Monday, August 17, 2009

Social Media Strategy: This is where the true candy is.

Now that most of us, at least in this tiny corner, seem in agreement that social media is not a strategy, but a channel, a medium, a toolset, let's do some more thinking/talking about the process of actually articulating said strategy. 

I'm one of those people that is perpetually asking "what's the strategy?" for any tactic, no matter how small. (Really? You want to paint your room green? What's your strategy for that?) But social media is such a unique animal, that in this case, I can really see why strategy becomes challenging. 

First, sometimes when you put social media strategies on paper, they seem so remedial and obvious, at least to those of us who do this every day: Listen and respond. Take a thought leadership position. Facilitate conversation and sharing between your customers and prospective customers. Etcetera etcetera.  Sometimes, I like to draw the plan, instead of writing it, just to make it less boring. In a brief twitter exchange with @armano recently there was talk about how social media is like a game of Life (his idea) or CandyLand. And while the tactics may seem like the candy - they are not. Really, the strategy is where the tasty, juicy stuff lies. (We'll talk about some specific examples in future posts.) 

When it comes to putting the tactics on paper, it gets even weirder. This, obviously, is quite unlike traditional media planning. Ain't no flowcharts here showing you how many Facebook posts, tweets, video views you're getting this month. No sir or madam. We can give you content guidelines and ideas, but that's where it stops. After that, you have to trust us. 

@teecycletim, social communications guy extraordinaire, posed this great question on my previous post: "Should someone create a separate social media strategy at all, or is that just part of a larger brand strategy?" My initial answer was the time-honored hedge, "it depends". For some brands, social media is so integral to what their social business and brand is that it could be an effortless extension of their brand strategy. Like Threadless, which exists to be an "amazing community of talented artists". That brand idea that is at their core is organically extended into social media tactics. Most brands, though, stand for something other than "community." So a social media strategy (or strategies) needs to be defined that articulates how social media fits into the overall marketing strategy and brand strategy. But it's still not "separate" - it flows from the rest of the marketing/brand plan. 

In keeping with the "not the smartest person in the room" vibe of this blog, rather than me continue pontificating on this question, I'm more curious what you think about these questions from your experience: How do you like to express your social media strategy/strategies? What specific challenges have you encountered with that planning process? If you're a brand-side person, what do you expect from a social media plan, and how is it most useful for you have it expressed? Do you agree that there needs to be a distinct social media strategy articulated, or do you consider it a subset of your larger business/brand/marketing/communications strategy?  


  1. Great questions Sue (as usual). My o2.

    First, I do think you can flight social media tactics, much like you do advertising. For Firefly Vodka we hold #FireflyFriday each week. It's a tactic that we can use to grow engagement and followers on Twitter. It might even have legs to grow beyond that...but more to the point, our client knows that every Friday we'll be engaging our base. Not that we don't engage other days but something about being able to "flowchart" that activity seems to make it easier for client side folks to sell it up the ladder.

    As for strategy: we're finding it helpful to think of SocMe strategy in terms of goals, assets, strategies and tactics or sometimes we'll talk in terms of programs. Probalby not perfect but is working pretty well.

    Lastly, think the biggest thing is that SocMe strategy seems to work best in a 'read and react' mode more so than a 'lock and load' mode which most of us are used to from our traditional adv days...


  2. Thanks for sharing your experience with us Tom - three very helpful insights. I hadn't really thought of it in terms of "flighting" and might even hesitate to use that word, but agree the consistency factor is key. I also like the idea of adding "assets" to the plan; I've been planning more in terms of "content guidelines" - similar notion but "assets" seems a lot more concrete.

  3. While I think that social media can fit in as an advertising strategy, I'd caution not to think of it ONLY as an advertising strategy. It's too easy to think of all the things you could tweet about or dream of how many fans you can get on Facebook and not remember that it's SOCIAL media. It involves relationships. People will talk back to your ads, criticize your tactics and you may very well have to adapt your strategies mid-stream lest you look like a doofus.

    To focus on only "media" in social media is passing up a great opportunity to create loyalty, improve service and generate genuine word of mouth.

  4. Lora - really important point, I couldn't agree more. It's dangerous to think of it as an advertising strategy at all, I think. It's no coincidence that the brands that have been most successful in social media are the brands that actually get how to function as a social BUSINESS and focus on creating a great customer experience worth talking about; yet it's not uncommon for someone to ask how to "push out messages" in social media (happened to me just this week). You really "get it", that is clear. It is indeed more "social" than it is "media". Bravo!

