Social Media Survival: What to Do When You Are Running Into Managerial or Client Brick Wall

My take on the kerfuffle with National Rental Car and Chapstick and theory that the blame lay with management resulted in some good, interesting feedback.  Thanks, guys. I postulated that likely, with MAJOR consumer brands, the fault lies in bad decisions made by higher-ups that overrule or ignore the advice of the internal social media evangelist(s).   I can’t imagine that a major brand would pick someone out of his mom’s basement or elevate someone who is completely compliant or clueless about listening and building social media-based dialogue with stakeholders.  I could be wrong, though, because you can’t fix stupid.

So with that out of the way, like many of us who have worked in social media before it was called social media, what do you do when you run into roadblocks and brick walls- mindsets on the part of clients, or harder, internal bosses that either ignore the good advice you have given them, are afraid of it, ignore it, or simply veto it?

There are zero easy answers and perhaps the clearest answer depends upon how much you are invested in your job, your brand or its place in your corporate or client’s communication program.  In short, how hard do you fight, and how?  Having found myself in this situation many, many times, I’ve come up with some suggestions that may help you from going insane when you know you are right but simply can’t get decision-makers to listen.

I covered part of this is a much snarkier post I wrote in November 2008 entitled “How to Sell Social Media to Your Dumbass Boss.”  Some of the precepts I laid out I still believe are true, but having gone from client work to in-house, my views have evolved somewhat.  Here’s my advice when you hit the social media reluctance brick wall:

  1. Like any good social media program, your first task is to listen.  Before you tip your hand too much in the direction you want to go, give a “soft sounding” to the person who can either be an ally or an obstacle. Determine what her objections are likely to be and think carefully about how to refute them.  But like a good lawyer, when you are building your case, think carefully about the evidence presented and how you will react to this.  And this is only internal listening.  To the extent that you can, listen to those who are important to your clients or your organization, and find out what they are interested in and from where they get their information.
  2. When and where possible (and this is perhaps the most important point of all), get a commitment/dedication to social media as part-and-parcel to your organization’s efforts from the most senior person you can.  Think about it:  legal will want to own it, IT may well want to own it if you are building in-house tools, your communications shop will want to own it, and higher-ups will want to parachute in at the last minute and offer meaningless advice (and I have gotten this one day prior to a site launch) “Black just isn’t really a business color. Change it.”   All of this means that there will be some refereeing that needs to take place and the more senior level commitment you have, the better chances you have to move in the right direction.  Frankly put:  if you are going to get into a pissing match with people who want to own the social media function, have a big person who has your back.
  3. Be a teacher first and an evangelist second.  My experience has been that the more senior people are in an organization (and I mean internal and external clients), the more removed they are from truly understanding how you can augment, extend and improve your organization’s communications efforts through a good social media program.  This is not true in all cases, but (insert eye-roll here), “my daughter has the Facebook” is actually a teaching moment.  This is an opportunity to point out that personal and business social media accounts have different objectives, purposes and desired outcomes.  This may not always work, but if you find a generational gap, you have the opportunity to have what we used to euphemistically call a “teaching moment.”  Not all teaching sticks, however.Also, when you are teaching, remember to use benefit-oriented statements and language that people will understand.  When you introduce or explain Twitter, an explanation of “a micro-blogging platform with a 140 character limit” will ultimately result in a glazed over look, especially if you are dealing with a knowledge or generation gap.  Something that may lead to more success would be a statement like “Twitter is a place online where people can follow us and hear what we have to say.  And we can link back to our Web site, drawing more traffic.  Plus, it’s free.”
  4. Know thine enemy.  You know it’s coming.  You have seen it.  Like a monster who hides in the closet or under your bed, higher-ups who either are afraid to try or expand on or begin with social media, don’t understand it or are just plain obstructionist, you are going to get the “What’s the ROI on this?”  Suppress your instinct for the eye roll and try explaining that some things can be measured while others cannot.  “Return on investment” is in and of itself a vague term.  What is a return?  A sale?  An impression?  A plate of pasta? Once that is out of the way, one of the hardest conversations to have and get across is that not everything can be measured. Listening, creating feedback, engaging in dialogue may or may not be measurable. This is tricky.  If you are pressed,  and especially working in-house, I use the (ducking here) metric of cost per contact.  I take the total expenditures of something that I measure divided by the number of measureable interactions.  This is a slippery slope because a Web site visit does not mean engagement – you know it and I know it- but if someone wants a statistic, give them a bone to chew on.  And gently suggest that in something like marketing, it’s also very difficult to make a direct connection between building awareness and relationships – and making a connection to sales.  When I was teaching, I hammered home the point that the difference between public relations and marketing is that marketing is about generating revenue.  Both are about building awareness, but marketing, like social media, is hard to tie to a statistic.
  5. Begin with baby steps.  If you don’t already have a big-time social media program, start small.  Try a Twitter account (easily measureable for those who crave statistics).  Nothing succeeds like success, so find a platform that works for you that is discreet and upon which you can build success.
  6. If competitors and doing it right, point this out as well.  Competitors mean competition, and if your competition is building an online profile that demonstrates success, this is a good argument too.
  7. Finally (and I could go on and on on this topic), know when to say “when.” Sometimes, you are simply not going to make headway.  This is something that I hear from my friends all of the time who have tried the above tactics and more and are left with an empty arsenal and a gun in their mouths.   You have a couple of choices.  You can bear it and try other ways (other internal clients or other agency clients to focus on), or you can go nuts.  And if you are going nuts from frustration, go home and look yourself in the mirror and ask if it’s worth it.  I get that it’s still a bad economy and that changing jobs is risky, but there are enough studies to show that stress causes illness.  Is it really worth it?  Ask yourself this very difficult question and consider getting the hell out of Dodge and on to somewhere will you have the resources and support you need to be successful.

Like Porky Pig said, “that’s all, folks.”  Please feel free to add more of your suggestions in the comments.




  1. Great post–I would add just one thing–find a support network. Social media/community management jobs are a dime a dozen these days and I’d venture to guess that most people in this role are experiencing these frustrations at least some of the time. This role is so new that the people hiring for it may well be the very same ones who then throw the roadblocks in your way, or second-guess the need for you to do exactly what they hired you to do in the first place. But take comfort that the same scenario you’re experiencing is being played out all over the world in companies either just like the one you work for, or even nothing like the one you work for. It doesn’t matter if you work for a progressive company, a stodgy one, a nonprofit, a for-profit–the same thing is happening everywhere and there,as social media managers all over the globe can attest to. Find some, either online or offline, and commiserate. You’ll be surprised how comforting it can be to swap stories with people who are experiencing the same issues you are.

    And set a threshold for #7–decide at what point you will just say “when” and realize that you need to get yourself into a healthier situation. Is it when you’ve gained 10 pounds from the combination of stress/being glued to the computer 24/7? Is it when your relationships with friends/spouse/kids start to deteriorate? You only live once–don’t waste it on a job that’s making you miserable–despite what the headlines scream every day, there ARE other jobs out there.

  2. I’m with Maggie on the support group, sympathy and empathy are valuable friends when it is time to say “when”. Nice post, and I really liked the title, “How to Sell Social Media to Your Dumbass Boss”…..might want to drag that back out. Or at least send it to someone I *might* be able to recommend.

  3. Wow..thanx for the good post..keep it up…By the way, I recently read a great post by Andrew Hunt about the lead generations we all could learn from Steve Jobs, The 3 B2B Lead Generation Lessons I Learned From Steve Jobs, check it out

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