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9 Ways To Convince The CEO To Use Social Media and Enter The 21st Century

Social Media 7In a recent post on my blog I listed “28 Reasons Why The CEO Is Afraid Of Social Media” which received comments from around the world from consultants and advocates within companies, about their experiences and the feedback they had received from management and CEO’s, including an aside from a reader from Romania who sent me a message on Twitter “@jeffbullas ..Your article was a trauma therapy for me. You wouldn’t believe the bullheadedness of Romanian CEOs”.

So here are some tips, hints and resources to assist you in convincing “Management To Enter The 21st Century?” … do I hear the sounds of kicking and screaming from the boardroom?

Note: This can be used if you are an external consultant to a company or if you are trying to convince your management to embrace the “New Digital Age”.

 1. Scare Them Two Ways

  • Ask them for 5 keywords or phrases that potential customers would use to find their/your company in a search engine, and then provide a brief report showing them the results of their ranking in Google, and ask a simple question, like, ” Did I find you on page one of Google?” ( the answer is mostly “NO”). So the best question to ask them next is, “How are they going to find you then  ..the yellow pages?”


  • Grade the website against two competitors (do more than two if you like… and the CEO’s ego cannot handle the competition kicking their ass), there is a free tool that I would recommend you use, which grades their website as marketing tool for being “found online” and uses a proprietary blend of over 50 different variables, including search engine data, website structure, approximate traffic, site performance, and others, it’s the Website-Grader from Hubspot. In most cases the website will seriously rank poorly against the competition ( I have had companies obtaining a grading of 4 out of a 100, with the competition  scoring 70’s and 80’s !!) 

Note: I can guarantee you that you will NOW have their attention… seriously!!! …the CEO’s ego cannot handle the competition kicking their butt

2. Show Them Evidence (Case Studies, Surveys and Best Practices) of Companies Using Social Media Successfully. 

Here are three for reference

  1.  Survey Reveals:  The Top 5 Social Media Channels Companies Are Using
  2. Report Reveals: 15 Best Practices of Social Media Implemented by the Top 100 Brands
  3. Marketing Trends Report 2009:  Where does Social Media Stand?

Lee Odden of Top Rank Blog lists two examples of a companies obtaining significant results using Social media and SEO.

1.  ‘Smart Kit”  at  6 months had little traffic but then achieved the following with Social Media and SEO

  • Using SEO and Social Media increased traffic to the site by 4,400%
  • 23,614 inbound links
  • 300,000 visitors a month
  • Now sells advertising on the site as well as products

2. “Jando Fabrics”  using Linking and SEO achieved

  • 5,332 Inbound Links
  • 60 plus Google Top Ten rankings including “Fabric Store”
  • Search Delivers 80% of Website Traffic
  • Reduced Marketing spend
  • Increased sales

3. Show Them Facts and Figures of the Size and Scope of Social Media

The Reach and Scope of Social Media

  •          Facebook: Over 200 million members and 80 billion monthly page views (Techcrunch)
  • Twitter: It now has over 44 Million unique visitors a month (according to Comscore)
  • YouTube: Over 100 Million visitors in March and over 13.8 Billion video views in March alone (YouTube report)  
  • LinkedIn: Over 16 million unique visitors a month with a a very affluent demographic where the average user is 39 and makes $139K ayear and over 500,000 C-level members (Quantcast)
  • MySpace: Just under 100 million visitors a month and 43 Billion page views (Techcrunch)
  • Digg: More traffic than the New York Times with 23 million unique visitors a month and 4.5 billion pages views (Techcrunch)
  • Blogs: Over 5 million blogs are tracked by Technorati, the “Bible” of Blogs with 600,000 being corporate blogs (Technorati)
  • Wikipedia: Nearly 63 Million Unique visitors June 2009 (Compete)

Note: If you want to look at some really interesting numbers have a look at (Future Marketing Trends at FutureBuzz.com)

4. Buy Them a Book (“The New Rules Of Marketing and PR” – Author “David Meerman Scott” ) – Note: You do need to read it first yourself of course

5. Use the Website Grading as a Baseline Measurement so you can show them the improvement to their website ranking as they take the journey of being found online through Social Media and SEO.   

