How to Sell Social Media to a Dumb-Ass Boss

With so many new followers today, I’m feeling the pressure to, as Jason Falls said, be “freakin’ brilliant.”  Good thing that I checked out a post by one of my new tweeps, Andrea Goulet.  Her post was “How to Beat Writer’s Block.”  Tried a few of the tactics, but going for a walk when it’s 18 degrees outside in the Nation’s Capitol..not so much.

So..on to the subject.  We have all been there.  You have killer ideas that can save your company money, your competitors are all doing it — and all you need to do is get the ok from your boss (or, as I say in the title, what many of us have muttered under our breaths after a frustrating meeting, (“dumb-ass”) to implement a blog (internal or external), a podcast, Twitter, use You Tube, Facebook, hell, even an .rss feed.

And then you get “The Look.”

We’ve all seen it.  It’s something between hearing that Santa Claus isn’t real and the look on Dan Quayle’s face when Lloyd Bentsen said “”Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”  Too often than not, when those above you (or your clients), exhibit that look, you need to think fast or watch your social media dreams go up in flames.  So here are a few tips that might help you think fast before “The Look” becomes a “no.”

  1. Knowing and reacting. It’s simple and unquantifiable, but the there is likely already conversation going on about your company/clients, their products, issues, executives and value — it’s already happening.  Here’s the simple part:  you can choose to be part of it or choose to ignore it.  So when someone blogs about you, good or bad, have a monitoring system in place and rules in place for if — or even when — to engage. I have written about monitoring reputation management ad nauseum, but the first step in engaging in the conversation is to know what people are saying about you, and who really matters.  It doesn’t have to cost a ton to monitor, and even Twitter search has an .rss output now.  No excuses.And here’s a little tip to help simplify it:  Mr/Mrs. Dumb-Ass:  if you walked out of the building and heard someone trashing our company, wouldn’t you engage that person in conversation to offer your points of view?  Would you just let it go? What we’re talking about is no different.
  2. Projecting your point of view. If you are reading this blog, you probably already have a pretty good idea of the arsenal that is available to project your company’s/client’s/executives’ view into cyberspace, so I won’t spent a lot of time on the tools and tactics.  Most CEO-types are bottom-line oriented, so if you can make can intelligent case about cost-per-contact (CPC) — talked about brilliantly in Katie Payne’s book “Measuring Public Relationships,” you have a winner.For example, let’s say so implement a Twitter feed.  The only cost, really, is your time to set it up and monitor it.  If you make $60,000 a year (plus benes and work 2,000 hours a year), that’s going to be about $45 per hour.  If you spend an hour a day on Twitter and build up a network of contact of 500 followers, your CPC is going to be about $22.50  ($11,250/500).  Compare this to advertising (which you can’t appropriately measure, only guess, earned media or paid media, which again you can’t appropriately measure) and the $22.50 cost per contact is pretty darn good.  And this is only measuring the cost per acquiring each contact and does not add in the value of the conversations that are taking place via Twitter throughout the year.  And especially in a down economy, CPC is more important than ever.And one final note:  I maintain a Twitter account for my day job and can tell you that the vast majority of the major “traditional” news outlets are on it -watching what my employer has to say.
  3. You can’t always have the ROI you want. I am directly lifting this from a must-listen “For Immediate Release” podcast in which Mark Ragan led a group of social media experts through a fascinating panel in which he pretended to be the “Dumb-Ass CEO,” and Shel Holtz discussed blogging.  Mark Ragan challenged: “You better be precise.  I’m busy.  Why is it that I need to launch this blog, which I don’t even know what it is.”  Sound familiar?  Shel had a great answer.  He said that many companies still invest in things like taking key customers to golf club memberships, greens fees, etc. to build relationships, and we don’t measure that, right?  Everyone gets that you are building solid relationships with these people in the golf course, and not one ever challenges that, right? The basis of social media, like blogs, is developing relationships.  You can’t always measure everything — and you have to be at peace with that.
  4. Blogging baby steps. A lot of time, you have to take steps that are not 100 percent of what you want to begin with, so there are a couple of things you can do in the meantime.  First, talk to your boss about starting an internal blog — something that is apart from that God-awful intranet that you have.  Start slowly by talking to your employees – the people who are your brand and company ambassadors, and you might discover that you are ready for prime time — taking it to the “outside world” after all.And a tactic that I have done more often than not, start a test blog.  Mock it up, don’t make it public, but if you have just a few moments to capture the time and attention of a senior executives, pictures and clicks are worth a 1,000 arguments.  While Mr./Mrs. Dumb-Ass CEO is clicking through the blog, you can make your case about the fact that businesses are built on relationships — and having a blogging platform is a fantastic way to have a parallel set of relationships with your internal or external audiences.
  5. Beware of the roadblocks. People hate change.  Especially people who have been doing it one way for a long time.  If you are attempting a “paradigm shift” (100 points for bullshit bingo, which I won on the “Hobson and Holtz Report: #399), talk to the people who might try to stand in your way.  My experience tells me that there are two prospective deal-killers in an organization:  IT and legal.When the Internet was for propeller-heads, IT owned it.  It was theirs, and we “communicators” simply did not get it.  And now we want to OWN IT???  Try a quiet, discreet conversation with someone reasonable (and high up) in IT to get buy-in on a shared project.And legal?  I have climbed this mountain so many times I have no fingernails left.  But here is my two cents, and it is pretty simple.  The right way to go about is is to start the conversation with “How can we do this?”  The wrong way is “Can I do this?”  Make the question about what THEY need to do to collaborate and make this a reality and don’t give legal any manuevering room to kill something.  Sure, there will be disclaimers (be smart and cut and paste the disclaimer statement from a competitor and bring it to your meeting), but frame and conversations in terms of HOW it can be accomplished, not IF it can be accomplished.

