How to Fix a Broken Social Media Strategy

by Mack Collier

Let’s say three months ago you convinced your boss to let you put up a page for the business on Facebook.  Then a couple of weeks later, the boss gave you the go-ahead on spending a few minutes a day on Twitter.

But that was three months ago.  And you’ve been spending more and more time on Facebook and Twitter, and the boss is noticing.  So tomorrow, the boss is going to mention all this to you, how he’s noticing that the 5 mins a day you used to spend on Facebook has ballooned into an hour a day.

He’s going to ask you the logical business question: What are we getting for that hour a day you spend on Facebook and Twitter?

Choose your next words VERY carefully.  The natural thought process may be to tell the boss that the company has X number of Likes on Facebook, and X number of Twitter followers.  But the problem is, your boss doesn’t care about the conversation.

If you want to be successful at social media, you pick the strategy first, then the tactics.  You can’t pick the tactics first, then the strategy.

Here’s some examples of strategies for companies that want to use social media:

  • Establish thought leadership
  • Build brand awareness
  • Generate sales
  • Lower customer service costs

And here are some examples of social media tactics:

  • A blog
  • A Facebook page
  • A Twitter presence
  • A YouTube channel

See how the strategy has to come first?  The tactics flow from the strategy.

Now comes the fun part: “Mack this is great information that I wish I’d had 3 months ago.  Now I have a Facebook page and I think we should have launched a blog.  What should we do?”

First, let’s start with this: How are you measuring the impact of your social media efforts?  How are you ‘moving the needle’?  Your strategy will tell you what you should be measuring.  Let’s go back to the strategies, then look at the metrics you could be measuring:

  • Establish thought leadership (Inbound links, Search Traffic, Coverage on Industry Sites/Blogs)
  • Build brand awareness (Online mentions, Search Traffic, Comments)
  • Generate sales (Sales, Calls/Emails about Products, Email Newsletter subscribers)
  • Lower customer service costs (Customer Service issues resolved via social media, Volume of customer service calls/emails)

And here’s a tip: Make sure the metric you measure is helping you reach your goals.  For example, a lot of companies think traffic is a good metric to measure.  But traffic only indicates people that have visited your blog (for example).  You still need for these people to perform an ACTION.  So you don’t measure metrics associated with the people (such as traffic), you measure metrics associated with the actions you want the people to take.  Such as signing up for an email newsletter, leaving a comment, or emailing you about a product.

So to review:

1 – Pick the strategy for what you want to accomplish via social media

2 – Pick social media tactics based on the strategy you have chosen

3 – Measure your efforts by choosing metrics that tie back to the desired outcomes, based on your strategy.  BONUS: Baseline your metrics if at all possible.  For example, if you decide that you want to use social media to build brand awareness and you want to measure online mentions.  Wouldn’t it be helpful to know what your volume of online mentions was when you LAUNCHED your social media strategy?  Then 3 months later you could look at the CHANGE in online mentions, and report back to your boss that your strategy to build brand awareness via social media had netted a 27% increase in online mentions.

4 – Don’t be afraid to tweak, adjust, or outright change your strategy.  You should constantly track, measure and study your efforts, and the results you are seeing.  As you start to execute your strategy, you might see that you need to shift gears and move in a slightly different direction.  There’s no harm in changing, all you’re really doing is improving your efforts.

Does this help?  What did I miss?  Have some questions about how your company can fix its social media strategy?  Please ask in the comments, or if you want, email me.

{ 20 comments }

Maria Reyes-McDavis January 20, 2011 at 8:52 am

This is a great post Mack! Strategy is critical to all areas of digital marketing–especially social media. Too many people miss this point and kill their results in the process.

Chris-3seven9 January 20, 2011 at 9:28 am

Another great post Mack – like every marketing/advertising/communication your business undertaks strategy needs to come before execution.

To respond to TrafficColeman above – a much misunderstood perception of Social Media is it’s free. It’s definitely not free, it takes significant time out of an employees role that used to spent on another aspect of the company. To implement a successful Social Media campaign takes a lot of time, there for a lot of employee wages….

Mack Collier January 20, 2011 at 9:29 am

Traffic you can reach me at mack.collier@gmail.com Thanks!

