The Missing Ingredient in Most Social Media Strategies

by Shannon Paul on February 14, 2010

Elephant pictured in the side rear view mirror of a parked car

What is the missing ingredient in most strategies I’ve seen? Actual strategy.

However, before I can really show you what a strategy is, it helps to understand what a strategy isn’t.

What a Strategy Is NOT

  • Strategy is not a plan
  • Strategy is not a timeline
  • Strategy is not a goal
  • Strategy is not what tactics you will use to achieve your goal

Perhaps the confusion is a result of the fact that many of the above elements are included in the overall strategy document or presentation. However, skipping or skimping on the actual strategy piece is never a good idea.

What Others Say

Rather than simply assert my own opinion on the matter, I asked a couple other experienced people in the industry what they thought about this phenomenon.

David Binkowski speaking at a Media Bistro conference on social media

David Binkowski

“Most people don’t even know what strategy means, let alone how to create one,” said David Binkowski, senior vice president of Word-of-Mouth Marketing at MS&L. “Strategy isn’t “Let’s create a Facebook page” unless your  goal is “How can we copy cat every other company out there?””

“Usually when people talk about their social media strategy they are usually talking about their Goals (their desired outcome), or the specific tactics used to achieve their goals; a strategy is neither of these things,” said Tac Anderson, social media director at Waggener Edstrom.  “Strategy may be one of the most misunderstood and misused terms in business, probably because every business expert has their own definition.”

What I Say

When I think of strategy, I like to keep this quote handy:

“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”  – Sun Tzu in The Art of War.

Strategy is not focused on ROI, but on winning. If your strategy is built to win, trust me, you will generate positive ROI and have clear means of proving it along the way. The reason I am reticent to ever judge the merits on someone else’s social media efforts are that I do not know what their strategy is…. all I see are their tactics. Perhaps the particular effort was a calculated loss in a long-term strategy. How am I to know without more information?

Let me be clear, I am all about good measurement and tying business value to social media activity, but many seem to be putting the cart before the horse. I think the knee-jerk reaction to make social media engagement conform to some type of business equation has misplaced the emphasis in many peoples’ minds on what it actually takes to create, sell and implement a social media strategy.

How to Bring Strategy to Your Strategy

Tac Anderson

Tac Anderson

Tac has plenty of smart things to say on this matter. To him, social media strategy (like any other business strategy) is all about organizational alignment:

How strategy was explained to me in my MBA program was that a business strategy is creating operational alignment between all functions and activities of a business.

A communication strategy is a subset of the business strategy. If you buy my professor’s definition then a communications strategy is the alignment between all the comms groups and their activities in support of the business strategy. The communications strategy supports the business strategy by communicating the various messages to the various stakeholders of a company. Stakeholders being customers, shareholders (if applicable), employees, partners and anyone else who is impacted by a company.

Therefore a social media strategy would be a subset of the communications strategy. It should support the communications strategy in supporting the business strategy.

So to answer your question: “What are most social media strategies missing?” They are missing organizational alignment with the overall communications strategy, which is often not in full alignment with the business strategy to begin with. Because they are not aligned they are not achieving efficiency. This is why we mostly see one-off social media campaigns that don’t accrue to anything.

Strategy is not an easy concept to define or explain, but it is much more a creative process than charting out numbers and listing tactics.

Steps to Defining the Strategy in Your Social Media Strategy

  1. Push for clarity around the overall business strategy
  2. Push for clarity around the strategies you feel social media should be in direct alignment with; i.e. marketing, communications, customer service, human resources, etc.
  3. Ask yourself, how will you extend this strategic alignment to the social web? *hint, do not list tactics to answer this question, but rather focus on guiding principles or rules of engagement.
  4. Ask what experience/reaction do you want people to come away with when they interact with your brand/company online.
  5. Is your strategy proactive or reactive? Will you actively seek people out, wait for them to find you/mention you?

I’m sure there are many other points to consider. Focusing on the strategy piece really requires mental discipline since you must keep your focus on what is truly essential without getting caught up in the tactics.

My point here is to help others get clearer on what strategy really is — if your “strategy” document is a goal with a list of tactics, know that what you have is not a strategy but a goal with a list of tactics.

So much of the discussion around proving the ROI of social media seems to be about proving the business value of the tools. This entire argument is misplaced.

Using the tools to accomplish real business goals is what we should be trying to do. To do this, businesses need to understand how social media strategy aligns with their overall business strategy. A list of tactics simply won’t cut it no matter how cutting-edge or innovative they may seem at the time.

What are your thoughts on strategy? Can you add some points to the list I started here? Beyond that, I’ve been noodling with this idea for awhile because there seems to be a lack of direction around the actual strategy piece. Does this help? If you have questions, please let me know in the comments — let’s see if we can work on this together.

