The Social Media Strategy Vacuum

by Jay Deragon on 04/09/2012

Social Media strategies are not strategies. Instead social media are the backbone of any strategy but not the strategy.

When you search “social media strategies” on Google you get over 53 million references. This indicates that a lot of people are searching for information about social media strategies. The fact is they all may be searching for the wrong thing.

A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a vision.  Social media are communications using a multitude of technological platforms to deliver and receive communications. If you think you need a social media strategy first ask yuour self, “do we have a communications strategy?”. Most would answer no and that is the crux of the real problem.

If you have no idea what, when, how, who, where and why you should be communicating then hiring a consultant to help you create an ambiguous social media strategy is a total waste of time and money.  Notice the definition of strategy is “a plan of action designed to achieve a vision”. Social media doesn’t need a plan anymore than you need to plan what you will say each day, that is only done by the President.

In an Inc. article Guy Kawasaki was asked “Let’s say an entrepreneur is new to the whole social media thing. There’s a tendency to hire a consultant and formulate a plan. Is that the right approach?” His response was “No. Just dive in. This is very different than the typical expert telling you that you first have to set your strategy and your goals and have this massive document and a working plan. I think that’s a mistake.” 

How Ridiculous Is This?

Social media has become the defacto solution to solving many business problems. As such it has and will continue to be the biggest problem businesses face.  The root of the problem is in thinking that social media has become something needing a strategic plan. Do you:

  1. Have a cell phone strategy
  2. Have an email strategy
  3. Have a freeway strategy
  4. Have a screw driver strategy
  5. Have an electricity strategy

No because focusing on the tool rather than the objective for using the tool will not enable you to do anything for any purpose with anyone who cares.

Social media has become a vacuum created by those trying to make it something it is not so they can charge others to jump into their vacuum. The definition of vacuum is space that is empty of matter.


Nick Ellison April 17, 2012 at 4:56 am

The comments here are better thought out than the article itself. Social is now an integral part of the digital marketing strategy, not the strategy itself I agree with that, that isn’t to say that you don’t need a social strategy, a plan of action!
“what, when, how, who, where and why you should be communicating” understanding that and creating a communication strategy is a part of the social strategy, that’s the main reason we put one in place! And another stupid thing you said, ‘cell phone strategy’ of course we have a cell phone strategy, it’s just that we have done it for so long it doesn’t need writing down or discussing, it goes like this… give our your number, when it rings answer it, deal with the enquiry etc etc etc… this article is tosh. You should proof read it before you publish also.

Teodora April 10, 2012 at 5:37 am

Jay, Mark & Salvatore, all of you are correct and your points are valid. The problem is businesses want to be social and they don’t know why, just for the sake of being present also on social media channels,frequently they fail to identify their objective, second if not given to social media consultant the project given mainly to employees that have time but not enough aptitude and motivation to explore something new, assuming “ohhh XYZ can update it on daily basis” Once the profiles are created and there is some kind of engagement, the person in charge thinks “My job is done” and on another hand the management asks “any business came”. That’s why companies and individuals must spend time training and updating their knowledge and understanding on social media continuously and definitely select the right employees for such kind of responsibility, social media is very young tool of marketing and there is no theorem which can be applied for all kind of business.

Salvatore Steffano April 9, 2012 at 11:03 am

I understand the point you are trying to make, however I don’t believe it’s valid. I agree more with Mark Adams above. The problem with social media is everyone tries to incorporate one strategy for all of the social media networks, while this is obviously a problem, few fail to recognize it. For every social media account/site you are using, you need to have a separate strategy and a way of conducting your business.

With that being said, the key to social media is in the name… BE SOCIAL!. People follow,like,add etc businesses/individuals because they want some kind of social interaction, they want to be treated like a friend…not just another potential sale. When we start thinking like humans, and less like robots our businesses will prosper and grow rapidly with the amazing tools we have to connect with each other.

I hope someone receives some new insight from this article and the comment above from Mark Adams. If you would like to hear more, you can follow me on Twitter @madgrowth .

Mark Adams April 9, 2012 at 9:17 am

I disagree on two counts. I think companies do need strategies and that they should not just dive in.

For Strategy: A company requires a strategy for anything that will have a material impact on how it does business. I doubt that screwdrivers are strategic to most firms in that sense and so it’s OK not to have a screwdriver strategy. But if collaboration between workers, between workers and customers and between workers and their bosses can have a material impact, then yes, a company needs strategy for it. Thus a collaboration strategy often makes sense, and calling it a Social Media strategy (conflating the tool with the resource) is a perfectly sensible way of articulating it.

Against Diving In: Since, say 2007, a few companies have dived in with two feet (e.g. IBM) and some still not at all (Banking, Insurance and Mining are good examples). The diving usually undertaken by young enthusiasts and liberal management. We now have a body of knowledge strong and significant enough for us to say “Let’s look at 5 years of history *before* diving in to see how we can be more efficient and effective than our predecessors. This evidence will tell us at least two things: social media consumes costly time which is often unbudgeted, social media requires a mix of skills which are rarely present in one place at one time, companies are not proficient at defining goals of this experimental medium, social media usually does not deliver expected returns and use of social media exposes Firms to a new set of legal, reputational and commercial risks with which most staff are not prepared or trained to cope with and companies in low-growth economies strangle highly speculative investments such as social media most often proves to be.

I think we (Jay Deragon, Mark Adams and any other reader of this) are probably all massive enthusiasts for the power of social media and collaboration. I’m sure a combination of the “diving-in” and “no-strategy” approach with the “don’t dive in” and “do have strategy” approach will serve us both well over time. Each company must choose the right approach for itself.

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