The Importance of a Social Media Strategy

Some interesting research came out of the German Brand Science Institute, back in August 2010, that reported on why Social Media Projects Fail.  Their European Research lasted 7 months, was conducted in 12 countries, and involved 563 marketers from 52 brands.

One of the key points that I pulled out, was that of the companies surveyed, 81% of companies didn’t have a clear Social Media Strategy.  Now I don’t know of anyone that’s expressly written about why Social Media Strategies are important, or just how crucial they are to the success of Social Media within an organisation.  But given I couldn’t find any good solid writeups, I thought I’d put down my thoughts/perspectives on the matter.

When you get in a boat, and start sailing, without a map, any landmarks, any guiding mechanisms, an exact location that you want to reach, and knowledge of how to sail, chances are when you start to sail in the Ocean, you’re going to hit against some turbulent seas, lose sight of all your landmarks, and everything is going to just starting looking the same.  One thing to the next. If you had an exact location that you wanted to reach, some charts of the land ahead, some compasses, or a telescope, and someone with some experience of sailing a boat with you, or communicating with you, you’re much more likely to be able to get out of any sticky spots, get close to where you need to be, and be able to course correct, once you’re closer to shore, until you reach your intended destination.

Launching into Social Media, without a clearly defined Social Media Strategy in place, and no prior experience of working with Social Media, is a bit like heading off on a boat, out to sea, completely ill equipped for what you’ll encounter.

Whilst a Social Media Strategy isn’t going to guarantee your success, it definitely will steer you in the right direction, provide you with a solid map of the land you intend to navigate ahead, and give you an exact ‘target’ or a ‘destination’ that you can aim towards.  That doesn’t mean that your Social Media Strategy should be a list of numbers of fans you want on Facebook, or the number of followers on Twitter.  Far from it.  If your Social Media Strategy has more numbers and targets in it than words, then what you have isn’t a Social Media Strategy, but a list of KPI’s that will help you know when you’ve reached your destination, and how far along you are to getting there.

However, targets alone, do not a Social Media Strategy make.

Just in case you hadn’t figured it out yet, Social Media isn’t about you, your brand, your products, or your services. It’s about what your customers need. When it comes to Social Media engagement, and consumption from brands, especially for marketing purposes, people are fickle. They can be in love with you one day, and out of love the next. What matters to them is how to look cool. How to be hip. To be ahead of their crowd. To be entertained, amused, inspired, educated even. So your Social Media Strategy document needs to be really clear about what you’re going to do for your target audience. How are you going to build a community that meets their needs?

Whilst it’s important to include guidance about who does what, and how, and when, as well as clear lines for escalation/customer resolution, you’re most crucial component to your document is your conversation strategy.  What are you going to be talking about, and why.  What potential assets will be needed.  Who else will be partnered with.  You need to have a clear understanding of where you’ll be opening up the gaps in your conversations, and where you’ll be encouraging your audience to join in and participate.  You’ll also need to understand how to layer your conversations in such a way, that over time, the long term result that you’re after is achieved.  Sometimes, that can mean 6 months, of providing value, and content to your audience, without getting anything specific back from them, other than their attention, and enthusiasm.  In addition to your Social Media Strategy, you’ll need to create and prepare a content calendar.  A living breathing document which will help you implement and achieve the objectives of your strategy.  But until you know clearly what it is you want to accomplish, and have described in your Strategy document in detail, the different ways in which you’ll trigger, and engage your audience, throughout the course, of the year, don’t even begin to start creating your content calendar.  As the content you share, and the perspective from which you share it, is entirely shaped by the perceptions you plan on creating for your audience, of you, your brand, your products/services, and the type of content you want for them to find useful and interesting.  That in turn will dictate exactly who your audience ends up being, so make sure there’s enough in there, to net a large enough audience, so that within it you might even net a few paying customers down the line.

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