Follow David Binkowski and Tac Anderson on Twitter.

Photo Credit: exfordy
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{ 77 comments }

February 14, 2010 Lynette Radio

I write strategies for clients, be it for meeting goals in the social media arena or in general biz dev. Funny thing is, when I deliver the documents and have a sit down & discussion to move forward – a lot of times I get “but where is the bullet point where we make a Facebook page?”

If I could slam my head on the desk, I would. Same with software design, going back and doing a proper requirements gathering is considered a waste of time and money by a lot of clients. Spend the time/money up front or spend it fixing Day 1 critical errors. Only thing is, when you’re working on externally-facing initiatives, the whole world sees your FUBAR mistakes.

February 14, 2010 Shannon Paul

That does sound like a very frustrating predicament. My push back would be to ask whether they simply want a Facebook page or if they want a strong social media presence that actually helps them achieve business goals? I can’t say whether this is happening for you or not, but so many times people mistake brainstorming and ideation for direction. There may be some curiosity around different tactics for the uninitiated, but maybe it’s just a signal for a different kind of conversation?

February 14, 2010 Lynette Radio

I’ve been in my line of business for almost 20 years, but there is something about adding the social technologies/networking aspect to it that makes everyone – especially businesses – think it’s a quick entry into grabbing customers. I do a good job of working with clients to help them understand the differences between goals, tactics, and strategy. It is just a bit startling that THEY don’t even know what they are asking for. They hire my firm to help with strategy, training and implementation, but really just want the magic bullet to SoMe that will get a funnel of consumers quick. It’s an education for them, and an exercise in teaching for me ;)

February 14, 2010 Jim "Genuine" Turner

Lynnette this is a great point.

“They hire my firm to help with strategy, training and implementation, but really just want the magic bullet to SoMe that will get a funnel of consumers quick.”

So many times this comes at a bailout stage where they have done everything they can and now need a life preserver to help them tread water and by the time a company gets to that point. SM is never going to keep the boat from sinking. Strategy comes at the beginning not as a crash cart to help save the poor execution at the beginning.

February 14, 2010 Lynette Radio

And, to follow up a point of yours – a lot of times they do only want a Facebook/Twitter page. But it goes back to the idea of proper planning and requirements gathering to make sure they on solid footing. Sad to say, these are the same types of businesses that want monkeys at at keyboard pounding out code the first day rather than figure out what the hell they need *and why* in the first place. (I usually don’t take on these clients in the long run – too much of a headache.)

February 14, 2010 Jim "Genuine" Turner

This is well done Shannon and I think it will spur many more discussions in the world of social media and strategy. I remember your tweet with the question you state above, and my off handed reply at the time was “people to implement the strategy.” My point then was it is easy to actually come up with a strategy in social media, given your thesis above.

Finding a goal and coming up with a strategy and the tools to achieve that goal. What I have seen in many instances with a “social media strategy” is there are not the proper people in place to accomplish the tasks necessary.

I have a hundred sports metaphors here but the gist is, that having a great game plan means nothing without the players to execute on that plan.

To add to your list, you need to know what your assets are, meaning what are your tools, and who are the players that will be in the strategy. You have to know what you are working with as a starting point. What are your tools and who are the players?

February 14, 2010 Shannon Paul

Thanks, Jim! I hope this does start redirecting some of the conversation toward some real problem solving. Perhaps patience and building capacity in an organization need to be part of the strategy. I’m just thinking out loud here — I know there are a lot of challenges to thinking through this piece, but I think there’s a lot to glean from talking this through with each other.

February 14, 2010 davefleet

I completely agree, Shannon. Frankly, you could have substituted “communications” for “social media” in your post titles – the vast majority of communications plans seem disconnected from organizational priorities.

“That would be cool” or “that would get attention” aren’t viable criteria for including tactics in your communications plan. Communications plans (and, furthermore, social media plans) need to tie back to broader business objectives to be really worthwhile.

Love the elephant image, BTW.

February 14, 2010 Shannon Paul

Great point, Dave. I think this problem extends beyond social media into communications in general. I just know that there is so much discussion around the *need* for a social media strategy, but little understanding around what that actually means. To Tac’s point above, the word strategy may be the most misunderstood term in business in general.

February 14, 2010 courtney benson

It is true that most social media campaigns are not in alignment with the overall organizations business strategy. I’ve found that many CMOs don’t seem familiar with this approach, I’ve also noticed that these companies also struggle with alignment in other areas as well I’m not sure why this is or what is causing it. As far as social media strategy is concerned, I agree that there is confusion regarding the meaning and most often it seems to mean tactics without measurement. Lots of focus on creating touch points to interact with their constituency and no focus on driving sales based on the communications plan and overall business plan. It’s almost as thought those of us helping to develop the right strategies have to educate our clients on what I would consider business 101.

