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Ensure That Strategy, not Tactics, Drives Your Social Media

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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?)

Without goals, you can't successfully execute social media efforts, because you won't have a clear sense of what you want to achieve. Your tactics will seem disjointed, and you will miss opportunities for interaction and engagement—exchanging thoughts, ideas, and stories.

Without goals, you are just "posting" or "tweeting" for the sake of doing it. As a result, your efforts will most likely not yield the business results you were hoping for.

2. After Goals... Strategy

What is strategy, and how does it help you reach your goals? According to Wikipedia, strategy "is a plan of action designed to achieve a specific goal. Strategy is all about gaining (or being prepared to gain) a position of advantage over adversaries or best exploiting emerging possibilities."

When I built our first social media strategy at Hobsons, I focused on two goals: awareness and engagement. (Two may be too many if you are just starting out.) With those two goals in mind, my team and I built a plan of action around them.

When planning out a strategy, you must be focused. In our case, if anything in the plan didn't relate to awareness or engagement, it didn't make the cut. It is too easy to get distracted and run in multiple directions.

3. Where's our audience?

With your goals set and the ink drying on your strategy, you have to define where your audience is. Are they on Twitter? Facebook? Pinterest? If so then how many of them? And is it worth your effort to reach this audience? New platforms are always popping up, but it doesn't matter if your audiences are not using them.

Audience analysis is an important piece of the social strategy, but it is often glossed over because it is easier to join the social channels (low entry costs) and figure it out from there. Be focused on what the maximum impact is to your business—and, more important, the amount of resources you have for reaching your audience.

And speaking of resources...

4. The Human Element

Who will be driving the figurative social media bus? Will your social efforts be product-or brand-driven? (Each has pluses and minuses.) Having a central team dedicated to running your social media show will ensure one voice and one message is conveyed to your followers, readers, and internal social media champions. And your social media ringleader is the person in your group/organization who manages the company message. Key stakeholders include policy, sales, marketing, and senior leaders.

However, your most important asset will be employees, your frontline brand ambassadors who have their ear to the ground and know what is relevant. In other words, what people do you plan to use for implementing your social media attack plan?

This is not a one-person fight if you plan to be around for the next battle. It must be a collaborative effort, but collaborative efforts can be challenging if everyone is not on the same page.

5. Now that you did this amazing work, how will you measure it?

At Hobsons, I measured our work based on metrics tied to our goals, awareness (transactional data: i.e. followership) and engagement (social shares, website traffic, time on site) to ensure alignment.

I tracked my progress with monthly reports and shared six-month reports with my stakeholders. Because to build a social business, there must be buy-in throughout your organization—and, of course, you have to make sure you're getting results.

* * *

Successful engagement doesn't spawn from talking to your audience; it is accomplished through listening, then conveying your value through compelling content that is relevant to your audience.

The bottom line: prove value and relevancy by sharing industry news, telling customer success stories, asking questions to the audience, and sharing in general. Doing so may seem easy, but it is very hard to narrow down why you are using social media and prove it to your senior executives.

Overall, changing from tactic to strategy is more than words. In the end, it's about the action, but it's first about the thought and reason behind the action. 

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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 there’s 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 ‘key people’, 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 doesn’t) 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 who’s 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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