Gabriele Maidecchi January 20, 2011 at 10:22 am

This is the clearest analysis on the difference between strategy and tactic I have read in a while. I feel like most people simply “start” without a clear set of goals in mind nor a way to measure them at all. It’s true you gotta start somewhere but a good plan surely doesn’t hurt in this case.

Dan Perez January 20, 2011 at 11:07 am

Mack,
It always sounds a lot simpler than it really is. These types of posts always seem to leave out one little bit of information. The time and resources spent on implementing such a strategy. Will a company need to hire new employees to monitor its social media strategy? Will there be numerous work hours invested in training new or existing employees on the do’s & don’ts of social media communication? Who will produce all our great youtube videos? Do we just buy a flip camera or hire a professional? As for lowering customer service costs: what about the over 40% of people who don’t use social media to communicate? Do we lower costs or will we need additional social media staff to monitor customer service? If our lead generation does increase by 20%, are we prepared to handle such an increase in volume? Etc, etc, etc.

I don’t know what your background is but having been a Director of Sales for two companies, I know that a simple change in company policy can eat up weeks of time and resources for orientation, training, implementing, & monitoring said policy. You make it sound too simple, Mack. There’s more to just picking social media plan A, B, or C. Wish you would have at least mentioned that in your post.

Nuff said.

Mack Collier January 20, 2011 at 11:18 am

Dan that’s a great observation on training and time requirements. I was actually planning that for a separate post sometime in the future, but your comment gives me the inspiration to try to get it out tomorrow.

See what I keep saying about how comments make the post even better? ;)

Justin Goldsborough January 20, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Simple, sound advice. It’s just too easy to get caught up in tactics before you even nail down goals, objectives or a strategy. These are words everyone throws around, but maybe 25% of people actually understand. Heck, I need a reminder from time to time.

I think ROI is the other big thing. As in, stop always throwing the term around. Impact or action compared to your original benchmarks is often the best way to show progress, especially in the short term. ROI can be tricky and take a long time, lot of work to calculate. Not saying you shouldn’t try, but your best bet is to show how your social media strategy is impacting biz/comms goals and measurable objectives.

Mack Collier January 20, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Justin that’s a good reminder, I think many companies are too caught up in trying to quantify the ROI of their SM efforts, when they have no idea what the ROI of their traditional marketing efforts is.

If you can show how your social media efforts are having a real impact on your bottom line, then that’s what you need. Simply ‘measuring what matters’ will go a long way toward connecting those dots.

Justin Goldsborough January 20, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Yep, have a slide on that very topic in every measurement preso I do. Call it online WOM double standard. Cheers!

Neicole Crepeau January 20, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Great advice, Mack! Hopefully if people didn’t get off on the right foot, they will still be given a chance to correct the mistake.

Beyond just the tactics you have listed, which I tend to think of as the social media assets in the strategy, the goals also really shape what you mean by engagement and the outcomes you’re seeking. I think I’d also add to your list an audience analysis. For me, once I’m clear on a client’s goals, I look for what social audience is required to meet those goals (not always the customer), and then the tactics and social media assets.

I was also really glad to see you included measurement. It still amazes me to run into people who have been hired to do social media for a company, and aren’t measuring their achievements or ROI in any way! Not a good way to justify your job or the money the company is spending.

Mack Collier January 20, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Yes if you have been hired specifically to run social media for a company and you aren’t measuring your efforts, then you’ll get fired, and deserve it.

And FTR, measurement does NOT mean simply tracking your number of Likes of Followers. Measuring what matters is how you improve your efforts and is the cornerstone of creating a valuable social media program.

Eric Portelance January 20, 2011 at 11:14 pm

You have confused “strategy” and “objective” in this post. Replace the terms and it starts to make sense. “Generate sales” is not a strategy.

Bedashree January 20, 2011 at 11:29 pm

I have been trying out social media lately. The segregation of strategy and tactics is a really valuable point which I am going to follow. Thanks for the post.

Lisa January 21, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Bravo!

