Will Harris: How to make your boss like Facebook

Will Harris
Will Harris

Working for a chief executive that hates Facebook is a tricky situation, but clever communications management can tackle the problem, writes Will Harris.

Q: My chief executive loathes Facebook (one of her kids has been bullied on it, she says). She wants us to 'do a General Motors' by pulling our paid activity on the site and telling the press. However, Facebook has been a cost-effective direct response tool for us. Also, I don't want to lose face with the marketing and agency community.

A: Your situation calls from some old-fashioned communications planning. Your boss is destined to be the poster child of social-media advertisers; she just doesn't know it yet. That hoary old maxim that all business decisions are a product of either fear or greed can help you here.

First the fear. Act as though your boss is a visionary. Use the word that all business leaders find unsettling: describe the decision as 'brave'. You need to create the aura that this lone soothsayer, your boss, is moving against the consensus that says the modern way to influence people is through their friends. That this social-media thing is a fad that will soon blow over.

Of course, one of the unintended consequences of her farsightedness is that your marketing effectiveness and return on investment will fall. Still, as they say in cheesy management books, the pioneers take the arrows.

Start referring to it as a 'suspension' of Facebook advertising; 'pulling' something is more permanent.

Now for the greed. My next advice may sound obvious, but arrange a meeting with the people at Facebook. Tell them what has happened. Ask them to quietly blackball the mindless thugs that are terrorising your boss' daughter. They may squeal at this, but it is a commercial organisation, and it needs all the advertising dollars it can get.

Next, ask them to invite her to one of their conferences, or, better still, a reception at Number 10. The access these guys have is phenomenal – turn it to your advantage.

Ideally, you'd follow it up with a one-on-one media interview. With smart communications management, you can probably paint your boss into a corner of positive engagement with the social-media debate. She will emerge as the champion for the rights of the bullied on social media, and you can regain control of your marketing budget.

Will Harris is a former marketing director for Nokia in the UK and Asia region. He was the first marketing director of the Conservative Party and launch marketing director of the O2 brand.

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