6. Get Them To Take One Small Step –  eg “Start A Marketing Blog”

  • This can be as simple as recommending they take their offline content and repurpose it for online content and put up a regular blog post once a week of 400-500 words, ( Most organisations have  content that can be taken online with very little effort). 
  • Also suggest they choose a person with a real passion for the business and a lot of knowledge to share, who likes writing.

7. Make It Easy for Them

Give them some free time (or build that into the proposal pricing) to sit beside them and help them get started so they feel they are not alone.. remember fear of the unknown can be be a a major stumbling block to taking action. 

8. Give Them Enough Reasons to Make it Compelling

Social Media will add to and enhance the following

  • Reputation Management – People are talking about you online, whether you choose to listen or not.
  • Customer Service –  Social media customer service is the new (800) number.
  • Public Relations – Social media enables you to take your message to customers directly.
  • Customer Acquisition –  Market sideways. Features and benefits are too boring to work in social media.
  • Create Brand Communities – Activate your fans and give them something to do. Don’t just collect them like baseball cards.
  • Thought Leadership –  Everyone in the world has expertise. What’s yours, and how to you distribute it?
  • Networking – Social capital belongs to individuals, and is loaned to brands. You can use social networking to develop relationships online that you’d be unlikely to have otherwise.

9. Sign your boss up to listen: by

Setting up Google Alerts and TweetBeep for your boss/ or the CEO, so she or he can see that there are already many discussions about your organization going on online.  Once this apparent, two things are likely to happen.  First, it will become clear that your organization no longer controls your message online – so worrying about social media causing a lack of control is not worth fearing.  That day is already here.  Second, it will be hard not to want to join those conversations online – which is what web 2.0 engagement is all about. 

Important Takeaway: Remember to finish the conversation with management that Social Media needs a long term approach: To build community, distribute content, or get people actively involved in an application takes time. Marketing and PR work on short time frames and are wedded to sets of individual campaigns or short term objectives. Social media is not a campaign, it’s a permanent approach

So what methods have you applied to convince the CEO to engage Social Media? 

Let me know if any of the above tactics produce results. I would love to hear your story.

Jeffbullas's Blog


  • We really focus on your point #1, not to scare them specifically but to bring home the reality that while companies and senior executives may feel “they are not ready yet” that is irrelevant to their customers who are out there in the social web making buying decisions.

    The statistics are also helpful motivators of course. But nothing motivates like a Social Media Assessment which reports factually on what is happening with a company’s name, brands, products, customer, partners, and competitors in real spaces and places in the social web. This is when the conversation stops and the grating of teeth and shuffling of feet starts.

    Regarding reading material, we try to avoid books which focus on social media as just another channel for marketing or PR etc. That’s the common thought which greatly narrows and even misdirects its potential. We prefer examples from broader corporate opportunities as you say in point #8 and especially those which focus on the total customer experience as the core objective. It’s easy to be pushed back into marketing and channels and “branding” and campaigns as that’s 99% of what’s being pushed at the executives.

    Older books, such as The Cluetrain Manifesto, and Communities Dominate Brands (2005) and even Cialdini’s Persuasion, or The Loyalty Factor are better options than one with a narrow focus on the application of current social media tools.

    We agree that if the decision-makers have some experience of the media and the tools then it makes life much easier. It’s hard to teach someone how to ride a bike if you have never ridden one.

    I went to an AIMIA session in Melbourne on social media given by a PR “guru” and it turned out, as we found during question time, that he did not even have a Twitter account. You could argue, as he did, that you don’t need to experience social media in order to make business decisions about it, but it sure helps if you are aware of the nature of the beast.

    Walter Adamson @g2m
    Social Media Academy, Australia

  • ted

    What is the purpose of using fear tactics to deliver a message to a CEO? To scare them into action or challenge their egos?

    Here is a suggested approach if your goal is for CEO’s to embrace the idea of developing a social media strategy – which should be step one before implementation.

