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Is Social Media Strategically Relevant?

swot-for-social-media-strategy-281x300As more and more organizations adopt the use of social media there is an obvious difference in perspective as to whether social media is a strategy, a tactic or just another set of promising tools.

Our perspective drives our actions, attitudes and relevance of importance to our lives, our business and entire markets.  Strategic relevance is a higher priority than tactical relevance.  Finding things as tools has less relevance and thus does not get thought of as strategically important.  Unless things are of strategic importance they will not get top management attention and support, it will be delegated down.

Is Social Media Of  Strategic Relevance?

In a Business Week article titled “The Overlooked Side of Social Media” the Corporate Executive Board said “Most companies are embracing social media—but too many are wasting their efforts through sloppy management”

More than 70% of companies are already using social media; many are planning to increase their spending on social media across the coming years. Whether for learning from customers, building their brands or a range of other hoped-for outcomes, companies are clearly diving in.

Unfortunately, few have thought very hard about managing these initiatives. In a classic case or “ready, fire, aim,” companies are committing resources to social media efforts with very little process behind them. The result? A hodgepodge of unrelated initiatives, wheels re-invented and resources wasted.

The Corporate Executive Board has found that the best companies recognize that social media are just another set of promising tools and as such are to be understood, mastered, and used efficiently as they journey into the space.  That journey has three stages:

Discovery: At this stage, the organization is just finding out about the potential uses (and risks) of social media for its purposes and making initial forays. The goal: understanding (“could this work for us?”).

Experimentation: As an organization does more with social media, the importance of learning efficiently becomes urgent.  These bodies should develop and steward a learning agenda for the firm’s efforts, using each initiative to deliberately increase the institutional knowledge of social media use.

Adoption: While few companies currently find themselves in this stage, those that do loosen their managerial posture, moving away from oversight toward support.

The short story: Social media isn’t a fad about to fade away; it’s a good idea for your organization to learn how to use it to your advantage. The best companies will learn faster and get more out of social media by aggressively managing their efforts.

Just Another Set Of Promising Tools?

In my humble opinion the Corporate Executive Board is misleading CEO’s by stating that social media are just another set of promising tools.  Corporate Executive Board influences what and how CEO’s think and this statement discounts the strategic importance of social media.

A tool is something you give to people to use for whatever purpose. A tactic is an initiative aimed at producing a result. A strategy is the science or art of combining and employing the means of beating competition in planning and directing organizational efforts aimed at winning markets. Communications is the means of deploying sound strategies.

Social media is a system of communications.  What and how you communicate to suppliers, employees and markets is the science and art of using social media. If you deploy the system of social media without first considering the strategic implications and relevance to all stakeholders the “tools” may hurt your overall strategy. In other words as the Corporate Executive Board states “Most companies are embracing social media—but too many are wasting their efforts through sloppy management”

Not understanding or considering the strategic importance of social media is like saying communications is not of strategic relevance to reaching our goals. In case you didn’t know, what, how and whom you communicate with as well as the effectiveness and efficiency of your communications have serious strategic implications. Don’t believe it? Ask yourself how many strategies have failed because of a failure to communicate effectively and efficiently? More than you can imagine.

What say you?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mike Templeton 11/05/2009, 2:36 pm

    I think the BusinessWeek article and the Corporate Executive Board is moving in the right direction on this, but I think we are caught up in semantics. Social media as a communication channel is certainly strategically relevant. If you don’t understand how this style of communication impacts your business as a whole (or how it fits in with your other efforts), you will end up with a mess of activities that don’t measure up to anything.

    When the article talks about social media as “another set of tools,” I believe they are referring to the tools themselves: Twitter, Facebook, blogs, wikis, etc. Those are a set of tools that are to be mastered (in terms of how they are used and what they do), but a social media strategy looks at the results those tools will produce and how they match up to the organization’s objectives.

    Also, relegating things like Twitter and Facebook to “tool” status is exactly the way to approach these platforms. The reason to treat them as tools and not to develop a “Twitter strategy” is because everything will change in a few short years. Your business needs to understand the style and method of social media–how it is different from the way things have been done before–because that is what you will carry forward, no matter what the tools are.