I was sitting at my desk early this week, struggling to write the first Ribblog post of 2013, when (by fate, luck or divine purpose) I received these questions from a young entrepreneur:
How do you define a social media strategy? How do you explain that to a prospect and/or client?
I soon learned that my friend is not the only one interested in the answers. Each month, more than 200,000 people search the term “social media strategy” (or a close variation of it) on Google. My knee-jerk answer was:
Anyone endorsing or selling social media strategies has no idea what the word strategy means and is unlikely to help anyone compete.
Because the smarmy answer is just too smarmy
But, there is more to the issue. (Those wishing to skip my pedantry and read the less nuanced answers click here.)
Virtually every authority defines strategy as a general (big picture, undetailed) long-term plan of action for achieving an organization’s goals. Strategy can also feature the vision, philosophies and values that guide a company to gain advantage over its competition.
Why are definitions important? Unless all members of any team (organization) have the common understanding of everything going on between them, they will be ineffective. Serious business people must know the difference between strategy and tactics, which involve the specific programs, plans, actions, tasks, assignments and resources used to fulfill the long-term strategy.
Social media (as well as advertising, public relations, sales, etc.) are tactical methods that can advance the corporate strategy. Although new, dazzling and full of potential, social media are among many tools that leaders can use to meet either a tactical or strategic goal. But, deciding when and how to use it is not strategic any more than an engineer’s decision to use explosives, and not machines, to remove a large boulder.
You do not need a social media strategy any more than a carpenter needs a table saw strategy.
Then, why does the world teem with experts proselytizing strategies for CRM, marketing automation, brand journalism, blogging, loyalty, inbound marketing, social media and on and on? I have two theories. They are not mutually exclusive.
- Without licensing and accepted standards, marketing-related professionals casually use words to suit their purposes. Contractors, barbers, plumbers, electricians and real estate agents — not to mention real professionals like doctors and lawyers — have to learn the precise meanings of terms they use. But, in the huckstering professions, the greatest minds are those that deftly make up words, imply meaning where none exists and thrive on the edges of truth.
- With no restrictions, everyone prefers being a strategist, not a tactician. In the same way that IBM would rather sell “Solutions for small planet” than “computers and related services,” no agency is going to win an account pushing “solid methods” when the competition is offering “killer strategies.”
Now, I’ll answer the original two questions and hope you see why my nit-picking harangue is relevant.
Question 1: How do you define a social media strategy?
Answer 1: In deciding why and how to invest valuable resources on social media (unless your marketing budgets are not accountable to results) you must:
- Predict the various benefits that the effort can deliver to the corporate strategy including both tangible and intangible results.
- Assess the potential value gained by the social media effort versus using the needed resources in other areas.
- Understand whether your use of social media can deliver an advantage against your competition and how you will make that happen. (As opposed to doing it just because everyone else is doing it.)
After doing all that, you will be able to create and execute a tactical plan that may play an important role in furthering the corporate strategy.
Question 2: How do you explain that to a prospect and/or client?
Answer 2: In deciding how to explain anything to a prospect or client, I listen and observe before opening my mouth. If the person already knows or appears likely to understand the concepts described above, we will likely have a substantive conversation and come to consensus on the best way to deploy social media. If the prospect represents a silo within the marketing function of an organization that builds strategies for everything from Super Bowl parties to Christmas Cards, I generally walk away.