TopRank Marketing Editor

Thought Leadership on Social Media Strategy

TopRank Marketing Editor     Public Relations, Social Media

With more businesses realizing the power of digital channels to nurture relationships, rally fans and build customer affinity, opportunity abounds for savvy professionals.

But with execution all over the board how should those who are new get started?

To answer that question, we posted thoughts from a variety of marketing and web professionals on social media strategy before tactics.

It’s an ongoing debate, but the consensus among the marketing and PR crowd is clear:  strategy before tactics is the logical approach for businesses to take when engaging in social media.

Sarah Evans provides a clever analogy:

Would you pick up a phone and randomly dial 10-digits? Unless you’re prank calling, probably not. The phone is a tool for communication, just like social media is a tool. Before making a phone call, sending a tweet or launching a blog, strategy is essential. It will guide the decisions you make, the platforms you use and how you interact.

Yet, in social media marketing and PR, it’s common for communications professionals to dive immediately into tactics without strategy “randomly dialing numbers” as Sarah notes above.

How often have you been in a meeting and heard things like “we need to be on Facebook, let’s get on Twitter, or why don’t we start blogging?”  In the social web, it’s analogous to inviting people to a theme party and not telling them what the theme is (or even knowing yourself).  If you approach social media in this way, expect your returns to be as predictable as the costumes your guests at the party will wear.

Shel Israel notes:

You really need to know why you want to use social media and which tools are best suited to meeting that objective. A good start is to know where, on social media, your customers hang out and what you can give them by joining their activities. This depends on which objectives you have in mind. It can be sales, lead generation, support, feedback, new ideas. So many things can be achieved in social media. If you know what your goals are they will shape the tactic.

Indeed.  While “getting more Twitter followers” may seem like a great idea, what if your market isn’t congregating on Twitter?  What if they are still using forums and boards (as many do)?  What if they are all bloggers who barely touch Twitter?  By jumping immediately into tactics without any thought, you may have success – but you may not.  It’s just not a methodical approach.

Peter Kim adds:

Strategy needs to drive tactics, as companies first need to know where they’re going before they figure out how to get there. A lot of roads can get a brand from point A to B, but a good strategy will help selection of the optimal route, as well as how to respond if setbacks are encountered along the way.

This makes sense, as with any type of marketing – digital or otherwise – it is the strategy all tactics should roll to.  Without a solid strategy in place aimed at positioning you as the stand out in the market, it’s difficult to brainstorm and map out cohesive tactics that provide the best route to success.  In other words:  you might get lucky once in awhile if creating tactics without strategy, but you will not build up the momentum required to accelerate ahead of competitors.

All the strategy talk aside, tactics matter too.  And Guy Kawasaki understands this intimately:

“Social-media strategy” is over-rated if not a downright oxymoron. The goal is to do more business. Social-media is a means to that end. Maybe you’ll use it to establish warm and fuzzy communal feelings. Maybe you’ll sell excess inventory. Don’t focus on some kind of high-level strategy because no one really knows how to use social media yet. Focus on tactics: Get more followers, make them happy, promote your stuff to them every once in a while. That’s all you need to know about strategy right now.

Guy has a point:  a solid strategy does not decrease the value of experimenting, tinkering and trying new tactics out.  Yet in a sense, Guy is offering his own strategic approach to social media – the no strategy strategy.

At TopRank Online Marketing, we believe that trial-and-error under the umbrella of a strategy is extremely valuable for businesses new to social media.  This is actually where they will learn the most, get real-time feedback and ultimately become fluent in social media marketing.  The strategy simply provides a framework for both planned and improvisational tactics, which can be dynamic.  In fact, a strategy itself could be designed in such a way to be fluid and shift with the times if a business is agile enough to change directions quickly.

Valeria Maltoni provides a succinct summation to the discussion:

In practical terms, you want to know where you’re going so you can get there. Every resource you expend in business needs to be justified. Everything worth doing needs to be measured. Social media is no different. It may be a great way to share useful content in places where your customers spend time to generate interest for further actions. And it can provide powerful business intelligence back, straight from the people who buy your products and services.


However, to capitalize on all of that, your process needs to tie all your activities together — the information sharing, the intelligence gathering, the communications, content creation, and anything else that happens in between. All activities aligned with and in support of the business. Without a strategy and goals, you won’t know how you’re going to measure results and won’t be able to answer the “so what” question.

