If Social Media Is Worth Doing, It's Worth Thinking Through Strategy
It's unanimous. All expert opinions are in, and for once, the social media pundits might have got it right. You SHOULD have a social media strategy if you want your business to benefit from its use. Hurrah! You can't just throw together a social media presence without actually being clear what it's for and how you want to benefit. Well, actually you can, and according to survey research, many companies due just that, presumably because the technical act of opening a Facebook page, or a Twitter account is a trivial act. Easy, No thought required.
But, success is a different story.
Wrong Way Around Social Media Strategy
If you prefer you lessons in stories, check out How To Develop A Social Media Strategy In A Parable.
If not, here's the problem. Even some of the most well-known social media figures go about their thinking about social media exactly backwards. They start with the assumption that social media is so cool and powerful that it must have multiple good applications to business -- whether it be sales, or customer service or improving productivity.
They don't question that assumption (it is an assumption, not a fact). From that point they've identified their preferred tool, and sally forth to identify what it can be used for, which, unless you think about it, seems pretty smart.
The result is that they end up creating a strategy which actually doesn't solve real, high priority business problems, because, bluntly, the whole endeavor wasn't meant to in the first place.
When you start with a nifty tool, and THEN try to find tasks it can accomplish, you lose lots of time, energy and money, and go down a lot of blind alleys.
When you start out focusing on the "capabilities" of the tool, you will almost certainly end up with an unfocused strategy that doesn't get reality tested.
Start With A Business Problem
You'd think everyone would know this. The first step in designing ANY strategy is to define the business problem you are trying to solve. No defined problem = no relevant solution. It's not that a solution without a problem is always going to be off-point, but it will never be completely on-point either. Failures are harder to identify when the solution isn't linked to a "business issue".
Look At Available Options and Potential Solutions
Because of the buzz associated with social media, it's often the first "go to" pseudo-solution, simply because it's on many people's minds, it's got some very loud disciplines, and you can't go anywhere without being inundated with information about it. That's why it's so important to consider social media as one of a number of potential solutions, and not to jump in without considering what other solutions are available.
Look for possible tools completely outside the social media realm. Don't conclude, before doing a proper analysis, that your options are a) Facebook, b) Twitter, c) Whatever favorite platform is kicking around.
If your business problem, for example, is related to increasing sales, your choices are not limited to Twitter, or Facebook, or anything online. Consider other options -- radio spots, for example.
Compare Strengths and Weaknesses of Your Options
Again, obvious and simple, but many companies aren't doing this. Compare what you think you can get from social media against what you can get from other approaches. Think outside the social media box. And, in the same way, look at weaknesses.
Do A Risk Analysis For Your Options
Perhaps because social media is relatively new, most companies don't appear to be doing due diligence when it comes to identifying and assessing the risks of using social media. And there are many, from giving your customer data to platforms like Facebook and Twitter, to data loss, to the consequences if a third party platform shuts you down. And, of course, do the same for other options that you believe will address your business concerns.
Choose, Implement, and Monitor (Measure)
You can't develop a strategy without testing, and you can't test if you can't monitor and measure IN TERMS OF WHETHER THE SOLUTION ADDRESSES the business concern. You must use metrics relevant to that business concern, and not indirect measures. For example, if your business issue is to increase sales, then suitable metrics have to do WITH SALES. Many social media proponents are pushing companies away from solid direct metrics, because they are often hard to obtain, and it's very hard to show a causal relationship between using social media and business results (primarily because there is often NO causal relationship).
So, after you choose, and implement, set the measurable goals and metrics, and apply them ruthlessly. If the goal is to increase online sales by 10% via social media in the next six months, don't get caught in the trap of saying: "Well, we didn't hit 10% but we hit 1%, so let's keep going, because it just takes more time."
That's your cop-out to continue to pour time and effort into a dry hole.
Conclusion on Social Media Strategy
No question that developing a strategy of any kind is more complicated than outlined here, and that applies to social media too. What is critical is that you start with an open mind about the value of the available options -- no option having a head start in your deliberations. The fact that social media is cool, new and seems to be a gold mine (it's not) is more a function of subjective perceptions than any objective reality. You need to decide if social media will help you solve your business problems at this moment in time, and whether it will continue to do so.