The single most important step a company can take along the path to becoming a social business is to designate a social business executive sponsor. In some companies, this might be the CMO. In others it could be the vice president of services or the chief customer officer, or even the CEO. The key is to find the most likeable, collaborative individual who has a large-scale influence. It need not even be an executive. 

Wherever the social business executive sponsor comes from, follow this five-step guide to not only help that person through their first 90 days, but to become a social business hero in the process. Be warned: this often involves a cultural change, so it may not be easy. There may be managers in the business whose natural instinct is to shut down any use of social media when they see it during working hours. The job of the social executive sponsor is to make the benefits of the social business crystal clear to everyone and instill a long-lasting collaborative social business culture. Here’s how to do that.


1. Create your vision

Start by taking time to learn the true meaning of the social business. You will need to live it, which can only happen through total immersion. Understand the success factors, the markers of social business DNA, and the need to focus on people.

Probing and listening to staff and coworkers will help you develop this vision. For example, when Denis Edwards began his CIO role at global public relations firm Edelman, he dedicated his first month to “100 percent learning.” This included conducting a survey to better understand expectations. Steve Gallagher, the newly-appointed CIO of Harvard, described how important it is to create a strategic vision as the first step toward leading with passion. 

2. Gain executive buy-in 

Christine Comaford stresses the importance of securing acceptance from the executive team in her book, SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together. The entire organization reads signals, spoken and visual, from the top. If an executive staff member has not completely bought in to the program, the direct reports will sense it. 

To be successful, the program needs commitment from all managers and all departments. Apply your horizontal influence to convert the executive staff into advocates. Spend time with each member to help them develop their staff training plans and to foster cross-departmental planning. Ask about and address any doubts they may have.

The allocation of resources in terms of expense budget and, perhaps more importantly, time budget, will provide evidence of high-level commitment. Managers need to communicate that it is important for employees to spend valuable time on social activities. Goals sheets should be revised to specifically incorporate social practices.

3. Launch it! 

Now that you have a vision and have gained the unwavering commitment from executive staff, you are ready for the program roll-out. Launching at an all-hands company meeting or via video conference can demonstrate just how important the program is. It shows that the commitment comes from the top and highlights how everyone is expected to participate. 

During the launch event, emphasize a social first attitude. Social communication tools and processes are much more than just “nice to have.” Get people away from turning to email first. As the organization’s leaders and innovators shift their communications from email to social tools, like Twitter, Chatter, and messaging, others will see the benefits and follow suit.

Use the launch event to articulate the tangible benefits of becoming a social business and set milestones. Include a schedule for follow-up training that consists of both prime-time sessions during regular business hours to reinforce the importance of the project, as well as lunch-and-learns.

4. Lead the charge 

The executive sponsor will need to continually articulate and track the benefits. Ideally, the results can be automatically updated daily in the form of a real-time dashboard and are visible to everyone. Show the alignment of social to business initiatives and growth drivers. Make the value unquestionable, both in the short term and the long term.

“Getting employees to adopt social tools is not like getting them to use the newest update to a word-processing program,” the MIT Sloan Management Review said in an article. “Adopting social technologies can often mean changing the way people work, and that means leaders need to invest time and effort in explaining the purpose and value of the new tools.” 

Take on the role of social business compass. Follow the advice of Mahatma Gandhi who said: “My life is my message.” Be accessible, visible, and approachable to executives and other staff who may have questions, concerns, or suggestions. Call attention to successes with personal praise, posts, and awards; business author Tom Peters recommends that you “celebrate what you want to see more of.”

As executive sponsor, you’ll need to employ a combination of enticement, cajoling, reward, and sometimes even force. Use all of your powers of influence to spread social business practices throughout your company, and watch the momentum build.

5. Scale and amplify 

Finally, expand the use of social processes both inside and outside the business. Spread the scope of your social business into your company’s ecosystem. Use your social media tools to get closer to both customers and suppliers. Remember that people want to buy from people, not robots-that is an important reason why you are a social business. Social communications should reflect the personalities of the individuals as well as the culture of the business. 

Show that the social business activities create a sustainable model and improve profitability.

Demonstrate your passion and always stay positive. Ultimately, if your executive sponsor is successful, social will be embedded as an integral part of the way your company does business.

Published on: Feb 25, 2014
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