I could go on and on (and likely will in future posts), but I use the “Dumb-Ass CEO” is a joking fashion, simply as an attention-getting device and likely direectly quoting many people who have tried the above.

But it’s not all about me;  I would love to hear from others who have tried, succeeded or even failed when you get the “Dan Quayle in Headlights” look.




  1. Right on, Mark, on every single point, esp. that last one. Go into discussions with IT and legal with the assumption you’re in control, communications is driving the discussion, and it’s going to happen. You’re checking in with them to find out what they need to do to make it happen, not asking permission. We’ve been incredibly lucky at EPA, because both our CIO and our legal staff have been supportive (our CIO actually is driving us in many ways). But we’ve still had “the look” from time to time.

    I also like your point about monitoring. I’ve been using Twitter search for “EPA” and it’s already told me more than I knew from any other channel about things like possible EPA Administrator candidates.

    You *are* going to volunteer for the Social Media Subcouncil, right? (disclaimer: I haven’t looked in my inbox to see who’s nominated themselves yet.)

  2. I consult not-for-profits and they are even less amenable to the idea of social media campaigns. Thanks for some good talking points, Mark.

  3. Mark Story Says: November 23, 2008 at 8:18 am


    Thanks for the comment as well as for reading. Consider me already part of the Social Media Subcouncil. Sign me up!


  4. Mark Story Says: November 23, 2008 at 8:20 am

    Thanks for reading, Amy.

    There are so many blogs out there written by incredibly smart people talking at a high level, like my course at Georgetown, I try to take it to a level that makes it a little easier to understand — and implement.

    Good luck in your own social media quest!


  5. Mark Story Says: November 23, 2008 at 8:41 am

    And I forgot to add – anyone who identifies the boss in the picture gets ten invisible extra credit points.


  6. I agree with all of it, the key being you are ready for the rebuttal that is coming. If you are prepared, then why wouldn’t someone want to embark on this journey? My last point is to mentor and not evangelize once you have buy in.

  7. Loved it all Mark, especially #2 where you broke it down into the CPC model. I’m a big fan of looking at it from #3 but so many people need to see things in context of existing models first before they will listen to a new approach. So thanks for pulling that together. I plan to reference it in the future for sure.


  8. Mark Story Says: November 24, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Thanks, David.

    I owe it all to Katie Payne. Have never met her in person, but she has taught me more about measurement than anyone.

    Thanks for reading!


  9. Lindsey Brothers Says: December 31, 2008 at 1:28 am

    Mark – Thank you for writing this. I’m saving this to review for when I need to have the talk with the boss…

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