Social Media Buy-in, Lead with the “Why”

Posted on October 3, 2012

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It’s been said that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. So the goal is not to connect with people who want what you have; the goal is to connect with people who believe what you believe. This isn’t my opinion. It’s a powerfully proven fact based on the study of the human brain, which Simon Sinek explains here.

Traditional advertising and marketing leads with the what, such as, “We make desirable cars with great gas mileage.” Then it moves to the how, such as “We do this with great engineers and the best materials.” If you’re lucky, you may get a why at the end, but the why really usually boils down to, “We want to sell you a car.”

Now we have evidence — science! — that says you’ll get a better response by leading with the why. Take any iPhone commercial for a good example of leading with the why. They start with why: “We believe there is always a better way, and we always aim to find it. We believe in thinking differently.” How: “Because we think differently, we marry cutting-edge technology with human intuition and beautiful design to create products that look and function like no other.” What: “We sell phones. Want to buy one?”

In social media, I’m not sure we’ve done a good job yet leading with the why when trying to get executive buy-in. You don’t have to look further than their behavior to see it. CEOs don’t think twice about hopping on the corporate jet to New York for a three-minute interview on national television, for which they’ve been media trained. The why has been communicated to them: If you can demonstrate leadership (through training) and broadcast your message to millions, in a medium they use and trust, that’s good for the company.

Yet the same executives don’t get social media training and won’t start a personal twitter account from which they could communicate to more than 550 million people from their phone while sitting at a fundraiser.  The why is pretty clear to most of us in the industry, but we’ve been leading with the what: Twitter, Facebook, and so forth.

It’s time for a serious rethink of how we sell social media. It’s time to flip the equation and get executives to the why first. We need serious education, not brown bag lunches that talk about how neat this new medium is. The most influential humans behind the brands must understand why social is relevant, critical even, to success of their companies.

So, you’re asking: Why? Why should companies and their executives invest time learning and using social communication? Here are my three why’s of social media.

  1. It saves money. This is always a good why to start with. And it’s not just savings on jet fuel for that three-minute TV spot. Reach versus investment is fundamentally different than any other medium. Research, customer service and traditional advertising allocations can be decreased.
  2. It’s safer than it seems. Executives like to point to all the news stories of brand-damaging social fails as reason to move cautiously. But I believe 90 % of the of the corporate social media crisis communications situations I’ve witnessed over the past five years could have been prevented if proper education was provided.
  3. Better communication enhances company culture. A socially communicating company is one in which, employees are happier and more productive. Social media allows people to expose their ‘why’ to co-workers and connect with other co-workers who believe what they believe.

Leading with the why will get executive buy-in, then they can start using social channels to lead with the why to their customers. Social is in some senses the perfect channel for leading with why because it’s a channel that demands a human touch. Social users are wary of inauthentic, robotic communications. Explaining why is more human, which may explain why we tend to favor hearing that first. Which tweet seems more genuine, the one that tells you what a car’s gas mileage is and when it’s on sale, or the one from the executive who explains why he’s excited that the company is moving to more eco-friendly engines?

The question stands: Why should companies and their executives invest time learning and using social communication?

Because consumers want to know why they should they trust you before they’ll buy what you’re selling. Social media delivers the answers in the most scalable, efficient way.  That’s why.

repost from HBR, by Amy Martin

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Posted in: Social Media