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Thought Leadership on Social Media Strategy

Posted on Apr 29th, 2010
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    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.