How To Develop a Social Media Strategy: A Roadmap for Integration

by Shannon Paul on October 12, 2008

The problem with any new function in a business is deciding how it fits with existing operations. This could be the reason we see so many social media programs that operate in a sort of silo apart from other outreach.

The following list of questions and resources should provide a comprehensive roadmap for developing a strong social media strategy with clear organizational alignment. This is going to be a long post, so let’s get started!

The Foundation

1. Is Your Social Media Presence an Experiment?

If you’re not the kind of business that is open to experimenting with social media, skip to question #2. It’s really okay if you’re planning to experiment with social media in your business as long as the others in your business or client company understand that you’re experimenting. There are way different expectations when what you’re doing is clearly an experiment. There is also something positive to be said for exploring what is possible with something new and trying some different tactics before developing a clear plan with explicit goals and objectives. Having an experimental strategy is okay as long as everyone is on the same page. However, having a clear sense of the business strategy and needs of the organization should still help inform your approach.

2. What is Your Company’s Overarching Business Strategy?

Is your business about innovation, or being a fast follower in the marketplace? Is it about providing the best value or the best service? What is the overall value proposition? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, start digging. Or, if you’re the founder or CEO of a startup, think about the answers to these questions before launching a social media presence UNLESS you’re experimenting, but it’s good to know you’re experimenting (rather than failing). If you don’t know who you are, how will I know who you are? Beyond making sure there’s alignment, identifying the overall business strategy of your organization will help you prioritize where you should start — whether marketing could use some extension into social sites, or whether HR is struggling to recruit necessary talent.

3. What is the Parent Strategy?

Social media strategy should typically be a subset of an existing strategy — will yours be a subset of an HR, marketing, PR, customer service strategy, etc? Stand alone social media strategies tend to either operate in a silo — or naturally creep into other areas of business. The natural growth into existing areas of business can often create conflict over who should own, what budget should be responsible for operations, etc. If you’re experimenting, it’s good to think about how conflicts should be handled should this natural creep arise. If you’re planning strategically, it’s probably better to do your homework up front and clearly prioritize how social media will ideally spread into other areas of operations and make recommendations according to this prioritization schedule. Most social media proponents can readily identify several areas of business that can benefit from some form of social media integration — customer service, public relations, marketing, human resources, etc. Although there may be plenty of opportunities, it’s best to prioritize where to act first based on the dictates of the overarching business strategy. If your company prides itself on innovation, marketing might be the best place to focus social media integration, or maybe  start inside the organization to speed up collaboration. Companies focused on superior service might naturally lean toward beginning with customer service. Companies with a long sales cycle may benefit from applying social media strategy to public relations as a way to soften the market and increase brand awareness, share of voice, etc. For companies in a short sales cycle, marketing would probably be a better fit… Make sense?

4. How Will Social Media Boost the Effectiveness of the Parent Strategy?

This piece done right should provide the meat of your business case for allocating resources and identify which budget should get tapped for this social media strategy. As a side note, this piece should also consider the internal audience. How social media savvy is your organization as a whole? Depending on the current level of understanding, you may need to include some guidelines for approach that may be considered industry best practices in order to clearly manage expectations and explain how the company’s approach needs to be different in social channels, and how it will remain the same. Other items to consider in this section:

  • Include data to support your thesis that social media will indeed boost the effectiveness of the parent strategy.
  • Explain the social dynamics at play here and how they will ultimately contribute to the success of the organization. A social presence often requires giving something meaningful to the public while asking for little-to-nothing in return. Explain the benefits of sharing, promoting others and reciprocity… even if it seems obvious.
  • Put some skin in the game! If you want some of the budget, get ready to take on some of the work. Assign part of the parent strategy goals directly to your social media strategy
  • Select the RIGHT parent strategy goals for your social presence and assign social media-specific sub-goals. Outline exactly how achieving social media goals will accrue toward the goals of the parent strategy. For instance, if you’re assuming a piece of the sales goals, make sure to outline how social interactions will accrue to an actual sale — and be clear about how the channel should NOT be used i.e. to solicit sales directly or pump marketing messages into social channels all day long.

Taking on responsibility for existing goals will also help determine how much of the budget your efforts should receive. Can you make that work, or will you need to negotiate to increase the budget of the parent strategy? Adding on extra budget specifically for social media might work best, but consider carefully whether a stand-alone social media budget will make sense in the long term as use of social technology becomes more integrated into existing business practices.

Defining the Scope of Conversation*

5. What feeling do we want to inspire in others through our interactions?

What’s the takeaway for them beyond a “positive brand experience.” Get specific. If your brand is fun, it’s probably a good idea to extend that spirit of fun into your social web presence.

6. Will we be proactive in our conversations? Reactive? Both?

If you’re using social media to address customer service issues, a reactive strategy might be best unless you’re incorporating a loyalty or rewards program into the strategy. This can be flexible, but there should be primary and secondary purposes for the presence on the social web for branded profiles.

