You Need a Business Strategy, Not a Social Media Strategy

By Jon Gatrell May 16, 2012

For many a social media guru and consultant, the first question they ask a potential client is: "What's your social strategy?" And it's a good question to ask, sort of, if you're in social media consulting. Many companies admit they have no social strategy, providing an opportunistic wedge for consultants everywhere.

In fact, the Pragmatic Institute Social Media Survey from November 2011 found that 33% of respondents don't have or are unaware of that company's policies. So "what's your social strategy?" is likely the wrong place to start for many, and just might be overkill for nascent implementations.

The question it's best to ask is: "What is your business trying to achieve?" In that context, social tactics can aid in achieving those goals, perhaps integrating with a more "traditional" digital campaign or maybe even a big brand spend. Starting with the tactics, however, is backward.

Start with the business. Depending on the business priorities, you may choose to focus on different activities. For example, improving service might require one set of social tools, tactics and resources; changing perceptions and creating awareness could require another. As social media and content strategist Jay Baer explains:

"The goal is not to be good at social media. The goal is to be good at business because of social media."

That statement should be the spirit in which all social options are evaluated. Social media is anything but free, and is just part of the marketing mix. Marketers have to look at all the options for engagement before determining the approach.

It's clear that participating in communities, engaging your market and improving overall processes presents great opportunities throughout the business (marketing, support, sales, education, fulfillment, etc.). And social projects continue to be a key priority for hitting these business goals in 2012 and beyond. But you are making a choice of how to invest your time, and choosing one approach over another likely means something else gets dropped. The anchor for all social efforts should be the business and its goals.

Examining Success Stories

There are a handful of case studies always cited as successes in social media by bloggers and tweeters alike.   The true successes didn't start with a social strategy—they started with a business need. Let's look at some case studies to uncover what these showcase social implementations were trying to achieve for their businesses.

Dell Outlet. One of the most visible success stories comes from Dell. The computer solutions provider set up its @delloutlet Twitter account to improve customer awareness about its outlet, which offers value-priced merchandise to consumers. The tweets aren't conversational per se, although the company does respond to inquiries and service needs. Instead, the @delloutlet stream provides awareness of promotions and other efforts designed to achieve an overall goal: revenue! The company achieved big results—$6.5 million in 18 months (according to Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer)—via content development and Twitter. The stream now has more than 1.5 million followers, making it one heck of a broadcast channel.

This Is Seth's Blog. Seth Godin provides another example of increasing awareness without interaction. I'll submit that he is one of the best marketers ever, and estimate that many a product manager, product marketer and CMO strive to be 23% as creative and 36% as effective as he is. I mean this guy writes pithy little paragraph posts, which are retweeted all day long and consistently increase the visibility of his blog and brand.   He does this with no engagement with his 160,000+ followers, which validates use of social as a channel for broadcast.
Old Spice. This frequently cited social story started with a goal: Change the image of the brand. According to Old Spice brand manager, James Moorhead:

"The oldness of Old Spice was part of the problem. Every young man in America has a memory of his father or grandfather's pungent aftershave—and young men don't want to wear their father's cologne."

While the online tactics gained the most chatter, it is important to note that the strategy and plan to achieve this goal started with TV commercials. Over time, it prioritized social efforts from the brand team to achieve the business goals, but it was not a "social strategy." Social became one of the most effective tactics in an execution plan for the brand that included traditional media and IRL (in real life) events.
Namecheap. Namecheap is a domain service that competes in a really crowded and highly commoditized segment by using social as a differentiator. If you look at the @namecheap Twitter page, it becomes evident that service is important to the company—not just service as it relates to support, but to buying too. But don't take my word, take CEO Richard Kirkendall's:

"Our company culture is entirely dedicated to you, our clients and how we can help you buy and manage your domains in the most efficient and hassle-free way possible."

