What We Talk About When We Talk About Social Media

If you’re reading this post, you’ve undoubtedly had “the talk.”

No, this isn’t the discussion that includes the words “your services for the company are no longer needed” “it’s not you, it’s me,” or “I’m sure it happens to a lot of guys.”

Not that I’ve had any of these chats myself, of course. They’ve involved, um, a friend of mine. Yes, that’s it. A friend.

Rather, the talk I’m referencing is the one that all social media managers have with their superiors, the discussion where you have to share the impact–or Return on Investment (ROI)–of your work with the “powers that be.” While I have blogged about this topic in the past (see Making the Case: Explaining the Return on Investment (ROI) of Your Social Media Efforts”), this post will take a deeper dive into the actual meeting, or meetings, where you have to “talk the talk.”

And while these meetings can be stressful, they are also great opportunities to “sell” the merits of your work and get buy-in from those in your organization who may be skeptical about the benefits of social media.

Come Armed…with Data

I can–as I shared with a colleague the other day–talk all day about the merits of social media. I can provide numerous anecdotal tales of how this alumnus or that alumna engaged with me via Twitter, Facebook, or another social media channel. While these stories can be compelling, they are qualitative measures that can be easily dismissed by a skeptical audience as inconsequential, mere blips on the screen that don’t mean very much.

But there are some numbers that are difficult to challenge. With well-thought-out-data, it’s possible to make the case that social media is an essential part of your organization’s outreach efforts. I’ve included the type of data I collect as social media manager for the Harvard Business School’s alumni office below.



With this data, I can show how our social media efforts are 1) making an impact, based on how we are trending upwards in areas such as “total alumni interactions” and 2) something that can be measured in a quantitative way; that it is possible to gauge the impact you’re having in one, or multiple, social media arenas.

But my social media data is far from perfect. The question remains, “well, what does this data mean?” Unfortunately, this is a difficult question to answer. I can’t say with authority if my social media engagement resulted in more gifts to the university or higher attendance at an event, or events. The only way to uncover this particular information would be to survey my social media contacts or speak with them directly; both of these approaches would be very time-consuming and might not even provide the feedback I’m looking for.

But there are some ways to address this question of “data meaning,” and this is where qualitative measures can be useful. By tracking social media conversations (i.e., qualitative information), it’s possible to show that these engagements do mean something; namely that you’ve been successful in capturing the sustained attention of your audience.

Below are some examples of the qualitative measures I’ve used to make my social media case.






Examples like these, coupled with “hard data,” can go a long way in displaying the many benefits of social media engagement.

Have a Plan

When meeting with your superiors, it’s a good bet that you’ll be asked to provide a social media plan for the next six- to twelve-months. So, it’s essential to have a strategy in place before you meet. But where do you start? What makes for a compelling, long-term social media strategy? There’s no right or wrong answer to this question since every social media manager has different goals and objectives. But the important thing is to have some kind of plan.

For me, some of my long-term aspirations are as follows.

A) To reach 10,000 followers.

B) To determine which of our current 8,500 followers are alumni and then add those who are to the appropriate Twitter tracking list (for more on Twitter tracking lists see my post at https://robertbochnak.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/to-do-lists-staffing-and-a-whole-lot-of-strategery/)

C) To establish, if possible, a causal relationship between our social media activity and increased registration for alumni webinars and other events.

D) To increase our total alumni interactions by 10% each month.

C) To increase the number of individual alumni we interact with by 5% each month.

Keep an Open Mind

Will Smith was right, “parents just don’t understand.” Some social media managers may feel the same way about their supervisors when it comes to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media channels. But regardless of your assumptions–many of which prove to be incorrect–it’s important to go into social media meetings with the right attitude, one in which you’re open to the suggestions of those who may not work in a social space. Colleagues who produce or manage content, coordinate events, or interact with prospects can provide invaluable information and suggestions that can positively influence your approach to social media. On a personal level, counsel from colleagues have impacted events I’ve covered (e.g., suggesting specific speakers or panels to live-tweet from); posts I’ve shared on Facebook (e.g., one colleague suggested I post questions on Facebook related to the HBS experience, something which has led to an increase in “likes” and comments); and my day-to-day tweeting (e.g., co-workers have shared articles and other content I may not have found otherwise).

Was this post helpful? Is there anything I missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Robert Bochnak manages social media for the Harvard Business School’s alumni office. He’s also the former writer and editor of GradMatters: The Blog for Tufts GSAS. 

Follow Robert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RobertBoc.


3 thoughts on “

  1. Pingback: Social Media Matters

  2. Pingback: RT @RobertBoc: Post: “What We Talk About When We T… « Silence and Voice

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