7. What are the on-brand messages we hope to deliver?

These should account for fewer than 20% of your interactions, but this is an important 20%. Keep in mind that these key messages should be adapted (not copied word for word) for establishing a point of view on the social web.

8. How will changes and updates to the on-brand messages be communicated within the team?

Staying on the same page is important for establishing a consistent presence and preventing mis-communication or misinformation from spreading in social networks.

9. How will on-brand messages be adapted for conversation in social networks. Examples are helpful.

As Phil Gomes says, “Having a ‘message’ is fine, it’s ‘messaging’ that sucks.”

9. What types of messages or updates can we provide that are off-brand, but still relevant?

There is still a relevance quotient that needs to be considered with respect to a branded social media presence. When you open up conversation to anything other than your brand, or give carte blanche to promoting others in general, you’re no longer focused on the wants and needs of your customers, but on the interpretation of the individual responsible for interacting on behalf of the brand. There should be room for improvisation, but the purpose behind the presence should not just be open to anyone’s interpretation. People follow branded social profiles for different reasons than they follow people. Some of the same principles apply, but not all of them. The question for anyone manning the front lines of a brand’s social presence is to consider points of conversation that are a good fit with the brand’s image, company stakeholders AND meaningful to its consumers? These off-brand (but within scope) messages should account for more than 80% of interactions on the social web.

10. What types of updates or issues are off limits for discussion?

How will you respond if a customer/stakeholder/community member initiates a conversation around a topic that is off limits for discussion? Do you explain why you cannot engage in this type of discourse? Ignore it? How will you handle hecklers? Trolls?

11. Will the company seek to leverage personal employee profiles?

Word of mouth marketing and recruiting efforts in social networks often work best with employee support. How will you ask for employee support in social networks without making it a requirement? How will that communication be handled? How will you respect the rights of employees and encourage willful participation? Many companies still do not allow employee access to social media sites — is this something that will need to be addressed? *Scope of conversation should only be applied to branded presences on the social web (not personal social profiles)

Forrester’s POST method

12. People

Who are you trying to reach? Assess the social media use and conversation of your customers, potential customers or other stakeholders the parent strategy needs to reach. There is a lot of existing data about who uses social media as well as monitoring services that will help you get a clear snapshot of online conversations related to your parent strategy’s objectives

13.  Objectives

Define a subset of objectives related specifically to social media and explain how they will be measured with respect to the goals of the parent strategy

14. Strategy

The missing ingredient in most social media strategies is actual strategy. Don’t skimp here. Outline exactly how the approach in the social strategy will bridge the gap between customer/stakeholder needs, existing online conversations and the company’s positioning. A well-conceived scope of conversation should come in handy here (see points 5 through 11). A good social strategy should work to increase the relevance of the brand, product or service for the people its trying to reach. How will yours accomplish this?

15. Technology

Select the technology that will help you create alignment between the people you are trying to reach. This is the place to identify specific tactics i.e. a Facebook page, a blog, a branded community, an ambassador program for influential bloggers, a Twitter profile, Foursquare loyalty program, etc. More on Forrester’s original POST method

Measurement and Reporting

16. What actions should your presence encourage?

Will you be looking primarily at increases in brand mentions? On-site engagement? Branded keyword search activity? More web traffic? Newsletter subscriptions? Pick two primary actions to focus on — they should be in natural alignment with the particular objectives of your social media and parent strategies. For more guidance on what to measure and when, see Amber Naslund’s three step series on social media measurement.

17. How will these actions accrue?

Increased activity is a way of showing early signs of life. Social media often pays off with a sort of balloon payment — short term growth tends to be spotty and small, with a bit spike in activity at a certain point that grows exponentially over time. Identifying the actions that will eventually accrue toward accomplishment of the social media strategy goals and objectives AND parent strategy goals and objectives will help keep everyone on the same page and prevent premature calculation errors

18. How will insights be shared?

How will social media insights be shared with others on the team? Department? Other departments? Executive leadership? Will you create a dashboard? Send out weekly reports? Monthly reports? This step not only keeps everyone on the same page — it helps facilitate natural discovery within the company. When presented with social media data, people in other disciplines and departments start to get curious, which inspires real learning beyond required training and professional development.

Creation and Deployment

19. Will you need development resources for launching a new site or blog?

What will the requirements be for site or application development? (don’t forget about mobile compatibility) Do you have in-house resources or will you need to put together an RFP? You may need to team up with a product manager, or a project manager to help create technical requirements and get on a development team’s schedule. Don’t forget, landing pages and other elements highlighting your social media presence may need to be incorporated into your existing company website.

20. Will you need creative resources?

A blog, new website, social profile background images, etc. may require some design work to customize the branded presence. You may also need to resize existing logos or re-orient them so they render properly on your branded social profiles. Many companies also create avatar badges for employees to use with their personal profile picture.

21. Will you need editorial content for your blog? An editorial calendar?

22. What is your timeline for launch?

Is there a natural lifecycle to this strategy? Is it long-term or short-term?

