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A Guide to Leading Social Media Marketing Across the C-Suite

by Peter Friedman

Last year I went down to Miami to an annual summit of global chief marketing officers. Working with these CMOs and aspiring CMOs, I was impressed. They all believed in the value of social media long-term, engaged relationships with customers to produce a rich value chain: real-time marketing and insight, higher-quality, yet lower-cost customer service and support, and long-term revenue growth. Ten, even five years ago, such a group of CMOs would not have looked at the world this way – despite the fact that social media marketing has been a tool for commerce since the days of the medieval marketplace.

But I also heard their frustration in trying to plan and implement social strategy in companies where the business culture wasn’t quite there yet. Making things worse, even though they “got it,” many of them were marketing veterans without specific backgrounds in social media. That made it difficult to have the confidence and knowledge needed to lead their respective organizations in meaningfully changing the nature of business as usual—a problem I see across the C-Suite. These CMOs wanted to strategize about and execute social media, essentially a relationship marketing effort, in an environment focused on short-term impulse campaigns. Finally, they felt challenged to define key performance indicators (KPIs) and measure social media, let alone reach an ROI.

Meanwhile, “the success or failure of [digital] programs ultimately relies on organization and leadership, rather than technology considerations,” as the lion’s share of 850 C-level executives told McKinsey in a 2013 survey. Overwhelmingly, CEOs and company teams are looking to CMOs for that leadership, but success ultimately requires collaboration and culture change across the organization.

Social media is the tool that allows you to hear, drive, and leverage the customer’s voice at a greater scale than ever before, and then, in the best of cases, help the company and the product become that voice. Ultimately this process will reorganize your entire company around the customer, an orientation that will soon be required for a company to compete.

I have worked with clients operating in businesses with massive cultural and institutional bias against social—including even major regulatory hurdles that they’re powerless to change—who have still created big wins from their social media marketing. You can start small, and build. Showing results is how you start building consensus around broader cultural and organizational change.

Who Leads Social in the Organization?

The days are long gone when marketing could be reduced to “the guys who make the ads.” The modern CMO isn’t thinking about ad spots so much as marketechture, the delicate engineering of the myriad ways a company orchestrates the integrated customer experience across products, marketing communications, channels, and employees. Social media is the opportunity to integrate all these pieces into a consistent, persistent brand experience for your customers.

Marketing doesn’t have to completely own social, but it should lead social on behalf of your company. It may be only the marketing department that’s thinking about social right now. It may even be only you who’s thinking about social. But that’s going to change, quickly. Social media ultimately will play a role in how each division develops strategy and makes decisions. In fact, for social to be truly successful, for your company to survive and thrive in the social era, every part of the business must be involved.

Even at that point, there will still need to be someone who takes leadership responsibility on behalf of the entire company. And that person is the CMO. The Social CMO is the executive who, on behalf of the C-suite, the company, and the customers, leads the organization in creating a social experience that delivers value to customers and in turn helps meet business goals. Creating that experience doesn’t happen at a desk, or in a spreadsheet, or on a whiteboard. It’s an experience that is ideally defined and developed at every stage through dialogue among and with the customers themselves.

Meanwhile, every executive has a role to play in helping the company become more customer-centric. What follows are a few big-picture strategies that pave the way for social to become core to your company’s operations.

  1. Communicate a social vision. Communicate to your employees, no matter what their function, that social is no longer simply a channel for marketing but a fundamental way for all employees of the company to get closer to customers. Every member of the company benefits when social is used successfully to better understand customers, learn from them, and build stronger relationships. To this end, take time in company meetings and newsletters to communicate the goals and activities of the social program.
  2. Shine a light on social wins. In the early days of a social program, gains are often incremental; it takes many months of development and measurement to demonstrate deeper impact. Take the opportunity to shine a light on every small win, so that everyone knows that the work is important. Most likely your company doesn’t yet have a framework to reward social wins. Its up to you to make sure that one is developed, and to celebrate the work of social at every opportunity in the meantime.
  3. Listen and take action. Show that you take real-time customer feedback seriously. Have the social team assemble the week’s top 10 social media touch points (these might be wins, issues, or trends) to review at your weekly executive staff meeting.  Then make sure everyone in the company knows you’re doing it. Setting this example is a strong way of communicating to all that your company is customer-centric. This is a best practice my team developed when we were at Apple and have since used with clients such as eBay. Every so often, pick a customer suggestion and act on it.

Once you get your company and customers thriving in social media, you’ll find that you can create more value working together with your teams and your customers than any of them ever could create alone.

We hope you enjoyed this adapted excerpt from The CMO’s Social Media Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide for Leading Marketing Teams in the Social Media World, by Peter Friedman. To read more, download a free PDF version, or buy the hardback or ebook via online booksellers.


About the Author

Peter Friedman is the CEO and Chairman of LiveWorld, and the author of The CMO’s Social Media Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide For Leading Marketing Teams in the Social Media World, from which this article was excerpted. @PeterFriedman

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