February 14, 2010 James Ball

I appreciate your look into the lack of real and understood (business) strategy. The comments have been a delight to read also, and I love the conversation as turned toward communications and how this relates to social media/business strategy overall. Thank you for the introduction to this wonderful “Tac”!

February 14, 2010 Shannon Paul

Tac is a very smart guy. I’m glad to make the introduction. :)

February 14, 2010 Howard Greenstein

Got referred to this piece via Doug Haslam’s FF that got posted to Fb. I will now assign this to my Masters students as required reading. Thanks for writing this – an excellent discussion and excellent comments from Lynnette and others.

February 15, 2010 Shannon Paul

Thanks, Howard! I’m very honored that you would consider suggesting this to your students.

February 15, 2010 Koen

I love point 4:
“Ask what experience/reaction do you want people to come away with when they interact with your brand/company online.”

I always think about the reaction you want people to have after interacting with the organisation, whether it be a web site, a press release, a phone call, an event etc. or now recently, social media.

Could the mismatch between marketing and social media come from the basically different nature of the two. An advertising attitude doesn’t work in social. Advertising is about selling, social about sharing.

What do you guys think?

February 15, 2010 Shannon Paul

Koen,

I think this is a really interesting question. I think good marketers have always focused on what kind of experience or impression they want customers and other stakeholders to come away with. I don’t think this piece is new, but the interactive component is.

Plus, I think bucketing how we can interact with companies in social channels is a little dangerous. Social can absolutely be for selling and content-rich advertising can be about sharing. To me, the lines are simply blurred and the directional nature — lines of communication are much more dynamic. It’s not about moving from a monolog to a dialog, it’s about moving to a type of communication that can move in many directions at once. The rising relevance of one type of marketing doesn’t make the others less relevant, only much more powerful when they combine forces :-)

Thanks again for the great question :-) I’m interested to see if others have anything to add.

February 15, 2010 Hubert Sawyers III

This post couldn’t come at a better time to give me some confidence as I see new social media for-hire types pop up all around me. My most recent strategy presentation does not have a lot of “add a Facebook/Twitter and run promotions off of them” as I realize I need to find out exactly what my prospect needs help with before I even talk tactics. In fact, I am trying to remove the talk of social media from my initial engagement with new clients altogether.

I have learned the hard way that if the business I try to help does not have a real concept of what they want to achieve other than “make more money,” then I probably won’t be able to help them with just social media. I cannot extract personality out of that. “Make more money” doesn’t exactly provide a clear cut vision, so there is no way to communicate that to an employee, let alone get their customers to understand why they should give them their money.

This distinguishing post is clutch, Shannon. You have really shared a substantial bit of professional information. I think you may inspire a change in title for 250+ social media gurus. ha ha ha!

Thank you for giving a man some electronic fortification today!

February 15, 2010 Shannon Paul

Thanks, Hubert.

I’m glad I could assist with the fortification. :-) Go get em!

February 15, 2010 Chris Moody

Shannon,

Great post, as usual.

I really like the WSJ approach as it was heavily drilled into my head in undergrad and grad school.

A brief writeup of it is here: http://guides.wsj.com/management/strategy/what-is-strategy/

Thanks!
Chris

February 15, 2010 Jen Harris

This is exactly why I struggle with people that hire out for their social media. As an outsider you don’t have the whole view of the company. You don’t have access to what is REALLY going on in the biz and therefore the tactics that are executed are usually to:
A: get on the bandwagon
B: cover something up
C: tell their investors “see, we are on FB too”
D: satisfy their younger employees until this “thing” fades out

Sorry, but I can not wait for this generation of “it’s worked this wAy for X years” to retire and let businesses start a whole new way of thinking, communicating and profiting.
-jen
@JenHarris09

February 15, 2010 Veronica Sopher

Your ABCD points got a chuckle out of me. They sound familiar. :)

To your point about companies that outsource their social media efforts… I’m undecided, with a slight leaning toward being okay with it. In my experience, sometimes, an organization needs someone “neutral” to look things over from the outside and provide a fresh perspective.

February 15, 2010 Becky Carroll

Great post, Shannon; I love to see others talking about strategy (finally!). I like the approach to social media strategy taken in the book Groundswell (which I use as the textbook for my UC San Diego Marketing via New Media class): POST. People (who are you trying to interact with via social media), Objectives (those goals we were discusssing, and how they relate to larger organizational objectives), now comes Strategy (looking at how relationships with customers will change as a result of using social media), and Technology (NOW we get to choose the tools).

