Last week we talked about cultural readiness for social marketing. In this follow-up post, we will look at how various experts recommend getting a YES! from legal and compliance for a social marketing strategy or campaign.

Step Strategy. Few organizations that are leery of the uncertainty and lack of control inherent in social media are going to bungee jump into the water. They want to dangle their toes in the water from the safety of the pier and gradually dive in head first. The common wisdom is to start with a listening campaign, then join the conversation, and then launch a branded program. This is a fine starting point but does not go far enough. You need to fully develop your step strategy and align each step with a value proposition that matters to the person you’re selling to. For example, saying, “First we’re going to listen” is not as powerful as “ We’ve been informally following three key communities where XYZ customer segment congregates and talks. We discovered three key trends that suggest we could increase our sales by adding new colors to our line, giving our call center reps more autonomy and offering free shipping on returns. The increase in sales will far exceed the cost of doing this. We think we can gain further ROI by formalizing our listening campaign and extending it through a private customer feedback community.”

Start Internally. Many companies view social media as “cheap” and want to adopt it to augment shrinking marketing dollars. In reality, organizations can dramatically impact costs by adopting social tools internally. Not only is there great ROI, but the internal experience helps to overcome some of the hurdles for using the tools externally. Cisco is one company that reports huge gains by using an internal community structure to drive productivity and innovation. Another example is Best Buy, whose employee community Blue Shirt Nation (link) is credited with reducing employee turn-over significantly and improving customer sat scores. Once people are comfortable with social tools, extending their use to outside stakeholders is an easier sell.

Game Changer. What separates the social experimenters from the game changers? First, these companies are beyond the “do we do it?” phase and into the “what are best practices and how do we get started phase?” In addition, they understand that socializing both business operations and marketing can give them an order of magnitude advantage over those who are simply dabbling in Facebook pages. Often, the early adopters of emerging technologies or business models can disrupt and displace long term industry stalwarts. This scares the pants off of senior management. Show them examples of new upstarts that are gaining share or changing the rules of engagement for your industry and make the case for beating them at their own game. This is a true strategic business discussion that needs to be well researched. You need to illustrate how this can dramatically change the game for your company and reap long term competitive advantage and business value.

Solve a challenge. Socializing operations can solve key business challenges. Take cost of customer support, for example. The use of customer advocates as part of the support function is a tried and true strategy in the technology and telecommunications industries. IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, and others have reduced their cost per support episode significantly, sometimes by as much as 65%. This would be impossible without an integrated strategy that uses both branded and organic online communities to facilitate the interchange between knowledgeable customers who are motivated to help each other. Some smart organizations are starting to form these support communities and use the feedback and user generated content to improve products and customer experience. In some instances, they use the outputs to better educate their own workforce about how and why people use their products.

Provide tools for selling up and out. The person you’re pitching will have to continue to sell to h/her peers or manager. Make it easy for them. Offer to be part of the meeting or give your boss a “no brainer” presentation that clearly lays out the opportunity, risks, rewards, costs and timeline for ROI. Make sure you include competitive analysis that demonstrates how and why this stuff works. Remember you will need multiple reasons that will resonate with multiple stakeholders and decision makers. Legal wants to know about how you will manage risks and who else in your industry has tried something like this. They want detailed case studies. Finance will want to know return ratios and how the ROI of social marketing compares to the performance of other MarCom channels. Brand managers will want to know how this will forward their brand messaging and how they can protect their brand image. The answers, of course, depend upon your objectives and approach. But if you don’t have the answers to these types of challenges, you shouldn’t be asking for a Yes!

Getting a YES! requires knowledge of what works and why for a specific application of social tools that can achieve your organization’s objectives. Being conversant in metrics that matter helps a great deal. In fact, every topic above includes some reference to metrics or ROI. The basics that apply to selling in any new program or strategy apply to social marketing or social business operations. Do your homework, make your case, pre-sell and build alliances and hope for great timing.

Cheryl Treleaven

Cheryl Treleaven


Engaging your customers is at the heart of successful marketing programs. For more than 20 years, Cheryl has been building and executing content and thought leadership strategies designed to do just that. She is excited to be applying that well-honed skill to a help companies like Microsoft, Cisco, 3M, Intel, Capital One and Barclaycard tap into their stakeholder communities and build sophisticated content strategies.

Her experience base spans a range of industries – from technology and financial services to retail, travel, consumer products and healthcare. Cheryl has served as an integral member of her clients’ marketing teams, providing counsel on marketing and brand strategy, thought leadership, media relations, product introductions, and event management.

Prior to joining ComBlu, Cheryl spent 10 years leading corporate marketing for large, complex organizations.