Valeria’s statement is heavily grounded in reality.  To get buy-in from key decision makers and stakeholders, you need to be able to present a strategic plan outlining the tangible steps you’ll follow for success.  In the current economic climate (and really all of them) everything worth doing needs to be measured, and spends need to be justified.  The strategic plan allows you to confidently answer the all important “so what” question marketers inevitably receive from the C-suite.

Be sure and subscribe to TopRank blog as well as follow @TopRank on Twitter – we’ll be offering a PDF with even more from industry thought leaders on strategy vs. tactics in social media next week.

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  1. Sound advice. I particularly like the concept of inviting people to a themed party, but not telling them the theme. That just resounds for hours…

  2. Good article – so may people jump straight in with no set goals, simply to have a presence. Better have a strategy, targets and goals in place then then ensure the presence fits your company image and target audience

  3. Avatar samirsoriano says

    This is great – it's so easy for a company to jump straight to the tactics, but strategy is a key factor for making the most out of these tactics.

    • Tactics are easy and common – everyone is initiating social media tactics. You hit the nail on the head, strategy is the key (and lacking) factor in most digital marketing.

  4. Avatar brigittemehr says

    Social media is very dynamic & short term strategy works best, you need the ability to react quickly to new trends to keep ahead of the pack. Facebook fan pages & advertising are a great example of this they are exploding right now, they have come in almost overnight.

    • Hi Brigitte – you're right, having a flexible strategy to “turn on a dime” so to speak allows you to take advantage of new trends quickly.

  5. Looking forward seeing more similar posts,continue the great work.


  6. Great post with sound advice Adam. thanks for sharing.

    I'll be glad to retweet it out.

    We have always taught the 3 core values on Twitter as Engaging, Building relationships and providing value.

    PS Nice touch by Sarah Evans..

  7. Great post Adam. I always suspected that the “Why” was the first key component to putting a business on social media. It’s not just about getting on, you have to know why and have a plan. You confirmed my thoughts. Great read. Thanks Jeff

  8. Hi Adam,

    Great post. Jumping in without identifying your target market, especially where they hang out online and what they do on the social portals is a recipe for disaster.

  9. I like the idea of having a “theme” for your social media presence. It is important to know exactly what you plan to accomplish to work in that direction

  10. How often have you been in a meeting and heard things like “we need to be on Facebook, let’s get on Twitter, or why don’t we start blogging?”

    Oh, I've been there. Like a bull in a china shop. And what happenes soon after, is it languishes and falls to the wayside because of a lack of motivation to upkeep. You know, the web is still a minefield for businesses trying to understand the social media platform.

  11. Avatar relationshipsellingbuffs says

    Knowing where they hang out and going there; joining forums and learning more about your audience is a great strategy. Good stuff.

  12. Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing!

  13. Avatar build a niche store says

    great post, thanks for sharing

  14. I totally agree with Guy Kawasaki as he described such a strong point that solid strategy does not decrease the value of experimenting, tinkering and trying new tactics out.
    People must set their goals and strategy.Without knowing it they will not be able to promote their business strongly in the market.
    Thanks for sharing nice post.
    Great job !!

  15. Avatar Albert_Maruggi says

    I surely agree with this post. What amazes me is the volumes written about marketing strategy, which I would say is a simple topic. I mean it's not a complicated as say describing how to build a bridge.

    I'm also amazed as how often strategy, and now social media strategy is executed poorly. Why do you think that is? Is it because strategy is as complicated as building a bridge? Is it because communications and marketing strategies are really little more than an educated guess and therefore there success is more a matter of fate than design?

    Or is it because it takes discipline and perseverance, qualities that are in decline in a fast paced society?

    • I don't know Al, I've built bridges (Combat Engineer, US Army) and I've developed strategies. There might even be some similarities 🙂

      I think there's myriad reasons why strategies fail, but even more common is a lack of direction and purpose. However I do agree, especially with the social web, that discipline and perseverance are challenges for many of the “I want it now” corporate marketers being pressured by executives, shareholders and in reaction to the competition, to get results.

  16. Avatar bookmarkdofollow says

    I don't think too much about my pagerank anymore. I used to concern myself with the rank I had and when it went down, I would worry about my traffic. But it really doesn't seem to matter, as my traffic is good and I have high Google search results for my keywords in my niche. So I just focus on providing good, interesting content and don't worry what my pagerank number is.

  17. Very NYc POst.. Gud 1