Social Media is NOT a Strategy

Really got your attention with that headline, didn’t I? It’s not just a ploy to get cheap clicks.

Enough with the Hype

As you are surely aware by now, I’m a huge fan of social media, new media, social networking, sharing/bookmarking, and pretty much every other cool social offering out there. I spend countless hours playing with different services, sites, and techniques on a weekly basis. Heck, I’ve met some good friends and amazing colleagues through various forms of social networking.

Let’s get one thing straight though…most of what is being thrown around as strategic advice is nothing but some good ol’ fashioned hype. Yes, there is a time and place for social networking and social media. Yes, there appears to be a list of actual money-making techniques that can be employed to derive financial value from these services. But a great deal of this yammering about ROI is just that…talk.

I’ve seen a few select examples of how social media can be used for B2B in a measurable fashion, but I’ve also seen many more examples of futile attempts at replicating these successes. And that’s not even to mention the widespread list of social media “gurus” and “experts” who throw around pie-in-the-sky advice about how you should be using social media. My message to them: Show me real world examples.

Social Media is NOT a Strategy

I recall earlier in my career when the Internet and email marketing were the hot trends. We had long conversations about our “email marketing strategy”, right after we finished talking about our “trade show strategy”, “web site strategy”, and “direct mail strategy.” We thought we were cutting edge, until someone who actually knew what they were talking about chimed in.

“Do you understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy?”

No one in the room could give a reasonable answer to that question. Luckily, I was just a couple of years out of school, so I could chalk up my “deer in the headlights” response to inexperience. But today I’m seeing the same trend. I see all of these people talking about social media strategy, content strategy, even Twitter strategy!

Let’ s get one thing straight – a strategy requires high level thinking. A medium is simply a tactic that should support a true strategy. Twitter, my friends, is a tactic, a medium. Plain and simply.

Now, many of the consultants out there will sell you on why you need a “social media strategy.” I agree that you need a plan for how to integrate social media into your business operations. But social media as the strategy itself? What’s the objective behind it…to meet a bunch of cool people and LOL/LMAO/LMFAO our way to the bank? Maybe it is a real and profitable  strategy for the smart entrepreneurs, pundits, and consultants who keep dangling shiny new toys and techniques in front of you. For the rest of us, we need to take a chill pill and think for a second.

Strategic Thinking Should Come BEFORE Tactics and Media!

This is a very important point. You work for a business (or run a business in some of your cases). That business has important metrics to meet in order to succeed. Those metrics might be growing revenue, signing up “n” new customers, reducing business expenses, or even “keeping” the loyal and profitable customers or clients with whom you’ve built valuable relationships.

What do these metrics have to do with the subject of this post? Strategy must be derived from important business objectives. It must also be measured against real business metrics to benchmark success. The metrics should be driving the objectives, which in turn should be driving your strategic decisions. Then, and only then, should you turn your attention to go-to-market tactics.

Simple Process To Think More Strategically

  1. Set your high level objective(s) – Well-crafted objectives should also be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-Bound). A good objective will often start with the word “To”, as in “To build a new channel of 20 resellers in the southeast USA by December 31, 2010″. That’s a darn SMART goal, as well.
  2. Determine the strategy that will help meet your objective – Cool, so this is where I say “how” I will meet that objective. Is the right answer to “start using social media”? Of course not. There’s no logical connection between the objective and the “strategy” proposed, like that of the underpants gnomes as shown in the image below. The strategy might be to launch a recruitment and qualification program for a very particular type of reseller in the region specified. Notice we haven’t talked about how to execute it yet; just what we are trying to do from a high level to meet the objective.
  3. Outline the tactics that will help the strategy meet the designated metricsNow we are ready to talk about tactics and media. Here you can get into specific messaging, targeting approach, and the exact media you intend to employ to make it happen. It should also indicate how you intend to measure each tactic/medium, and how that rolls up to help meet the overall goal as designated in #1 above.
Underpants Gnomes: “Strategy” for Profitability
Underpants Gnomes: “Strategy” for Profitability (courtesy of thinkprocess.org)

Conclusion

Strategic thinking is very important, and a simple objectives/strategy/tactics model should prove very helpful in keeping this all in perspective. Let’s start talking about how to fit social media into our existing businesses and our overall media mix in a truly integrated fashion. This argument is not a new one; I was having conversations like this in the mid-90s!

What do you think? Do you view social media as a strategy? Is that a realistic way to look at it? It’s most certainly not just a “fad”, as I’ve heard many baby boomers refer to it. The Internet was tailor made for this sort of interaction, so that narrow viewpoint is extremely naive.

Will you think about it differently now, or did you already manage to sort all this out for yourself amidst the hype?

Read more posts from Return On Now about Social Media.

____________________