So many people who talk to me about social media as me to come in and create the tools that THEY want to use, not what is best for interacting with their specific customers and that will support their corporate strategy. They just want to get themselves out there in a way that is convenient for them.

SO, after all of the above, what do I think is missing most in social media strategies?

The Customer.

Thanks again, Shannon. You rock!

February 15, 2010 Rich Baker MD Conversational UK

Great post, thanks for sharing. I agree it can be frustrating when people talk of ‘strategy’ but actually have not idea what one is!
On my MBA we talked about strategy being “Strategy is the direction and scope of an organisation over the long-term: which achieves advantage for the organisation through its configuration of resources within a challenging environment, to meet the needs of markets and to fulfil stakeholder expectations”.

February 15, 2010 Suzanna Stinnett

Strategically timed article, I’d say. I was recently intro’d at a talk as a “strategist,” and had to back out of that before I could proceed. Like some of my peers, I find myself more knowledgeable about the culture and cause-and-effect of social media than most experienced marketers. However, I’m not trained in business strategy and I know it.
Strategy is a high-level concept. The people I can help are mostly solo entrepreneurs and creatives who need a chance to get in and explore the territory as they discover how all this self-publishing communication relates to them.
The scariest clients are the ones who have already been through an expensive program which led them to create a website and content as some kind of membership program people are supposed to pay for. There is no strategy in place whatsoever. They are understandably mortified when I point out the numerous reasons why no one is going to buy their product or pay for their service.
The cart is so far before the horse, I think the horse has given up and gone grazing over in the meadow.
Thank you for bringing such a critical puzzle piece into the spotlight. I’ll pass this article on.
Suzanna Stinnett

February 16, 2010 Graham Lubie

Nice post and I would agree that too many social media discussions focus on the tactics and not the strategies needed for success.

Following on your Sun Tzu quote, here is another one that applies nicely to the world of Social Media: “Strategy without Tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without Strategy is the noise before defeat”.

February 16, 2010 Matthew

Shannon-
Very helpful! Developing my org’s SM strategy as I write this. Your comments are very provocative and align well with a helpful blueprint…

http://www.ddmcd.com/managing-technology/how-to-develop-a-business-aligned-social-media-social-networ.html

I’ve also found these webinars to be very helpful…

http://www.onesource.com/Webinars/5-Social-Media-Tools-112009/default.htm

My rough outline is as follows…
1. Organizational Goals
2. Major functions within the organization
3. Social Media Mission Statement
4. What is Social Media?
5. What is Social Networking?
6. Why are they so powerful?
7. What are some types?
8. Who in our industry is using them effectively?
9. Are there early best practices?
10. Can we wait and just ignore it?
11. How does this fit with the organization’s web/overall strategy?
12. How do we go about it?

February 16, 2010 Kris Olin

Nice outline there Matthew! I would also consider the following things:

1. What are the most important Social Media platforms for your company to use at the moment?
2. How do you measure the effects of your Social Media operations?
3. What are the key points to remember when a business starts using Social Media?
4. How does Social Media Marketing differ from traditional marketing? If you go online with a traditional approach you will most likely crash and burn quickly.

I’m sure you will do great with your SM strategy.

Cheers,

Kris Olin, MSc(econ.)
Author of the Facebook Advertising Guide
http://facebook-advertising-guide.com/

February 26, 2010 Matthew

Thanks man!

February 16, 2010 Manu Chatlani

You hit the bullseye with the post. A really good article. The problem is that still companies look at the Digital PR or Social Media specialists as people that need to create noise. Evangelization is needed. Urgent!

February 16, 2010 Get Real

STRATEGY is a big word that is mostly full of hot air. Best strategy is to start doing, and see where that leads. http://37signals.com/rework/

February 16, 2010 Shannon Paul

I really hope you’re not being paid to promote the new book from 37 Signals you just linked to in your anonymous comment since it would raise its status from poor taste to a full-blown FTC violation.

Words aren’t full of hot air, but people can be.

If anyone understands the impetus behind the advice “start doing,” it’s me, and if you knew more about me you would understand that.

Just as an FYI, there is a quote from William C. Taylor on the page you linked to that says, ““The brilliance of REWORK is that it inspires you to rethink everything you
thought you knew about strategy, customers, and getting things done.”

It says to “rethink” strategy, not do away with it. Isn’t there an old saying about a baby and some bathwater?

February 16, 2010 Ryan

Great insight in this piece… I plan on sharing this with the Execs in the new company I’m working with as thought fodder for how we need to tackle the social media strategy I am putting in place for our company.

cheers!

ryanwofford.com

February 17, 2010 Marc

I enjoyed your post, but I think you’re making this too complicated. The word strategy is very simply defined as “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim”.

