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Ensure That Strategy, not Tactics, Drives Your Social Media

by Rachel DiCaro Metscher  |  
May 31, 2013

There it is again, another new social media network to investigate. The first question you ask yourself: "Do we join or not?" That's potentially followed up with, "Will my boss ask me about this?"

The rapid growth of social media platforms sometimes outpaces the ability of businesses to get their arms around how best to use it. Before you can use a new channel, you must create a strategy around it. But many marketers struggle with how to create strategies.

In organizations, stakeholders often discuss logistics and tactics rather than strategies: "Who is going to post this to Facebook," or "We should tweet this out from the corporate handle versus the product." That approach is futile for one simple reason: Without a comprehensive, clear strategy, your tactics will never achieve your goals.

Many folks are excited about how social media can help transform the way we engage with clients, industry pundits, and fellow staff. Yet, one recurring obstacle impedes progress. We repeatedly want to change the conversation from strategic, "what's the ultimate goal of using social media to achieve organizational objectives?" to tactical, "I think we should be on Pinterest."

Without a clear vision of the goal you wish to pursue via social media—whether to increase brand awareness or client engagement, or decrease customer support inquiries—you will never get beyond tactical conversations. Why? That conversation is like a rocking chair: Everyone feels great about accomplishing a task—they feel movement—but, as time will surely tell, your initiative ends up going nowhere.

So, how can you begin to chart a successful social media route? Map out these five areas.

1. Goals and More Goals

Before starting out, you have to know what the goals are for your social media program; hopefully, those goals are tied to business results (otherwise, why even pursue them?)

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Rachel DiCaro Metscher is director of corporate communications at Hobsons, a provider of personalized learning, academic planning, post-secondary enrollment, and student support solutions.

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  • by Seshu Fri May 31, 2013 via web

    Great article as it clearly lay out the different elements - goals, plan, strategy, execution and monitoring, having worked with several SMB owners I can correlate to the article very well. Another important dimension is the explosion of social media as articulated here that makes the approach all the more relevant.

  • by Mike Camplin Fri May 31, 2013 via web

    Great article, Rachel. Did you add an ROI element and track leads and revenue back to the campaign?

  • by Tiffanie Fri May 31, 2013 via web

    Very clear priorities here. Sometimes because they are all important, people forget what comes first or leave one out because they are engulfed in other components.

  • by Norm Cloutier Fri May 31, 2013 via web

    Thanks for writing this. I especially liked the opening, but measuring needs to be #2, not #5. If your goals can't be measured -- if you can't even conceive of how to measure them as you come up with them -- they are useless.
    If you don't get everyone focused immediately on how we will measure progress and success, the rest is just flailing, no matter how organized you may feel.

  • by Rachel Metscher Fri May 31, 2013 via web

    Hi Folks,

    Thanks for the great feedback.

    Mike, for some of our efforts, such as customer support, we have been able to tie those to revenue. We haven't been able to tie all our social activities, but it is a growing. For sales, some of our sales folks have more anecdotal evidences of how social selling has led to introductions and then closed business. Looking to grow more, but it is a work in progress.

  • by Scott Fri May 31, 2013 via web

    Thank you for the article. It would be interesting to read your observations about the intersection of SM and higher education, too, given your work in that arena.

  • by Gracious store Fri May 31, 2013 via web

    While it is ideal for a brand to have presence in as many social networks as possible, it is very important to define your goal and determine the best way to achieve you goal in each of the social networks.

  • by Kameel Sun Jun 2, 2013 via web

    Completely agree that no Social Media campaign should be a one-person fight. It'd be great if it were easier to convince key people to get involved. Do you have any articles or ideas on how to bring key people into campaigns?

  • by Rachel Metscher Sun Jun 2, 2013 via web

    Great question Scott. I think the observations on higher ed and social media can be its own article, but I share two points. First, social media has been a great way for admissions folks to connect with prospective students, but thereís a catch. Either the content they have shared is too infrequent or not really of value (think more about the institution rather than the student). If we are talking about first time students (18-24), they need information now and lots of it tailored to them. This concept of real time content is hard for admissions folks to keep up. So what do you do? Train more folks about outside of your department to help with connecting with students. I know one school that is doing this by training departments and student groups to be community managers, Concordia University (Irvine, CA). You can check out the site that provides resources for anyone who wants to share socially on behalf of their organization, Disclosure, I know about CUI because I am co-presenting with their social media manager in July at our user group conference about social media strategy for higher ed.

    Second observation, higher ed folks are uncomfortable with not controlling the conversation socially. Institutions have a great opportunity to share real experiences on what happens on campus beyond traditional methods. Schools can truly connect with interested students on many levels, but you have to realize that with this connectivity comes some gray that some officials are not comfortable with yet. This shift of control is hard for folks who are use to more traditional forms of marketing and recruitment.

  • by Rachel Metscher Sun Jun 2, 2013 via web

    Kameel, great question. I think when you say Ďkey peopleí, you mean stakeholders in your organization? If so, a couple of thoughts. First, and most important, everyone needs to be trained and understand his or her contributing role to social media. I think some folks are not interested because of time or not sure how this relates to their day job. So you have to be explicit what you are asking from them. Liz Bullock, formerly of Dell, did a great job outlining how she implemented company-wide adoption, Second, I think getting folks on board with social media is like any other change management project; you need to set expectations, training, evaluate what works (or doesnít) and repeat. Another read worth considering, is Altimeter report on the career path of a social strategist, . It helped me put in context that some of the challenges were not unique to just me, but anyone whoís working on getting social media accepted in their organization.