    Align your social media discussion with the mission of the organization. Help the CEO answer in his/her mind, how is the strategic and tactical use of social media going to either increase profit, decrease costs and/or increase client satisfaction. Ultimately, a CEO cares about money in their pocket.

    Communications people need to think like a CEO which is the target market in this scenario. Understand CEO’s true needs, align the discussion with these needs, and you will find yourself in stronger position to present a business case that has a chance of moving forward.

    Communications people – you may be the expert in your field, but you are not the target market for your message in this scenario.

    • @ Ted
      I have to agree with Ted on this one. I did everything Ted and some of what the original post said with a client and nothing worked.

      I had a client– one dealing in a creative industry.
      A VP/ Sales came to me via referral from a friend for a re-tool of their website (which it sorely needed).
      The VP liked me and sent me to the VP/Creative..
      and we had 1 – 2 hour conversation, a shorter conversation, emails exchanges,then a meeting of 2 hours (one of which I should not have been present at all.)
      The second hour was with a small group of staffers explaining that I could make any site he wanted but to get more selling value from it, it needed certain things and social media would help him.

      While the CEO strongly disagreed that any one would find him on the web from a youtube commericial or a facebook page, he did want someone to be able to google him and he did see the need for case studies (as did I). I sent an ammended proposal and what he wanted was a quick turnaround, great quality and a reasonable price. (
      what’s that saying — you can choose only two)

      This CEO would not have appreciated intimidation and disrespect from me by showing him how poorly his company website was– despite his really remarkable company was and is a leader in their industry.

      Another 2 hour conversation with VP/Creative and I never heard from them again– a mixed blessing based on the time I gave them for free as well as an outline of what the site should be like).

      The site is somewhat like my original suggestions and had NO case studies and it had one video that was over 5 minutes long featuring all the highlights of all the work with NO video/audio voice-over.
      No text to explain it.
      It was sleek, straightforward and boring. They didn’t get the point across that they were creative dynamos.

      There was no way to convince this man and I am sure that the reason why his current (new) website looks so blah is because the company of his choice didn’t stress anything about the need for social media because he was not convinced by anyone in the company (his or outside companies) of the need. He was adamant that no video, no facebook or twitter connection would ever bring him any business. Well neither will his website because it has no sales tools embedded in it.

      He got what he paid for– and if he paid more than $15 k he got robbed.

      Getting into this man’s face would not have done anything except give me a bad rep. Embarressing him and showing him his lack of social media/web 2.0 savvy would not have solved this basic lack of understanding and his refusal to open up to new ideas– which I find amazing given his industry and company is entirely based on creative ideas.

      The comparisons with other companies would only have alienated him. Showing him, talking to him, and I knew his key words, and he still didn’t understand the need.

    • I have to side with Ted on this as well.
      The path to a CEO agreeing is aligning with his agenda, not yours.

  • Jamie Moody

    Great post. Very helpful and timely. Thank you!

  • laurawynn

    Love love love it. Hit on the struggles faced by those of us transitioning from traditional marketing to social networking and trying to bring the decision makers with us! Thanks so much. And thanks, again, to @ShellyKramer for sharing this via Twitter!

  • Not using social media is like still using dial up to access the Internet at your company. Companies have got to adopt this technology for at least one main reason: You’ve got to monitor (and manage) what everyone is saying about you!! Lots of case studies pointing to what happens when you don’t. Can you say “Dominos Pizza?”

  • @CharityHisle

    I loved this! Thank you! I think this is also good advice for those marketing social networking services.

  • Jeff

    Really great post. Brought back many memories from the past when I was selling business to business social media strategy, technology, and services. One important thing I would add is to be prepared to succingtly answer the question “If we endorse it, what will we achieve in the short and long term?” You may only get one shot – be prepared.

    Very useful post. Thanks for sharing.

  • Great article! I think this is a great strategy and makes a lot of sense.

  • Really great and simple approaches. I think the scaring and ego approach is the absolute best way to start off. There is little that motivates senior management than the thought of missing out on revenue and customers or being beaten by their competition.