I do believe that most strategies are poorly written, but you can’t say that a strategy is not a plan, or that it doesn’t include a timeline, or that it doesn’t include tactics–that is very misleading. A strategy includes all of these elements, clearly defined, that ultimately provide a plan for achieving measurable goals.

If that isn’t the definition of a strategy, then perhaps you are trying to define something else.

February 17, 2010 Shannon Paul

Hi Marc,

I really hope I’m not making this too complicated — I was hoping to clarify what I see as a missing piece in “strategies”. As I said in the post, a strategy *document* will typically contain those other pieces including goals, timeline, plan, etc.

However, the actual strategy piece (or section) that speaks to the spirit and the reasoning behind the tactics is missing or skimpy at best.

February 17, 2010 Davina K. Brewer

@davefleet “the vast majority of communications plans seem disconnected from organizational priorities” ITA It’s like the real strategies are outlined, but by the time they get to the MarComm or PR team, it’s just a bullet list of objectives and tactics.

@Becky Carroll Loved your point about companies wanting to do things their way, quick and easy, which is not SM. It’s about engaging with the customers on their terms, making them want to spend time with the brand.

Shannon, Love this post. That Tac is one smart cat: “A communication strategy is a subset of the business strategy.” Not to sound to fangirl, but as someone who minored in B.A., WORD to that.

It’s disappointing to see a Business function as ESSENTIAL as Communications viewed as just a small part of Marketing, much less the organization. Without communication, where would the brand/company be? FWIW.

February 17, 2010 Shannon Paul

Thanks, Davina!
I’m always glad when you stop by — you always have encouraging and thoughtful things to add.

February 17, 2010 Dawn Sawyer

Hi Shannon:

So being super new to Twitter and SM in general and having been out of the work force for 4 years now since having my two kids… this was extremely helpful to read.
My good friend started a site called http://www.fitcarrot.com – a healthy/online environment that rewards people for healthy living.
He is in the phase of obtaining funding and had entrusted me with the SM piece of promoting Fit Carrot.
First I had to get on Twitter and see “what was going on”. As you can imagine my first impression was a sea of people just aching for followers (much like myself) because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do right? As I stepped back and lessened my tweets and started to “listen” more to the conversations going on… I realized that this is just endless, often unfocused chatter that can be very time consuming and completely ineffective.
I realized after reading your article that the best thing I can do for Fit Carrot is to go back to the CEO and truly identify our intent and mission and find the groups or avenues which help us accomplish that… not worry about the FB page or retweeting to every incoming tweet so much.
It seems these things will align properly with a properly aligned focus.
Oh… thanks for the homework! LOL! I appreciated the posting!
-Dawn
@RunatDawn and @fitcarrot

February 18, 2010 Clement Yeung

This is a brilliantly thought-out and written article. I feel so fortunate to have found your blog through @ambercadabra’s recent post.

I hope that you’re around at SXSW so that I can have a chat with you :)

Thanks,

Clément
New Fan

February 18, 2010 Chris Parente

Nice post! Made me think of clients that say — we got socmed covered, we just started a Twitter account!

You have to have a strategy, but its starts with the goal. To me it’s Goal (sometimes called Objective), Strategy, then tactic(s). We do b2b and b2g PR, so its always business/revenue related. Conversation, customer service, improved media relations — those are all latent benefits of a socmed strategy that is well executed.

Example — client sells Internet infrastructure, big purchase with a LONG buying process. Problem was, larger competitors with much larger advertising budgets. Objective — how do they stay in front of prospects on a regular basis, without trying to match ad spend of competitors?

Strategy — start talking about corporate social responsibility (CSR), and subject near and dear to a top exec. He was the internal advocate, the sponsor socmed projects need to succeed. But critically, we knew that all the top prospects had a CSR program in place.

Tactic — a CSR blog, which gained traction and readership by being genuine and interesting, while also focusing on the CSR policies of prospects. Not only did we give sales team fresh content to share on a regular basis, we ended up getting guest posts authored by other companies.

February 18, 2010 Mark K.

Great post. I agree with you that your social media strategy should incorporate your business plan and strategy and be personalized for your company’s culture.

Mark K.

February 18, 2010 Dan Hutson

Great discussion, Shannon. I find that the challenges of getting leadership to focus on how strategy supports achievement of business objectives to be particularly troublesome in the nonprofit arena. I cant count the number of times I’ve met with a client who tells me she needs a newsletter/brochure/website/whatever when what she really needs to be talking about an organizational challenge or opportunity that needs to be addressed. Everyone wants to jump to the tool or tactic.

