think – a safe strategy. The risks are that your company will lose out on business to other firms, look old-fashioned, lack the tools to control its reputation online, lose out on opportunities to listen to and better understand its customers, miss opportunities to recruit the best, etc. etc. The cost of doing nothing is not zero!
7. Recruit allies. The problem in many large pharma companies (and in other sectors too, of course) is that departments work in a silo. When it comes to social media, your programme will work best if there is wide cooperation. It could involve communications, marketing, sales, customer service, policy and others.
You have the best chance of getting to that point if you get those other departments on board early. Not only may you find other enthusiasts who could make the case with you, you will show that the programme has wide benefits and extensive support.
8. Start slow. If your management team is still sceptical, it will be less threatening if you propose a pilot programme that can be expanded if it is a success. This will also give you a chance to show tangible benefits and to “convert” them over a longer period of time.
9. Get them involved. Your battle for executive approval will probably not be over once your social media programme is launched. They will require affirmation that the programme is worthwhile, working, and that they were right to suspend their disbelief.
In the long-term, your executive is more likely to appreciate social media if they experience its benefits for themselves. Why don’t you ask them to participate in a webinar or podcast, or interview them for your blog – then show them the reaction online?
Whatever you do – make it easy for them! Do not impose a weekly writing exercise or give a resentful CEO her own Twitter account. Just give them a taster.
10. Make it work. It’s the old cliché – the proof is in the pudding. If you want your social media programme to continue, you need to make sure that you are hitting the goals you set and that the company is genuinely benefiting from it.
Make sure that you have done all the groundwork – building buyer personas, creating a proper strategy, working to a schedule – and that you are properly resourced. Be certain to benchmark everything so that you can show progress. Because if it works – who can argue against that?
Have you encountered resistance implementing a social media programme? What strategies did you use to gain internal buy-in? Please let us know in the comments!
Miriam Shaviv is director of content at Brainstorm Digital
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