It seems like every day I see another group of posts populating my news feeds and Twitter stream touting an easy to implement social media strategy, a social media mold, readily adapted to your brand or business, or a list of social media MUSTS, things that every company needs to know about and act on – regardless of what exactly your goals or business model might be, the most recent example being Mashable’s “3 Things You Need to Know About Social Media Strategy” (pardon the run on).
Not too long ago, I wrote such posts and sometimes I’ll still retweet them, if only because within their laziness-enabling premise, there are, occasionally, bits of truth and relevancy. But that cold reality of the matter is that these cookie cutter social media plans and strategies, these molds that can be made to fit any organization, are crap. Why? Because for the most part, they simply state the obvious, repurpose other people’s content, and are designed for clueless executives desperate to jump on the bandwagon or their underlings looking to make a good impression – both of whom know next to nothing about the social space and the nature of dynamic content.
For example, lets look at this Mashable post. The article opens by explaining,
“Companies large and small are rushing to understand and get involved in social media. But most of the agencies and consultants who are being paid to establish social media campaigns for corporations are afraid to tell their clients three things they don’t want to hear.”
She goes on to list and elaborate upon these 3 topics:
- Everyone must work together
- Top Management Must Be On Board and
- Don’t Expect Overnight Success
I’m sorry, but I have to be blunt here when I say “DUH!” When are these 3 postulates NOT true in the business world? Should you ever expect overnight success? Does anything good ever come out of NOT working together? And don’t get me started on the involvement of top management.
I’m not trying to call out B.L. Ochman; in fact, I am a huge fan of hers and the What’s Next Blog. I do, however, feel an obligation toward my job and protecting the reputation of my profession. Posts like these feel lazy and dumbed down. Truisms they are, but they have nothing to do with social media, and framing them in that context makes it seem like anyone can do what we do, which is certainly not the case.
I’ve grown to despise these posts because the foster laziness and ignorance, they enable procrastination and poor tactics, and mostly, because they tarnish our burgeoning industry, instead of validating it.
Case in point: I recently spent several weeks assembling a comprehensive short and long-term social media and digital strategy for a client. I surveyed the landscape – what has the brand done until now, where have they succeeded, where have they failed, and what can be improved. I looked to align their existing brand objectives with social media objectives and further specified how those objectives might be reached differently as they take advantage of each social platform’s unique offerings. I audited their competitive set and looked for areas where these competitors were doing well – indicating the brand’s need to catch up – and where the competitors were failing – indicating an opportunity for them.
I looked at trends and predictions. Which brands are best-in-class and how could we emulate them, improve on their models, and innovate and lead? I did my due diligence and amassed tomes of research – what are their target audience’s most common existing behaviors on social networks? What type of engagement does their audience want from these brands and how could they provide it?
After weeks of intense research, meetings, writing and revision, I flew across the country and presented a 57-page strategy and action plan to the client, the first in a day full of nonstop meetings. Not once did I mention that “Top management must be on board,” or that we “shouldn’t expect instant success” – had I done so would have almost certainly damaged my credibility in front of an audience of established and experienced executives.
For what it’s worth, they loved it. The client was happy, thus, my bosses were happy. I thought to myself, with a big smile “Great, mission accomplished.”
But that smile was quick to fade as I realized that my weeks of work and research weren’t nearly enough. I spent the rest of the day listening and learning. Competitive analysis, reports and reviews of the last 2 years worth of marketing, advertising, and public relations efforts. There was talk of focus groups and the precise ROI of spending on individual efforts on different media and campaigns.
By the end of the day, I had realized something that I had known intuitively for a long time but was reluctant to acknowledge – social media does not exist in isolation. Nothing does in marketing. Everything is tied together in an intricate web of objectives, metrics, communities, budgets, messaging, and brand images. My 57-presentation was amazing, yes, but it was just the tip of the iceberg. I could have spent another month – and probably will – figuring out how to tie-in my 57-page tactical outline with the rest of the organization’s plans.
UPDATE: Since then, my presentation has led to an action plan, identifying and delegating individual tasks & responsibilities – in order to take my strategic vision into the more realistic world of actionable and executable possibility. Overarching themes and long term objectives were boiled down into a time-line of assignments and iterations of platform-specific mini-objectives, prioritized based on ease of implementation, production costs, time frames, and urgency. This has not been easy, and I’ve yet to find a post outlining a quick and simple methodology to reach this stage of strategic planning, let alone, finding any mention of this process in the “5 Social Media Strategy Musts” types of posts I’ve seen.
The reason these one-size-fits-all “social media stratagems” are bullsh*t and will never work and the reason most enterprise 2.0 consultants fail to actually back up their talk and improve a brand’s efforts to be social and become dynamic, engaging content producers, is that it takes a LOT of time and effort to understand the inner workings of a brand, especially a big business. These lists are fodder for inept and executives too lazy to expend the time and effort necessary to understand and learn about the social evolution of businesses and dynamic nature of today’s content. They are easy to write and even easier to pass off as legitimate plans.
For such endeavors to actually have merit and potential for the brand, they must be customized to the business from their inception, built to align with the companies overall objectives, and most importantly – COMPLIMENT – NOT SUPPLEMENT – existing marketing efforts. There are no MUSTS, no absolutes – what’s right for one brand may be disastrous for another. Social protocols and norms evolve so rapidly that these lists, for whatever value they may have when they’re written, become obsolete before they’d ever have any actual impact. So people, please stop relying on cookie cutter approaches because you are too lazy to devise your own. Stop trying to force your business into a mold that will only impose limits and hinder the true potential new media actually offers.
I’m writing this post – not to crap on Mashable or B.L. Ochman, but because I hold them to a high standard. People look to them, relying on these influencers and industry leaders, for valid, sound, advice. This is an example of parties that hold a clear opportunity and authority to further our industry – and flaking on their responsibility to do so. As such, I would be remiss if I let that happen without calling them out for it. I’m not even saying that I’m any better, but we need to rally, as an industry and as a community, to create more valuable content and do away with lazy “filler” products. We can do better folks.
Thank you and good day!