23. Prioritize needs vs. wants for launch.

What needs to be in place before launch, what elements are more iterative or okay to add later?

Education and Process Definition

24. Will there be a need for training?

How will training be handled to make sure everyone on your team is up for the task? Who will be responsible for training?

25. Are there company policies or regulatory processes that need consideration?

Many industries require prior approval for certain types of interaction as well as archiving and the use of legal disclaimers. How will you work within the rules? What will the workflow look like in order to adhere to these guidelines?

26. What about job descriptions and accountability?

If employees see social media responsibilities as something outside their actual job, how will accountability be encouraged?

Flexibility and Iteration

27. How will you re-evaluate your existing strategy?

Having a social media presence often has unexpected benefits, but to leverage them, you may need to be opportunistic, and up to date on current events and trends. How will you formalize the need to constantly re-evaluate your existing strategy without undermining its relevance?

28. How do you plan to adapt to the shifting demands of the social web where your company participates?

A social presence benefits from being responsive to the needs of the community stakeholders. This may require you to dig into issues outside of your department on occasion. How will the importance of answering these questions in a timely manner be prioritized in areas outside of your department or business unit?

Leave a Comment

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

October 12, 2008 teamclermontrocks

I enjoyed reading your article about free content making money – well written! I am both a business consultant and Fitness Trainer/Nutritionist and find that it is really important to give free information. Short E-books on pertinent topics, some free workouts, and short talks all help build credibility and trust in a professional and give the consumer the ability to work long-term with the professional and refer others. I am at and


October 12, 2008 Jamie Grove - How Not To Write

In my day job, we implemented a customer retention strategy based on the same principles you list under benefit (except for #4). Not only does it work, but the numbers are pretty astounding.

I suppose this isn’t surprising though since the concept of ancillaries has been around forever. What’s changed is the distribution medium. Since delivery via email is free (or close enough), it only serves that some of the content should be free and we should focus on selling something different. This is the heart of Chris Anderson’s new book “Free.”

Going totally free is not in the cards for us, but the abstract concept of a cost efficient distribution medium changing the fundamental nature of a particular business is sound.


October 12, 2008 shannonpaul

@teamclermontrocks Glad that’s working for you. I can see how sharing your expertise helps win clients.

@Jamie, thanks so much for sharing this. I would love to see a case study when you’re finished with the analysis.


October 13, 2008 Lisha Sterling

Whenever I read things like this, my mind goes to the creative work that I do and to the technology oriented work that I do. I never think, “Oh, yeah, this applies to my skating!” (probably because these days I think of coaching as my “hobby” — I only teach about 4-5 hours a week now.)

@teamclermontrocks reminded me that this is *exactly* the sort of thing that I do to draw in new ice skating students. At my previous rinks it was a part of the skating school business plans to provide free help from coaches on certain public sessions. At my current rink, I had to fight the management to stop from getting in trouble for giving that kind of help for free. They came around, though, when they realized that they were getting more return customers AND more requests for classes and lessons on the sessions where I gave help and advice like how to stay upright, how to go backwards or how to do a two foot spin. Now, on busy sessions they try to have at least two guards on the ice — one to keep an eye out for problems and one to help newbies get the hang of things. It’s just good for business.


October 13, 2008 Ari

This goes back to the age-old concept of giving away samples to get people hooked on your product and wanting to buy more.

The biggest complaint I have with the new on-line version of this is when a “free” download is nothing more than an excuse to contact me for a sales pitch. If you believe in your product, let me try it out and, if it’s as good as you believe, I’ll be back. Don’t turn me off with the hard sell.

I always tell my public relations students, “If you have to sell your story too much to a reporter, there’s probably not a story there to begin with.” The same principle applies to any product you’re pitching.


October 13, 2008 Scott

Radio has been giving away content since the beginning. Sure, we sell ads, but the cost to the end user is zilch. Radio has also worked with record companies to give away music via on-air giveaways of CD’s and concert tickets.

The idea is simple – if they give us (the station) concert tickets to give away we talk about the show. A listener attends the show and you can bet they’ll tell more friends. At the show they might buy a CD or t-shirt.

The same applies to playing music. The record companies supply the song to the station, the station plays it and the listener hears it for free.

If a listener hears something they like you can bet they will try to find out more. Trust me, not a day goes by that I don’t get an email, IM or phone call about a song we’ve played.

Why is online any different?


October 13, 2008 Mind Booster Noori

As a musician, I give my music for free, and all of it is licensed with a Creative Commons license. Not only this creates awareness to my band, but also lets people “try before buy”, which led me to 1) more sales, and 2) being able to get revenue from “ad-supported free” services like the ones ReverbNation and provide.

But this isn’t new. Picking the example of a big band: do you know Marilyn Manson? Of course you do, everyone heard about it. But did you know that while he got signed in 1993 to release the first album in 1994, he grew a huge fanbase and got his deal thanks to a big number of free demo tapes he used to give to anyone who wanted them? That’s right, free is the way to get fans, and more fans give you more money.


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