Shelly Kramer January 21, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Mack,

Good post on the basics. I’ve seen you dissed because of this, but I’ll stand up and say that having worked – and continuing to work – with many small and medium sized businesses on integrating social into their marketing plans, basic steps like this – and starting with a strategy, are the place to start.

Understanding your customer and prospect demographic is key, of course, but it’s fair to guess that a significant portion of many businesses’ client base ARE found on the web. An easy example – a lot of time and money is being spent on manning your call center. And you might decide that your FIRST objective is reducing some of that time and expense and experimenting with the web and social media to see if you can more effectively and efficiently handle customer care issues via that route. Then, you implement tactics to make that happen. And of course, listen, monitor, measure and tweak as needed.

Mr. Perez is a friend and I respect his POV, but it’s also easier to be an armchair quarterback any day than the one carrying the ball – or at least the one trying to implement change.

In spite of the many people who read your blog who are very knowledgeable about social, there are still many, many businesses out there who have no idea where to start or what to do. And to my way of thinking, posts like this are valuable. Start by understanding your audience and defining some goals. Make a plan that’s intended to help you reach those goals. Implement the tactics (including social, if applicable) to help you make that happen. Track, analyze and figure out what works and what doesn’t. Tweak and try some more.

Good job.

Shelly
@shellykramer

Mack Collier January 21, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Thank you Shelly! And you are right, many companies are still at the 101 level when it comes to implementing social media programs. I know, because from a strategy standpoint, the questions I am hearing today are more or less the same ones I heard 2-3 years ago. And ultimately, I am writing content for current and potential clients, more so than I am for peers. If it means that some peers will say the content is too basic, I am ok with that, as long as it resonates with clients.

So far so good. Thanks again Shelly, and have a great weekend!

Shailender @ Romantic Getaways January 22, 2011 at 5:46 am

Yes, You’re very correct here Mack! You must have a strategy first for getting full output from social networking.

Heather Rast January 24, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Mack, I think this post serves as a good reminder to small businesses and those larger ones still circling around the notion of how/when/why to exploring social media. Moreover, I think many of those companies can’t see (understand) that social is a business philosophy, part of an operational policy, a cultural shift, a customer service platform and many other valuable assets until they’ve dipped their toes in the water. Maybe even made a few blunders. Which is what makes your post all the more valuable.

Many can’t think big (or are afraid to) until they’ve tried and tested small. Your suggestion of a near-term strategy prior to launching into tactics gives them a jump. I’ll bet the intro alone will resonate with many.

And thanks for the statement about writing for your clients and prospects, not peers. That’s a thin line, one I’m wrestling with myself.

I hope you’re fabulous these days. Take care. Heather @heatherrast

Rowan Hetherington January 27, 2011 at 1:41 am

Nice post, Mack.

I agree with Shelley Kramer’s comment. I’ll add that the communication of basic, key concepts e.g. ‘define strategic objectives before picking tools/tactics’ is critical in many large organisations as well as small and medium sized ones. In fact, in large orgs, there are usually more historic processes, silos, complex funding models etc that get in the way of implementing the changes related to each of those basic concepts. Each concept therefore needs to be sold in, simply and clearly – at the pace in which people can get their heads around it.

All the points Dan Perez raised above are spot on for the strategists, who needs to plan for those things, but the key messages to communicate to the ‘change recipients’ / people new to the concepts need to be simple and crystal clear.

I think Shelley Kramer actually nailed the broader (and more complete) key concept in her comment:
“Start by understanding your audience and defining some goals. Make a plan that’s intended to help you reach those goals. Implement the tactics (including social, if applicable) to help you make that happen. Track, analyze and figure out what works and what doesn’t. Tweak and try some more.”

This audience-focused, integrated planning method, which places strategic objectives before tool/tactic selection, sounds simple but can be hard for people from the traditional marketing world to absorb. Of course the strategist also has to consider the potential obstacles to implementation, resources, action plans for subunits, org/team structures, rewards/incentives, people (HR) and selling the strategy. No simple task!

Ed Han January 31, 2011 at 9:46 am

Mack, I love this straightforward solution to answering the question so many are asking (“What’s the ROI on social media & what’s the metric?”). Very clear, and I really enjoyed how you open with that hypothetical situation!

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