  • @ted, the approach you suggest, as an alternative to “scaring” makes sense and in fact I think all those points are well understood and employed. The question is more about what to do when all these types of left-brain approaches are exhausted and there is no “go ahead”?

    (I’m thinking about larger organisations here, both business and government.) People with real business and organisational experience, who should be the ones proposing and helping with a true social media strategy (meaning not the “smartest” person from the Agency) understand that getting buy-in is an art. For something risky, you want to just get to the CEO NOT SAYING NO. Expecting endorsement is generally unrealistic, that’s not how the politics work. Then, if you have an “ok” your success depends on the team and support and buy-in and motivation and rewards of the people you pull together to make it happen. This is the layer at which real buy-in has to happen.

    FUD Fear Uncertainly and Doubt has been in existence as long as IBM to get an OK from someone who is wavering on the left-brain logic. In social media there is ample opportunity and even need for some shock and awe to get people across the line of not saying NO. It’s just part of a kitbag of tools to mobilise complex cross-functional projects, nothing wrong or sinister, and then if the facts and alignment and logic are asked for you must also have those on hand.

    @jeff social media strategic results don’t happen in the short term. If you set that expectation you will fail. In fact by creating short-term “success” which is buzz, and then seeing the reality that nothing of value has changed to the business, you set the scene for business failure in social media. You do not create customer equity value in the short-term, nor build a compelling customer experience, not brand depth, not employee motivation, transparency, and skills in social media as an integrated business process and asset. It takes time. It can be measured, but it still takes time effort and resources – that’s why a proper plan is required.

    If you are talking about a twitter campaign for dry cleaners, that CAN work quickly and simply, and can also fail quickly and ignominiously, so a little care and planning is also needed.

    Walter Adamson @g2m
    Social Media Academy, Australia

  • Cortney Rhoads

    I found this blog post really interesting. Getting the CEO on board is important but if they are not ready to become a star blogger (or engage in any way as is often the case and the scare tactics are not an option) it doesn’t mean the company should bury its head in the social media sand. One idea (to start off slower) is to capitalize on an existing industry niche the company plays in and create a social media strategy for that industry within the larger company. The head of the practice or industry group can blog about issues germane to the company’s core messaging but also start engaging as an industry/service expert, listen to people, start a twitter feed etc. etc. All of this as Walter @g2m points out takes time, as anyone who interacts in this world already knows. But it is an important point to make with CEOs and other senior leaders – just like marketing, PR, advertising; you build a presence over time. Just because social media is lighting fast doesn’t mean your presence there should be. All of my clients are B2B so that is the world I live in. The CEO may be more comfortable with starting his/her own foray into social media after seeing what social media can do for the company, and some of his/her senior team members.

  • CEOs who are not aligned to a social media strategy need data and facts to guide them to make an informed decision. Jeff, I think you are spot-on and agree that you need to provide compelling reasons for the CEO. But as an executive coach who as worked with man y many executives, I’ve seen up close and personal one very powerful strategy: alignment to their vision.

    When you can show that a social media strategy not only can accelerate growth but also bring the CEO’s vision closer to reality, you’re in like flint! Great post!
    Loraine Antrim, Co-founding partner, Core Ideas Communication

  • Jeff,
    Do you think it’s imminent that corporations who are successful in their social media strategy will have to expand to have a SM dept.?

  • Would like to include your post on our site http://www.socialmediadj.com under business..
    How could we do that?

  • Very comprehensive. I especially enjoyed number 6) Take one small step. In my experience most senior staff members are afraid of what they don’t know which comes across as “because I don’t know about this I don’t need it.” Getting executives to dip their toe in social media is a great approach to getting them to engage it.

  • I presented on this topic – “Why CEOs Are Scared of Social Media” – at IABC World conf in San Francisco in June 09. As part of a 2.5hr session, I used this clip to illustrate the rise in techs and attitudes of Web2.0 stakeholders – sure helps scare C-suite types:
    Good work, Gerry

  • Great post Jeff. Here’s is our take on it. A video response on Vimeo.

  • Ouch! Thanks for a great post but I work for a Yellow Pages company.