February 19, 2010 Liza Post

I think the struggle with defining a social strategyis that it’s complex. It’s a platform, a tool, a technology, a tactic and a conversation. It can be used internally and externally. It helps with PR, marketing, advertising, customer service/ management, promotions, CRM, recruitment, innovation, etc, etc. It’s campaign based, but needs to be thought of long term. It’s a mindset, but also something a company needs to do. It needs to be planned, but can’t be scripted. It should be part of the larger business, communications and digital strategy, but a separate strategy needs to be created. Social is so broad and still very nascent, and is quickly changing how business is conducted and how people engage with each other. It crosses so many lines, no wonder most strategies tend to be tactically based like being on Twitter or Facebook. It’s tangible, straightforward and comprehensible.

I don’t think companies, especially enterprise organization, (so-called social marketing experts), know what a social strategy is supposed to look like.

February 19, 2010 Scott Allen

Philosophy begets strategy. Strategy begets tactics.

I did a social media webinar last fall for a group of professional marketers, in which I spent probably 60% of the time on strategy, 40% on tactics. Some of the attendees loved it, while others were disappointed and even demanded their money back. Some of the comments indicated that they were interested in topics like how to conduct a marketing campaign on Twitter or how to drive traffic to a Facebook fan page. *sigh*

Strategy was our primary focus in writing The Virtual Handshake, and why it’s still highly relevant almost five years later. The “7 keys” framework we lay out in Chapter 2 is designed for one purpose: to help you align your online networking / social media activities with your business objectives.

It’s a free download: http://www.thevirtualhandshake.com/free-book-download.html I invite folks to check it out if they haven’t already.

February 22, 2010 Steven Moore

I think too many folks use the word strategy and then get off focus or start hitting tangents that are getting some activity so they can show results quickly.
I like to ask folks- what is your intent? In what context with your available resources and your current company culture do you want to converse with your companies entire ecosystem?
Then I start to mind-map the heck out of their internal and external resources, and their marketplace with all the data-points that I can get…after that we circle back and ask those same questions> context, intent…
Every time the 2nd go around is improved and then we dive in.
Great comments and you have some great folks following you here…

February 23, 2010 keithprivette

Thank goodness I came across this post! Now my record won’t be skipping anymore. I have been sounding like a broken record where I work. Now I can point this and say see I am not the only one that thinks this……

Without what you just explained you just have a bunch of schizo-frantic people and profiles running around talking to themselves and worrying about how many followers they have, how much they get retweeted, and how many people they can drive to their websites.

I feel if a company does not have a fundamental shift and have a Social Business Group collaborating together on internal and external strategy then stratactically (yes I made that word up, little keep a little throw away) implementing and doing that again, you have what I described above!

This Social Business Group operates and supports the whole Enterprise reporting directly to the 1st 2 levels of the company, then dotted lines to all your operational units for full circle enterprise integration, collaboration, and execution. Is this easy NO WAY, but like you said if you are not formulating this as a strategy for the future you are just fooling yourself…..

Is your company schizo-frantic?

February 24, 2010 Rob Gokee

This was a great article, and really helped define the concept of “strategy” for me. I spend most of my time trying to develop one, when really what I’m doing is creating a list of things to help me get where I want to go, but I’m missing the strategy that gets me there in the first place.

February 26, 2010 Promotional Products

I think that this is an area that we miss quite a big. We don’t strategize when we plan out our strategies. Great reminder.

March 2, 2010 Mark McGee

Very interesting post, as well as the subsequent discussion.

Just wondering if you’d ever heard of the “SOSTAC” framework – it’s something I’ve recently taken to heart since starting a part-time MSc in Digital Marketing Communications.

Since learning about it, I’ve used it on numerous communications plans and find it helps to focus me.

I also agree with many of the comments above about ‘context’ and making sure social media isn’t used in isolation.

If you want more detail about SOSTAC, Dave Chaffey (who co-authored our main MSc text books) talks about it on his site: http://www.davechaffey.com/guides/internet-marketing-strategy-e-marketing-strategy/

Hope this is of interest.

March 4, 2010 carbon trading

Very good points to think about – we do generally see only the tactics not the overall strategy.

The quote well illustrates the situation.

March 23, 2010 Jo Jordan

Oh you need to be a lot more concrete than that.

1. Which race are we running?
2. Where is the finish line?
3. What is the prize?
4. Who else is running?
5. What are their relative strengths?
6. What is our goal (1st, 2nd, 3rd, finish)?
7. Who else want that goal or who doesn’t want us to achieve our goal?
8. What do we have to do to achieve our goal if we where unhindered?
9. What might be our defensive ploys (including reserves)?
10. What real time information will be available and what scenarios will unfold?
11. How do we prepare?
12. How do we keep the whole together?
Etc

April 20, 2010 val54321

This is a great post with tons of information. Thank you so much for opening my eyes more on some key points that must not be overlooked. I appreciate it.

