Tell them a story.

Susan Evans is the director of creative services for the senior strategic communication team at the College of William & Mary. 

Sometimes, executives don’t understand the power of social media but it’s our job to tell them a story using powerful examples.

To be frank, my 2010 list of frustrations included the blank stares I sometimes received when sharing social media statistics with executives at a meeting. During a homecoming recap, I recall offering through-the-roof stats that proved that our alumni were engaging in homecoming from afar through views of Flickr photos, Tweets using a homecoming hashtag and Facebook comments. I didn’t get the reaction I expected. In retrospect, I know that raw numbers about communication channels you don’t use aren’t compelling.

Without miracles, evangelizing internally about your institution’s social media strategy requires a long-term perspective that includes patience. (Although possession of a burning bush to influence the campus skeptics and non-believers is an appealing daydream.)

At the risk of taking the evangelist analogy too far, I respectfully suggest that 1) A prophet was not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house and 2) parables increased understanding.

Do I have your attention now?

To be clear, my external presentation of William & Mary’s social media strategy is always a simple case to make. I have offered presentations about social media at three national conferences and I’m regularly contacted about the internet campaign approach used by William & Mary during our mascot search. When speaking about my university’s use of social media, it’s an easy sell: I set up the business problem, talk about the strategy, mention integration of channels and ultimately lead the audience or interviewer through a case study that includes results tied to the use of social media channels.

At meetings on campus (…in my “own country”), it’s not so easy. First, I’m not operating as an outside expert speaking to an intentional audience. Second, and here’s the most challenging part, I’m often attempting to convince individuals who don’t use social media tools. They are supportive. They know what the tools are, they even know they matter, they just don’t have a concrete picture of what I’m talking about.

In my view, it’s our job to explain social media, with patience and a measure of passion. I still have the charts and graphs about interactions and impressions. But accompanying them now are the stories (…”parables”) that come from concrete examples. In my 2011 meetings, I speak about the early decision student who posts, “I’ll be in the parade next time!” on the William & Mary Facebook page, or the alumna who retweets our link adding her own endorsement of a game photo viewed by thousands.

Repetition of messages is standard practice for achieving communication goals. That consistent repetition works internally and externally my friends. Evangelize! Be a social media storyteller.

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