Why social media strategy doesn’t exist

As someone who has written countless social media strategies, social business strategies and content strategies, I have to confess I’ve come to the conclusion they don’t really exist.

I also take my fair share of responsibility for propagating the myth – a distinct case of the Emperor’s New Clothes – by purporting they do. I didn’t set out to capitalise on the insecurities of those dreadful, shamefaced folk who supposedly ‘don’t get it’, but the fact I’ve used these terms for so long means I’m not completely innocent. In my defence, since realising the whole movement towards all things ‘social’ is somewhat misleading, I’ve made it my business to demystify and simplify what seems completely baffling to the vast majority of people in business.

Listening to the language of fear in most organisations today, you’d think this newly networked world can only possibly be understood by under 25s, nobel laureates and (of course) social business consultants.

Well I don’t buy it. Changes in working practices needn’t slash the shelf life of professionals, so long as they’re willing to learn.

Willingness to learn and self-educate are immensely desirable traits in all workers, but problems arise when people don’t know what to learn. That’s where the myth of social kicks in. The global workforce is led to believe they have to learn an entirely new language in an alien world. Digital. Online. Social. A world that is going to leave them behind – leave them for dead – if they can’t keep up. A world that is going to perceive them as a member of the resistance if they don’t tweet, blog and post images of their dinner on instagram.

Brands and agencies fling cash at glittering, often gimmicky, social media strategies that don’t deliver value, or social business strategies that’ll never be executed; while everyone oohs and aahs at the Emperor’s New Clothes, unwilling to ‘fess up, for fear of banishment to the dark side that is the realms of those who don’t get it. Some hire fresh graduates and put them in charge, since they’re bound to get it – all this Twittering malarky – as if it’s entirely separate from the need for business smarts. A digital anomaly. More about saving face by getting a Facebook page up than fundamentally grasping how instant communications can transform the way you interact and create value with customers, suppliers, partners and colleagues.

The thing is, social media strategy and content strategy are oxymorons, because they describe tactics, not strategy.

Even the most experienced self-educating social folks struggle to truly understand – or at least articulate – what a content strategy is, what a social media strategies is, or what the difference is between the two. Let’s not even get started on ‘social business’ (I spend half my life getting introduced as an expert on it, only to spend the rest of the time explaining what it really means and why it doesn’t really exist as a ‘thing’ in itself).

Social business people like me wax lyrical about the fact ‘it’s not about tools, it’s about people’, then attempt to write strategies based on media (tools/channels). Social business teams and initiatives are established in order to ‘be social’, when even the half of the organisation that buys into the concept views social business as a box that can be ticked – a destination that can be reached. We are social now, job done. This is a short-sighted view, because there will always be more new tools, new thinking, new practice, new knowledge, new technologies that give us the ability to connect with others more quickly and effectively.

If the social business team is tasked with embedding responsiveness to change into the organisation, in order to take advantage from all the new innovations that’ll deliver benefits to the business, then rant over – that’s exactly the right thing to do. But is this the case?

Our strategies speak of collaboration, connectedness, openness and community. All positive things that do deliver results, but wrapped in language that’s vague and confusing, causing people to fixate on the wrong things, learn the wrong things and promote the value of agility in a way that’ll never resonate with the supposedly anti-social old-gen that are still largely in charge.

Social media and content are the means to the end. Instead of tying yourselves in knots writing social media and content strategies, try instead to write ACQUISITION strategies, ACTIVATION strategies, RETENTION strategies and GROWTH strategies – strategies for getting, keeping and winning new revenue and referrals from customers. This sounds obvious and simple, but it’s easy to lose focus on the basics while struggling against a tide of newness.

As in most situations, it isn’t the people who are wrong or lacking, it’s the approach. So if you’ve been feeling overwhelmed, confused and bombarded, remember it isn’t you – it’s your approach – that needs to change. Begin with recognising that both content and social media will form tactical components under each strategy, in various ways, but neither social media or content are strategies in themselves. They are answers to the wrong questions.

By switching our language back to that of business – real life and death stuff around driving demand, delighting customers and generating results – all the new technologies and practices slot much more comfortably into the business reality of every professional who is seeking improvement and effectiveness.

What’s more, if you can clearly articulate how social enables you to reach business goals better, faster and cheaper, you’ll find absolutely everyone – even the most skeptical, old-school bean-counter – will, all of a sudden, ‘get it’.

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