April 25, 2010 Stepheny Hinkle - Palabra PR

Thank you for all of the great information. Your article is jam packed with new ideas for me to think about when I run my PR campaigns – in relation to Social Media. I run my own PR company in Albuquerque, NM and we focus on social media strategies for small businesses, and this info was useful.

May 26, 2010 Joost Brok

I suggest to read “The art of war” from Sun Tzu. He has a great view on what strategy is and how to have an effective strategy.

June 27, 2010 william bailey

We run facebook contests. Its really hard to determine ROI. We just have a good feeling it is increasing traffic and dollars. We will continue to this until someone can come up with a creative way to judge roi

June 27, 2010 Shannon Paul

William — the path to ROI is in the analytics. Trust me, there are great ways to track movements and traffic patterns that will lead to an ROI calculation. You probably have the raw materials to start gathering the data on your social media activities that shouldn’t require “creative” calculations ;)

July 12, 2010 Mark A Carbone

Shannon,
Great post. I love Tac’s blog as well. I have a question – - -

As we do more Social Enterprise Strategy for people we are hitting a wall.

First – now that we’ve been doing this for 2 years, the projects that fail had no alignment with the comm and bizz strategies. I agree.

Second – Tweaking the strategy on a weekly basis for most clients is necessary based on the week’s metrics and what we’re tracking on Social Media Monitoring Post. This is proving to be costly and slows the process.

How do you handle the issue that a social strategy firm can only have so many strategists on staff or we become too expensive for our clients?

How do you fight not becoming the bottleneck at your company? I am currently the bad guy at my company :(

July 17, 2010 Shannon Paul

Hi Mark,

I think there needs to be a focus on internal education, or in your case, client education. That’s a big part of what I believe my job is — I get better ‘asks’ from other departments and leads can assume more responsibility for outcomes.

September 3, 2010 Mark A Carbone

Shannon,
Thanks for response. I was looking for your thoughts on my two questions. Didn’t know if you addressed them. Yes, client education manages expectations of the client but that’s not what I was asking. I value your insight and was asking from your perspective as you work on managing numerous strategies at once. Forgive me if I’m not realizing that you work for one company and if so, this would not be an issue for you.

———
How do you handle the issue that a social strategy firm can only have so many strategists on staff or we become too expensive for our clients?

How do you fight not becoming the bottleneck at your company (consulting firm)?

September 3, 2010 Shannon Paul

Mark,

I do work for one company (although at the time of this post, I was working for a different company). However, that doesn’t really change the bottleneck situation. In an enterprise-size company, there are many asks from different business units and departments looking to dive into social media so, maybe I’m mistaken, but I don’t think it’s all that different.

I guess I don’t know enough about your particular situation to identify what exactly what will make your business run smoother. In my experience, I don’t think adding more strategists to the mix is necessarily the best way to move forward or flesh out the team. I think the social media team is migrating toward a bit of differentiation — the strategist, the analyst (for tracking mentions, reporting, pulling insights), the community manager for executing on program messaging and participation in relevant social networks, and the digital editor/content manager for herding the content cats (or providing air traffic control) for owned sites e.g. blogs, social profiles.

A single strategist can be a lot more effective when they have individual team members assisting with, and really owning, each piece of the mix.

July 28, 2010 Hamish

Thank you, thank you, a thousand times thank you! I have been writing strategies for a few years, and I keep getting told “There’s not enough detail” or “but where are the actions?” or “where’s the timeline?” – it drives me crazy. I have to keep explaining that a strategy is not an action plan. I feel that a plan of action to meet the strategy is a natural companion document, and I often try to have a draft Action Plan as an appendix or supplement to any strategy document that I produce. If nothing else it helps to break the head-desk-thump cycle…

August 20, 2010 Aman

Another awesome post.

Thanks again for the strategies.

September 3, 2010 Jay

This is a very interesting article. I am in agreement with almost all of the points you have mentioned. However, by the end, I am still wondering WHAT exactly your definition of strategy is.

I know what strategy is NOT (goals, tactics, etc). I know that jumping to tactics is something most firms do. I know that this is the wrong approach, in fact opposite of the correct methodology.

I guess it would be very helpful is you could give an example of a business strategy, a communication strategy, and finally a social media strategy that has been derived from the strategies derived before (business and communication).

Thank you!

September 3, 2010 Mark A Carbone

Great comment Jay! I want to know as well.

September 3, 2010 Shannon Paul

I’m sorry if the meaning of strategy wasn’t clear above. I used the Sun Tzu quote above to help illustrate this: “All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.” I also listed the questions as a literal roadmap for people to discover their own strategy without talking tactics.

