If it feels like social marketers are still struggling to prove their worth, that’s because they are. Two years ago, social marketers had to prove they were a necessary business function. Thankfully, most of us have overcome that challenge. But now, we must showcase social as a true contributor to business growth—especially for the C-suite.

Consider how social media is often perceived as strictly an awareness and perception play or as having only a moderate impact on a company’s overall performance. We’ve all experienced executives who still believe that social media is only used for reposting blog content.

In reality, social media serves a number of business functions that directly impact growth. Data from The Sprout Social Index™ further illustrates the influence that social media has on a business’ bottom line. Our report shows 68% of consumers say their primary reason for following brands on social is to stay informed about new products or services. And nearly half (46%) of consumers follow brands to have access to exclusive deals or promotions.

But a lack of shared knowledge keeps social marketers and the C-suite operating in silos when they could be informing and complementing one another. To turn social media into a true growth engine, businesses need someone who has intimate knowledge of larger business objectives and also knows what insights can be extrapolated from social data. As someone who works with both the executive and social teams, my role as a marketing leader is uniquely positioned to begin bridging that gap.

Download The Sprout Social Index™

There’s more to social than meets the eye

At first glance, the correlation between top line business goals and social data seems like a long, winding road. On their own, Likes, Retweets and Shares might not mean much to the CMO focused on driving customer acquisition. Likewise, goals around increasing retention and upselling likely are difficult for social practitioners to see themselves in. As a marketing leader sitting between our executive team and our social team, it is my job to help my team contextualize their social data and illustrate how social impacts larger company-wide objectives. In other words, I serve as both the bridge and the translator between the executive and social teams.

Consider what an increase in customer messages can tell a brand about the quality of their products or services. Sprout research found 37% of people will message brands about customer service issues and almost half (49%) will unfollow brands because of poor quality of a product. On its own, a spike in messages received appears like a one-off occurrence. But in the context of a recent product or feature release, an increase in complaints could force social practitioners to look more closely at overall message sentiment and anecdotal feedback. Getting this type of real-time feedback and adjusting accordingly can make or break a business, not to mention a product launch.

It is my job to maintain a constant flow of information between social practitioners and the C-suite to ensure everyone has the insights they need to advance their objectives. Some of the questions I get from the C-suite around consumer sentiment, upcoming trends and more can be answered quickly using social data. But to get those answers, it’s on me to share with my team what the C-suite is looking for and to work with our social practitioners to distill their findings into the high-level insights our leadership team cares most about. It’s only after everyone is on the same page and understands one another that we can begin to work towards our larger company-wide goals.

But social teams need to know where to look

Educating the C-suite is only one half of the social growth engine equation. Getting the most out of your social data also requires teaching your social teams to think less like reporters and more like data analysts. From constant communication to encouraging facetime between social practitioners and the C-suite, here are three actions I’ve taken to help my social team to dig deeper into their social data:

Be transparent

Your social team won’t know how to start digging into their data if they’re kept in the dark. Make it a habit to share results, initiatives and any pivots in strategies you hear about from the C-suite with your social marketers on a regular basis. Not only is it good practice to keep your social team informed of what’s happening across the organization, it’s also a chance to show social marketers how other teams think about setting goals and measuring performance.

Empower teams to ask questions

Don’t just speak for your social team—enable them to ask their own questions by inviting them to meetings with executives and other members of the C-suite. Consider facilitating one-on-ones and information-sharing sessions so your direct reports can hear directly from your boss what their needs and priorities are. Not only will this boost your team’s visibility within your organization, it also gives social marketers a better sense of what objectives are top of mind for the C-suite.

Question everything

This might sound harsh, but constantly asking your social team to consider the business impact of an initiative will ensure all their strategies ladder up to the big picture goals set by the C-suite. How will your team’s social campaign support acquisition or retention efforts? Can we measure how our social efforts influence things like customer satisfaction or purchase intent? Challenge your social practitioners to think about the “why” behind the numbers to help them get in the mindset of always thinking about who their strategies impact.

Marketing leaders are bridging the gap

Social data is a powerful tool. From supporting your brand’s awareness goals to strengthening acquisition and retention campaigns, there are few company-wide initiatives social data can’t inform or impact.

But reaching a state where social media is treated as a serious contributor to business growth is still a work in progress. Part of it starts with educating executive members on the insights social teams are able to extract from social data. Part of it requires social teams to look beyond the marketing goals of social and to consider what else they can use social data for.

Because I sit between these two teams, I have the responsibility to inspire and inform the people both above and below me. As a marketing leader, help your executive team understand how social data supports their business goals and also coach your social teams to consider the impact of their efforts on goals outside of their usual key performance indicators. When you can bridge the gap between social practitioners and the C-suite, I guarantee the growth opportunities fueled by social data will be endless.

For more insight on how to turn your social strategy into a business growth engine, download the Sprout Social Index™.