Namecheap has not made social its strategy, but has strategically chosen to view the customer as king and social as a channel for engaging the king. Effectively, social has been integrated into Namecheap's DNA, including operational processes, products and the buying process. The use of Twitter has had significant benefits, including as much as a 20% increase in domain registrations based on Twitter contests and alike (according to O'Reilly Radar).

There are many more cases studies all over the web. For most, good content and good service are the key themes in successfully achieving business goals and increasing awareness of a product, company or promotion.

So where should you start?

Social isn't necessarily a new thing; it's a different way of doing things.

And let's be clear, it is real and valuable for all businesses. There isn't an option to not participate. But the questions should be around the level of investment and the focus of the effort: awareness, revenue, service, etc.

Social can be a great leveler for businesses and markets. With social, single home offices and small businesses can take their services global and start-ups can gain visibility and awareness not previously available without big budgets. But to create more effective programs, you have to understand your market's preferences and identify how social can help—rather than wedge social into the market. It shouldn't be a single channel for any given program or initiative, you need to focus on the consistent goals and messages (content) across the channels, including social. Some refer to this as your content strategy, but a more accurate term that is emerging is "content architecture."

I think many marketers are looking at tools to provide a silver bullet. But without alignment to the goals of the business and the overall strategy, social efforts can become noise, rounding errors and minutia that consume resources and time and deliver minimal ROI. If you develop your content architecture right, you can build strong relationships within your market to drive action, regardless of where social fits in. 

Engage or Broadcast?

Active engagement and real-time marketing, with teams involved in ongoing conversation and alike, is a valid approach to going social. But if this is your approach, you need to make sure your engagement is valid and not spam.

In a recent promotion for Jazz Fest, Acura randomly did some off-topic tweeting. This was quickly exposed on Twitter as being what it is: spam. The etiquette of respecting your clients' and markets' time and meeting their expectations is critical. Just like we don’t want to spam our opt-in list in email, we need to have the same courtesy with our social engagement or broadcasting. The content needs to be relevant and real. If you target your engagement with those of like interests and insist on putting out stale promotional messages (similar to old-school interruption marketing), those efforts (and any outbound marketing like that) won't succeed.

Getting the Love, Not the Like

So to put a bow on this, let's address a simple question: How do we get folks to love our products and brands? Customers and prospects alike are ultimately looking for service, content and information on their terms, not yours. Markets look for relevant information NOW, not when a salesperson can follow up. Your market wants service NOW, not once it goes into a queue and is assigned out of the CRM inbox. This is how we build relationships in a social world—by understanding expectations and delivering on them. And while social is increasingly the channel that some buyers use and some customers prefer for service and engagement, traditional methods still drive most of the revenue and value for businesses. (The most successful programs I've seen in social have taken an integrated approach, where programs and market initiatives combine traditional efforts with social.)

It also isn't just marketing that social can make better. There should be a support, sales and product social strategy to drive toward the goals of the business. Any given department or program may or may not deploy social tactics, depending on the business goals.

Net-net: It's not a given tweet, post or even an orchestrated set of social activities based on a social strategy that drives success, but overall alignment of the goals of your business with the needs in your market—using social when appropriate.

Editor's Note: An abridged version of this article on Jon Gatrell's blog, Spatially Relevant, received numerous responses. To join the conversation or subscribe to the blog, please click here.

Jon Gatrell

Jon Gatrell

Jon Gatrell brings more than a decade of experience in product management, marketing, sales, and corporate development to Pragmatic Institute where he is an instructor. Prior to Pragmatic Institute, Jon served in senior product management and marketing positions at a number of companies, most recently at Stonebranch and Inovis. He has successfully implemented the Pragmatic Institute Framework at multiple companies, and integrated it into several acquisition plans. He has held leadership positions in numerous industry organizations.

In addition to his role at Pragmatic Institute, Jon writes the Spatially Relevant blog on product management and marketing best practices. Reach Jon at

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