Basically, strategy is the *how* you plan to accomplish something, not in the sense of selecting tactics, but rather the spirit with which you approach the community (or audiences), select which people to attract, etc. Is your plan to be authoritative, resourceful, approachable, exclusive? If so, how will you express that within the selected channels or tactics you choose to meet your goals. Make sense?

September 8, 2010 Jay

That does make it more clear. Thanks Shannon. Do you have a specific example (case study) where the three (business, communication and social media) strategies have been laid out? I think everyone here would benefit from the information.

Thanks!

October 13, 2010 Erika

Shannon,
Very interesting article indeed. I would be curious to know what Bernoff and Li from Forrester have to say about it. I have been banging my head against walls for quite some time. I read the groundswell and other blogs and couldn’t figure out what the “social media strategy” piece of the strategy was all about so congratulations for opening the pandora box and addressing this.
I have been mesmerized by the number of times and context in which “strategy” was mentioned in the groundswell.

Jay has nicely expressed the frustration about the cloud around strategy, everybody talks about it but really, we (or at least I) have no idea how to nail it. Your answer to Jay was very useful though and your article gives a good approach and understanding. I will join some of my fellow commenters in a quest to see an concrete example.

I suspect a lot of people interested in better understanding what the Strategy of the social media strategy means would mechanically google something with “strategy” in the search. The results are remarkably confusing. It might sound totally random and odd but I strongly believe that the “strategy” part of the social media strategy – you’re still with me right ;) – should be renamed to avoid any semantic confusions and thus, sense! Coming up with a nice and specific word is another mission but make a lot of sense and would be a nice repost to Forrester POST – sorry I couldn’t help it- in a quest to clarify things.

That was my 2 penneth and am happy to get some change back :)

November 12, 2010 Table Pads

I am agree with you.Transaction analysis allows you to be selective in your marketing efforts.The well written post encouraged me very much! Bookmarked the blog, extremely interesting topics just about everywhere that I read here! I really like the information, thanks.

December 24, 2010 Internship China

Finding a goal and coming up with a strategy and the tools to achieve that goal.I know there are a lot of challenges to thinking through this piece,but I think there’s a lot to glean from talking this through with each other.As far as social media strategy is concerned,I agree that there is confusion regarding the meaning and most often it seems to mean tactics without measurement.

March 2, 2011 alex

this article just adds a lot of words on top of an already obtuse idea, doing nothing to clarify what you yourself say is a misunderstood topic. if strategy isn’t a combination of goals and tactics, what in the world is it?? i’m no clearer after having read your post.

April 14, 2011 Vizz Media

Great thoughts. Most of the businesses now have jumped into the Social Media sea to give their offerings an online presence over various Social Media avenues. They have set their goals in terms of no. of likes and followers and working really hard to achieve that. they have both, goal and tactics. But most of them lack the strategy. They are not quite sure how the online success can really effect their business and generate positive ROI. They should remember that behind their Social Media efforts, there is a business and these things should be aligned to get the real benefits.

Really valuable ideas on Strategy. Businesses need to understand this term very clearly to make sure they are not putting any of their efforts in the wrong direction. Thanks for sharing.

http://www.facebook.com/vizzmedia

July 30, 2011 Ben Bland

A little late joining the conversation but no less pleased to find it.

In extension of some of the points above…

“I am reticent to ever judge the merits on someone else’s social media efforts…”
– It’s surprisingly hard to find actual strategies publicly displayed. There are a few but our industry needs more.

“…strategy is creating operational alignment between all functions and activities of a business”
– strategies must be devised in the context of external (ie. market, audience, etc.) as well as internal (ie. “functions, relevant comms groups”, etc.) factors. A strategy makes a statement about how to achieve a set of goals in the context of the entire relevant world in which the organisation lives (internal and external).

“…keep your focus on what is truly essential without getting caught up in the tactics”
– It is one of the great challenges of a strategist to avoid suggesting solutions until the strategy is in-place, agreed and elaborated. That requires the discipline of good research, complete familiarity with the organisation, and the confidence to hold back from assumptions until you have found that one simple idea (strategy) about how to succeed.

So many more thoughts but not now. Overall, I agree with the article and find it refreshing.

November 9, 2011 Girls Tights

I’m not sure exactly why but this web site is loading very slow for me. Is anyone else having this issue or is it a problem on my end? I’ll check back later on and see if the problem still exists.

November 23, 2011 Cayleigh Parker

You truly did help bring us all together! I recently read a great post by Andrew Hunt about how to drive actual revenue from social media for B2B companies, Is Your B-2-B Social Media Strategy Full of B.S.?, check it out (http://www.inboundsales.net/blog/bid/48273/Is-Your-B-2-B-Social-Media-Strategy-Full-of-B-S).

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