  • by Rob Trube Sun Jun 2, 2013 via web

    This is 100% SPOT ON!!!!! The biggest challenge we see with clients is that they get hyper focused on the tactical side of social media and inbound marketing, and completely forget about the strategic elements that must be considered and integrated at a tactical level to achieve the goals of the program.

    I love this quote in this article, "Without a comprehensive, clear strategy, your tactics will never achieve your goals." It applies not only to social media, but really everything in business (and life for that matter). Planning is the most overlooked and ignored process, but is easily the number one element of success.

  • by Kevin Patterson Wed Jun 5, 2013 via web

    Thanks for writing this timely article Rachel! I completely agree that far too many companies focus on what social networks they should join without thinking about why they should join them (and whether or not they are tied to an overall social media plan). I also believe there are times that organizations are "dragged" into social platforms for the right reasons, and therefore need to have the flexibility in their social media plans to support additional vehicles if needed. For example, if someone creates a post on a social network (that's not in your social media plan) indicating they're a strong prospect for your services, it might be appropriate for you to post a thought leadership / non-salesy response that might help to put you on their radar (and the radar of others using the network). Ideally, your first post would lead to positive responses from the prospect and others, and before you know it, you have a new social network to support.

  • by Rachel Metscher Wed Jun 5, 2013 via web

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for reading the article and your kind words!

    I think the situation you described assumes that the company is monitoring their brand online. If that is true, you are correct, it is a great opportunity. If it is not true, then it creates a post that the brand will not see and could not know to comment. I strongly encourage folks to think through this process otherwise they create online "ghost towns" which don't provide value (in terms of how your org has defined value).

    Sam Ford, who talks about this in his book, also outlines a process to social conversation concept a few years back

    While I think it can occur, I think it is the anomaly. That's the best part about social. We are all figuring out what works for our own companies or clients. It a great time for experiment, but also to be cautious that while the platform is free, your time and resources are limited.

  • by Sam Ford Fri Jun 7, 2013 via web

    I'd also argue that one of the mistakes companies make is thinking that the best way to "join the conversation" is to launch their own blog. In many cases, launching a whole platform as a one-off way to respond to someone isn't the best use of the forum. We have often encouraged our clients to, rather than starting by launching a blog, flag interesting posts elsewhere and have the experts of the company engage in the comments section...Or, if the company doesn't have a branded Twitter handle but one of the experts within the company do, concentrate the engagement through that person, rather than launching a corporate handle for a one-off purpose and then being stuck with a platform to maintain. Appreciate your thoughts here, Rachel (and thanks for sharing my piece!)

  • by John Fisher Fri Jun 7, 2013 via web

    I really enjoyed your piece, very clearly set out. I too often get surprised when people confuse strategy and tactics. This can be embarrassing if you are asked to write a strategy paper for the senior team but what they meant was tactics. I go back to my schooldays and drag up a bit of old Greek vocab. Strategos is Greek for 'general' so in marketing terms this is the overriding aim or objective.You might have more than one. Taktika is the way a general deploys his troops for maximum effect. So for marketing, this is what tools we use to achieve the objective. There usually is more than one tactic. it works for me and reminds me to always ask the person briefing me whether they really mean strategy or do they mean the activity to hit the objective. Good article!

  • by Salvador Polonan Mon Jun 10, 2013 via web

    Very Interesting article. The important thing should always need to be prioritize. If you really want your social media to be successful you need to have a plan and strategy how to make it work for them. This topic really provide great information and useful tips. Thank you for sharing this wonderful article. Appreciated a lot.

  • by Peter Woolvett Tue Jun 11, 2013 via web

    Pure tactical thinking is a sign of desperation. There is so much noise around social media that those who are not on the bandwagon may feel left behind and that they are missing out on benefits.

    Strategy means describing how your strengths will make your target customers buy from you, instead of buying from someone else. Your strengths should drive your strategy and even help you pick the best target customers to increase ROI.

    Tactics, on the other hand, are specific actions that implement (or deliver) a strategy: tactics must be integrated into a strategy to maximize ROI. Tactical thinking is quite common among entrepreneurs and executives, who are task oriented, like painting contractors and law firms.

    I learned that the best way to help them with the transition from tactical to strategic thinking is through play and experimentation: temporary social accounts and basic instructions make good sand boxes.

    After 30 minutes of games and experimentation, I ask my clients 3 basic media-planning questions:

    1. Why can these tools help you to persuade your target customers? (If they can)
    2. What percentage of your target customers uses and trusts these platforms?
    3. Why can these media communicate your strengths to your target customers?

    These questions are important, because the answers will indicate how to apply specific technologies to a business challenge, in order to generate profits. Remember that technology influences strategy (PEST) and that strategy + budget determine available tactics.

    Most business owners and executives understand sales so focusing the discussion on conversions helps management to understand that social media is part of the delivery system for their strategy. I found this approach better, because of clients who insisted that broadcasting their URL on Twitter is a marketing strategy.

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