What does a “social media strategy” actually mean?

I’m as guilty as the next digital consultant of bandying about the term “social media strategy” but what the hell does it actually mean – or entail?   A while back, a friendly marketing manager at a financial services company let me sit in on a pitch that a “social media strategic consultancy” was doing for them.  I was permitted to eavesdrop on the wisdom to be imparted – without them knowing who I was.  And to be honest, I was a bit shocked.

Because in truth, it was a mix of ‘how to set up a Twitter account’, some banale observations on the importance of having lots of followers and a shopping list of tactics but no over-arching strategy.  The truth was – these consultants didn’t have a strategic bone in their body.  So, I ask again, what is a social media strategy?

A good starting point is a maxim I’ve discovered from an American consultant called Jay Bauer and that is the simple point that you should BE social, not DO social media.  The aim isn’t to have a Twitter or Facebook account – the aim is to create dialogue that leads to a desired outcome.  That might be an alignment of the brand with certain values, an improvement in corporate reputation or simply to sell more damned goods.  But it’s not a box ticking exercise in setting up social media accounts.

That mistake was made in the past with corporate videos – make them, put them on your website and hope somebody views.  Companies are still doing that – amazingly.  What they should be doing with video and social media is facilitating conversations – which will deliver instant ROI as you engage successfully with target audiences.

Also, don’t abandon traditional PR, marketing and advertising approaches.  They still apply.  You need to research your market, refine your products and services, identify markets and promote your brand – these are your objectives and social media gives you the tactical tools to achieve this.  Through Twitter or Facebook, you can listen and observe or pose questions and create chat around values then, through earned media (sharing and promotion by third parties), you will hopefully improve reputation, sales, brand recognition, etc.

Just set your strategic objective at the outset and let that dictate how you use social media – not the other way round.  And understand that social media is simply a bridge to real, tangible, often face-to-face results.  It’s not an end-in-itself.  I can tell you that multi-thousand follower Facebook pages achieve nothing on their own unless you have a clear strategic objective in mind.  Then your messaging can be structured and expressed to trigger the right actions by your audience.


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