  • Jeff,
    you complied a great list of action items here, i appreciate it. I will be speaking in San Diego in October to 40 CEO’s and will share this post with them. keep up the great work!

  • Bill C

    Interesting post, the only thing I see missing is that it doesn’t address two key factors from the original post (It is detrimental to employee productivity and security risks). Of the two, the selling part I’m having a hard time selling is the addition of security risks. The weak response by sites such as Facebook and Myspace in failing to take responsibility for 3rd party apps and the possible inadvertent posting of company sensitive information are hard sells around here. Under employee productivity, it isn’t so much an issue of allowing them to do it on company time (because we already allow web access for a number of reasons), but the increase in costs due to bandwidth being spent on social media. If you could point to studies that deal with security risks and how to deal with them in social media and ways to ensure bandwidth isn’t taken away from critical projects by employee overuse of social media it would be great.

    # Security risk

  • Very good article and great comments. From the sales perspective the one approach may not work for for everyone its horses for courses, some CEO’s will require the softly softly approach and some will need the the big stick, show them their google ranking and how they compare to their competitors and ask them what their ROI is (Return on Ignoring)?

  • Well, this is all just bullshit, isn’t it? Of the 95% of businesses that are classified as small, how many have any need whatever for social media? Answer: virtually none.

    Where is the thinking of writers like this coming from? Do they really think the local dress shop has any use at all for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or any of the other social environments when it comes to selling their local product? Again, the answer is: no.

    All I ever see is copywriters, bloggers and speculators spouting the same rhetoric – get on the social bandwagon.. blah, blah, blah… bullshit.

    For the time I would spend writing a stupid blog that no one in my town would read, or posting on Twitter again for nobody in my town, I could be out using traditional newspaper, local portals, email blasts to get a hundred times the response.

  • Jeff;
    Another great post – thanks. To Jason who thinks it’s all BS, I would say that it depends on your business. A small mom and pop store who depends on passersby for its trade – sure, why would they waste time on a Social Media Marketing (SMM) campaign. But if you want to do business on the net, or use the net to attract visitors to your site so you can sell the the now identified prospect in more traditional ways, you had best get involved in not just SMM, but SEO, too, and perhaps even some PPC.
    But I believe the single biggest impediments to SMM adoption by any executives, is ROI, or rather the inability to calculate it. We all know social media marketing is a time consuming activity, and if, as you should, you involve your executives in the campaign, it’s important to measure precisely what its contribution is. Well here’s some good news.
    There are ways to calculate the ROI of social media campaigns, online marketing campaigns, and even your website as a whole. These approaches sacrifice 100% accuracy for simplicity. They work well enough to use with confidence and because they’re easy enough to use, you’ll use them!
    These three posts reveal the methods and provide tools to put them into effect :
    1) How to calculate the ROMI of your website as a whole: http://bit.ly/6bFSvs
    2) A list of the 10 best free ROI calculators on the web: http://bit.ly/7fwBkF
    3) How to build your own ROI calculator (perhaps for your social media campaign): http://bit.ly/6IGZQh

  • masterpraz

    Great discussion here.

  • Very nice information, I think you just need to look at facebook, facebook is the number two site across the whole world and i think facebook maybe become number one ahead of the big google.

  • Julie Schlax-Patrick

    Great article encapsulating “ROI” as well as strategic steps for social media.
    Interesting to see how simple “mini: case studies work well for making the case.
    Still wondering about the numbers for social media i.e. smaller base but more influence or bigger base/more exposure/impressions. Does it depend on company type or content–interesting!
    Thanks for article!

  • Julie Schlax-Patrick

    Great article encapsulating “ROI” as well as strategic steps for social media.
    Interesting to see how simple “mini” case studies work well for making the case.
    Still wondering about the numbers for social media i.e. smaller base but more influence or bigger base/more exposure/impressions. Does it depend on company type or content–interesting!
    Thanks for article!

