Get Leadership Buy-In for Using Social Media

Story 60 min
During the 2020 DINFOS Social Media Forum, SMSgt. Harry Kibbe and a panel of Air Force leadership discuss what it takes to gain the trust of leadership when building a social media strategy. Hear their unique experience and insights on gaining trust, providing analytics and embodying your leader's voice to apply to your own experience, regardless of your service.

Who are the panelists?

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SMSgt. Harry Kibbe, Public Affairs Superintendent for the 6th Air Refueling Wing, serves as the moderator for the session. He is joined by:

  • MSgt. Jared Denton, Public Affairs Advisor to the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force
  • MSgt. Antoinette Gibson, Public Affairs Advisor to the Senior Enlisted Advisor of the United States Space Force
  • MSgt. Nathan Parry, Public Affairs Advisor to the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force
  • MSgt. Natasha Stannard, 2nd Audiovisual Squadron Director of Operations and Training

What does getting leadership buy-in mean?

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The cornerstone of getting leadership buy-in is trust. When your leader knows that you will not lead them astray, you gain their confidence that your communication strategy is a worthy course of action. Trust is the cornerstone of everything, especially in social media. If you don't have trust with your boss, you won't have it with your audience.

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How do you gain trust?

Use these tips to gain the trust of leadership:

  • Be honest, respectful, and open to your leader's needs.
  • Get to know your leader. Get a pulse of what is important to them and develop a plan to get after it.
  • Keep in mind that it takes a lot of time to build trust and one mistake to lose it.
  • Be passionate about what you do to create excellent work. Create stellar products to help gain your leader's trust in what you or your team produces.
  • If you have a public affairs team, build trust within your team. Ensure the team understands their role in the bigger picture to keep them inspired and excited about the work they're doing.

How do you let the commander know you're on their team, especially if you are not in their chain of command?

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Help leadership understand you are a part of the team by:

  • Selling your team's skills and abilities to leadership.
  • Showing up at meetings to find out the commander's priorities.
  • Communicate the commander's priorities back to your team, so they reflect those priorities in their work.
  • Trust yourself and your team to bring forth bold communication efforts that reflect the commander's intent.

What does gaining trust look like in the civilian sector?

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In the civilian sector, the principles of gaining trust are essentially the same as those mentioned earlier. It is vital to understand the vector of the organization and how they communicate. Just as in the military, building trust takes time. You must educate yourself on and understand the priorities. It is essential to be open to the organization's needs, understand what they want, then get after it.

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How can data and analytics be used to gain leadership buy-in?

Use data and analytics to communicate the success or effectiveness of a social media campaign:

  • Define success metrics upfront that align with the commander's intent.
  • Provide your leader with a qualitative analysis of social media posts once the campaign is out there. Translate "creative" speak to "engineer" speak by looking at each social media post or campaign's quality.
  • Condition yourself and your team to look at supportive comments that get after the sentiment that the commander wanted to achieve. Avoid only providing a quantitative analysis of how many likes or comments are received on a social media post.
  • Be careful about cherry-picking comments to share with leadership. You will earn more trust if you can be balanced by sharing positive comments and owning up to the less favorable feedback.
  • Be mindful not to insert your feedback too soon when reporting the analysis to leadership. Provide your leader with space and opportunity to give you their perspective before you give your feedback.

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How important is it to learn your leader's voice?

Learning your leader's voice is one of the most important steps in gaining trust and getting buy-in for products. Use these tips to represent your leader's perspective accurately and develop courses of action that they can trust:

  • Research your leader to learn their voice. It's important to research in order to have a full understanding of your commander's intent.
  • Attend their speaking engagements or watch recordings to learn their voice.
  • Read your leader's social media posts to help you understand what they sound like and then apply it to your products. It is easier to get buy-in if the content you produce sounds like something they think, say, write or do naturally.
  • Reach out to former duty stations and get pointers on capturing their voice.
  • If you're working for a person from a different sex, race or ethnicity, such as a male working for a female, or a white person working for a black person, reach out to a friend to help figure out how to represent their voice. People see things from different lenses, so it's important to get those different perspectives to support the commander.
  • Keep in mind it's not about you. It's about the commander and the team.

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What are other things to consider that influence getting leadership buy-in?

Consider this additional advice to get leadership buy-in:

  • Understand and manage the talent of your teammates by knowing their capabilities. Have a solid person in mind for each of the potential wants and needs of a commander. For example, a video, an image, an infographic, a punny post, etc.
  • Create excellent products as a first step in gaining trust. Realize excellence is a moving target. For social media, excellence is impact. A work product that gets your leader's desired effect on the target audience is excellent work. It may not always be the cleanest video or professional quality video to get that impact.
  • Do your homework to ensure you are up to speed and learn your leader's perspective. Commanders are coming from data-driven backgrounds. Put in the legwork to be prepared to support them.
  • Be prepared to hear "no." When you want to do something bold, your leader may not be willing. Some leaders are more risk-averse than others. If they're saying "no," find out why to figure out their perspective. Find ways to ease their concerns and meet their intent within their comfort zone to help break down a barrier and earn trust. Take the time to understand where they're coming from with that "no" to get to the "yes."
  • Show up when the conversations are happening to learn your commander's voice. When working on products, you want to get it right the first time. Be at the table with the commander to understand their perspective to pass it on to the entire team. This will help you get it right the first time and gain credibility.

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To get your leader's buy-in, you must:

  • Do excellent work.
  • Do your homework/research.
  • Capture the commander's intent.
  • Show up to meetings.
  • Capture your leader's voice.
  • Get to know your audience.

It is essential to:

  • Know what other organizations are doing because if nobody else is doing something, there may be a reason. You can build upon success or avoid failure by finding out what others are doing or not doing and why.
  • Listen carefully to what your commander says and how they respond to questions during meetings to learn and understand what is important to them.
  • Keep your team inspired, motivated and wanting to do great work. Try to be the person that says, “yes." Foster their creativity by telling them there are no bad ideas, only unrefined ideas.
  • Tap into peers and leverage resources to get to where you need to be. Don't be afraid to reach out to your network with skills that can bring something greater than you’ve imagined.

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