  5. Completely agree with the importance of keeping the social in social media. I think creating a social media stategy geared toward the ultimate marketing/branding/communication goal and aligned with other non-social media strategies can help a brand to stay on target with social media tactics. I also tend to think that creating specific social media strategies would help those who want to blindly jump into social media without fully appreciating the conversational value. By providing a specific social media strategy, I think there is another educational touch-point to emphasize to a reluctant client the importance of the conversation/interaction path of social media to building the brand's reputation.

  6. I work at a branding firm, so we take a brand-focused approach to social media strategies, which means we start with establishing a clear picture of the organization and what it stands for, as well as who it serves, how--and why.

    While social media can help move people closer to the organization, and vice versa, social media tools, used without thought to the strategy behind them run a very great risk of "pixellating" a brand. If outposts--and more importantly, the purpose and messages of those posts--aren't coordinated with an eye toward the larger picture, people's interactions become so focused on individual parts that the larger brand image gets fuzzy, or even lost.

    What's most important is to figure out how the tools of social media can best be used in a way that supports and amplifies aspects of a brand: personality, values, etc. While many brands may not stand for community as Threadless does, community may be a core value for them--and in that case community building and interaction (with social media is a very useful tool.

    By having a very, very clear vision of what the organization does and stands for, you're in a position to envision how all the pieces fit together to form both a larger and more focused image (the brand) in the minds of the people an organization serves.

  7. Kim - That's great perspective. You're dead on that the process of articulating social-specific strategies facilitates the conversation about what we're all doing here in the first place. Though sometimes, when I present them, I still feel like I am speaking some kind of foreign language that only web geeks can hear. It's incredibly useful for me and others, I think, to get the organizational (non-agency) perspective on these issues. I'm always working to be able to express things better in client-friendly language. So I hope you'll keep stopping by and sharing your insights. Thanks!!!

  8. Tamsen - Great approach (we at Jigsaw, the agency I direct strategy for, take the same one - great minds think alike and all that) ;-)

    Like any tactic, a social one is always best when integrated with the brand strategy. I L-O-V-E your idea of disintegrated social communication "pixellating" the brand!!! That is absolutely brilliant. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  9. Sue,

    Another great post. iThink that keeping the conversation is the greatest single strategy of all.

    As far as brands, it always does depend. Is Toro, going to embrace people on Twitter? Not likely - but will something like a locally owned start-up, Street-za? Absolutely.

    Street-za actually has an added advantage when it comes to engaging their customers because they can respond in near real time. Toro is far to huge to do so near real time. So even though both can embrace technology, only one can build their brand around it effectively.

    So the challenge remains, and i'll let someone else take the torch... and keep the conversation going.

    What are your thoughts?

  10. Love the drawing, and can't wait to read the follow-up on strategy examples. Is that your strategy to keep us coming back here??? :)

    In the meantime, I'll throw out another perspective just for kicks from a @copyblogger tweet: "How about you add value instead of engaging in veiled 'conversation' that you mistakenly think makes you look good?" Whoa.

  11. Sue -
    Even from inside the organization I can feel like I'm speaking a foreign language at times. I'm happy to keep stopping by - you generate some great conversation here.

  12. Ryan - "Keeping the conversation is the greatest single strategy of all." I agree, because I think you are including "tending" the conversation in that. Brands have to let go of the "build it and they will come" mentality - throw up a Facebook page, or a blog, or whatever, and then do nothing, and wonder why no one's talking. Not a good strategy. But clearly I am preaching to the choir on that one. If a brand isn't willing to put in the time, one-on-one, making it happen, they are wasting everyone's time. Also agree 100% that some brands are better-suited to a social/conversational strategy in the first place. Streetza/Toro is a great comparison - while Toro could listen and respond to any conversation in real time (though I doubt there will be much), Streetza is so nimble that they can go way beyond that to change/crowdsource their products. Now that's an experience-driven strategy that's going to drive serious engagement. Strategy one always has to come back to having a great customer experience that is worth talking about. Think I will start a list of "Good", "Bad" and "Ugly" social strategies. If you come across examples you like, please keep sharing! Thanks.

  13. Tim -
    You figured it out. My personal social strategy is to keep offering these little teases, and then have you guys generate all the good stuff. ;-)

    "Adding value" as a strategy? What a concept. That's definitely one for the list. Though I would venture that many would have no concept of what that even means, and would ultimately need to be made more specific. I try to do it, and I request that you guys call "bullshit" on me if I am not. It might come out in dribs and drabs, but hopefully it comes out eventually!

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