  • Thanks for the great tips. I think that for most (70% or more) executive teams, these steps will absolutely work, but there is another group of executives who will–no matter what evidence–will have an opposition to social media that borders on religion. Just like I could never convert someone from being Catholic to Jewish, there are just some executives who are so stubborn in their preconceived notions about Social Media that nothing will convince them.

    I wasn’t sure what to do when I ran into this situation, so I at least tried to joke about it–losing social media was kindof like losing a loved one, so I thought I would manage it the same way I would manage that sort of loss; I went through the five stages of grief. Maybe this post will make you smile if you are in a similar situation: http://internalsocial.com/what-about-when-the-executives-say-no

  • Nerissa Nadia

    Thanks for the advice, Jeff. I was led to your page by Erik Deutsch, my UCLA x425 professor (“Social Media Best Practices for Communications Professionals”). I am a communications assistant that works for an executive who is very resistant to social media and online networking. It’s taken several months of a forced Google Alert for him to even begin to submit to the fact that the internet has tons of content that he should really be aware of.

    I recently used your “Did I find you on page one of Google? // How are they going to find you then ..the yellow pages?” tactic on him. Although yes, I did find him on page one of Google in searching his name, adding “Contact info for [name]” produced zero findings. The yellow pages question produced a strange look, so I think the questions did plant a seed. I also look forward to the book you mentioned, The New Rules Of Marketing and PR – by David Meerman Scott. Thank you again.

  • Thanks for another insightful post Jeff! Using social media will one day be a no-brainer, but until then, using information like you’ve outlined is a great strategy to get ‘the powers that be’ on your page. Ultimately, I tell people that social media channels are your tools for relationship management – they give you the platform to be where your customers are, when they are there! Oh, and thanks for the tip on Tweetbeep – I’m going to try it out!

  • I really like what you said “There are many other angles a company could take once the door of thinking like a customer is opened.”

  • I really like what you said “There are many other angles a company could take once the door of thinking like a customer is opened.”

  • I tell people that social media channels are your tools for relationship management – they give you the platform to be where your customers are, when they are there! Oh, and thanks for the tip on Tweetbeep – I’m going to try it out!

  • I tell people that social media channels are your tools for relationship management – they give you the platform to be where your customers are, when they are there! Oh, and thanks for the tip on Tweetbeep – I’m going to try it out!

  • I am a communications assistant that works for an executive who is very resistant to social media and online networking. It’s taken several months of a forced Google Alert for him to even begin to submit to the fact that the internet has tons of content that he should really be aware of.

  • I am a communications assistant that works for an executive who is very resistant to social media and online networking. It’s taken several months of a forced Google Alert for him to even begin to submit to the fact that the internet has tons of content that he should really be aware of.

  • Thanks!  ALWAYS very helpful advice.  All these points are useful for helping me understand what I’m involved with, how to move forward, and for helping persuade my spouse that I’m not just killing time here.

  • All very good points and generally persuasive.  The arguments remind me of the mid nineties trying to convince CEOs about the importance of the internet – ie the burning platform syndrome.  And like the internet you have to marry the benefits and flexibility of the capability to the big challenges that a CEO is currently facing.  Ask a CEO what their top 3-5 goals are and then create a vision of how Social Media can bring value to any one of them, obviously the higher up the priority the more likely you are to be successful.  If you cant gain traction on those goals, seek out someone on his staff responsible for Business Development or Strategic Planning and work on their priority lists.  You can only get traction when the value proposition is visible.

  • TaukehKedai

    Yes, this is great. If presented properly to CEOs, they can be convinced because i know, if am the CEO, i am convince.

  • Motazhajaj

    you have no idea what you opened my mind to. thanks a lot

  • Motazhajaj

    you have no idea what you opened my mind to. thanks a lot

  • Alan

    Most meaningful, Jeff, (1) is all it took: I just showed the Marketing VP at a company what his 5 top competitors were doing with their web-site linking to Social Media…….I got a invite back to meet with his management team. THX

    • Thanks Alan, Great to hear stories like that.

  • Koustave

    Love ya like I love ya 🙂

  • Koustave

    Love ya like I love ya 🙂

  • Great content as always, Jeff! “CEOs take note…”