I had a fascinating conversation on the first day of SXSW with Ryan McCormack of Sequence. My question to him was something my own company struggles with: “Where does strategy end and where do tactics begin? And what’s the difference between goals and objectives?”

I had a fascinating conversation on the first day of SXSW with Ryan McCormack of Sequence, a brand experience strategy and design firm in San Francisco, about social media strategy. My question to him was something my own company struggles with: “Where does strategy end and where do tactics begin? And what the heck is the difference between goals and objectives?”

Someone recently told my business partner that our social media marketing plans were very tactical. She took it as a potentially bad thing. I was hoping it was a good thing. We just weren’t sure either way.

In answer to my questions, McCormack shared some thoughtful insights, which I’ll paraphrase here:

  • Strategy ultimately answers the “why” but overlays the “what” and “how.” Strategy is your purpose.
  • Strategy doesn’t consider execution — which is a shortcoming.
  • Strategy should not happen in a vacuum — it should lead to and be connected to tactics and execution.
  • A social media marketing plan, then, should be tactical to achieve strategic goals.

At the Social Media Breakfast at SXSW, Tac Anderson presented briefly about social media strategy. He explained that in his MBA program, strategy was explained to him as:

“…creating operational alignment between all functions and activities of a business.”

Anderson went on to outline three ways that companies are currently handling their “social media strategy:”

  1. Bolt-on strategy. Not a good strategy. Company gets blog. Company doesn’t do anything else differently, but has a blog. Company also gets Twitter account. Company is still business as usual internally.
  2. Forced compliance. Also not a good strategy. Company forces social media to apply to existing processes. Adding social media to existing policies “sucks the life out of social media.”
  3. Make your company optimized for social media. Small nimble companies can do this. What would your company look like if your company changed to maximize social media?

Part of Anderson’s presentation and this blog post was inspired by Shannon Paul’s article, “The Missing Ingredient in Most Social Media Strategies.” In her post, Paul summed up some main issues with the problem with social media strategy:

  • Strategy is not a plan
  • Strategy is not a timeline
  • Strategy is not a goal
  • Strategy is not what tactics you will use to achieve your goal


Pulling together the insights of the various folks outlines above and some of my own research, here are my guidelines for creating an effective social media strategy:

  1. To be strategic, you must first understand what strategy means.
  2. Know the difference between goals and objectives.
  3. Do not let tactics lead your strategy.
  4. Craft a social media marketing plan that starts with strategic goals, defines objectives, and elaborates on tactics.
  5. Don’t forget to measure everything you can and analyze what you measure.

So is the fact that my company’s social media marketing plans are very tactical a problem, if we always start with strategy, articulate goals and objectives and then detail tactics per each objective? I’m starting to figure out that this isn’t a bad thing, per se — we are just over-delivering.

Share your struggles with social media strategy in the comments.

  1. I feel blessed at this age to be able to attain such great knowledge for free. I’m at the beginning of the struggle, but with information like this, I may have a shot. Thanks.

    1. Are you old, am I wise, are we both, or what? ;)

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I know in IT we were always asking the question: What are the objectives and goals? No one really could define the difference, but someone had told us we had to put it in our SPECS. Usually it was double-talk. Strategy…I think it is taught in military science. No sarcasm intended. Is being strategic inate or can we learn how? Lately, it seems to me that more companies are concerned about establishing their Social Media Policy rather than their Social Media Strategy.
    I will visit again.

    1. IMO, objectives should be the broader sense of what your client wants to be achieve. For example, increase brand awareness, increase market penetration, etc. Goals are quantitative measures that determines whether you hit your objectives.

      For example:
      Objective – Increase brand awareness
      Goal – Increase the current number of brand mentions by 50%

  3. I see #3 in your conclusion all the time. There are so many companies that jump right into the tactical aspects of social media without deciding on the broader areas of goal and strategy. The result is often aimless and ineffective, which could have been prevented with a little high-level thinking at the outset.

  4. Love the funnel,actually we just had a meeting yesterday about the social media funnel.
    Often times, I think some professionals get caught up in “ok let’s make a strategy, follow it, and analyze it.”

    Social media changes daily. Though there’s a rough strategy one can follow, each must be tailored to not only the clients but to the social networking site itself, and what is currently going on in the industry. It’s an exciting field to work in, it’s an opportunity to try to things and constantly learn. I love it.

  5. Great points. Sort of reminds me of brain-storming meetings in companies where tons of great ideas are born – yet if no one executes the ideas – you end up getting nowhere fast.

  6. Interesting information, but as a “strategist” i disagree somewhat with the definition of strategy as purpose. That could be confusing. I would say a strategy is an overarching plan to achieve a goal. The goal is the purpose. The strategy says, in general terms, how you will achieve the purpose. For example, one’s goal might be to increase credibility for a company. A strategy might be to establish the company executives as experts and spokespeople in their field. The tactics would say how that strategy would be achieved (a widely promoted blog, white papers, etc.) The objectives would then determine the performance milestones for implementing the stratgy. That’s my take anyway. : )

    1. Really appreciate your take. I just put this stuff out there and welcome all thoughts. It will only deepen our understanding.

    2. As a fellow strategist, I concur with Tara’s definitions of the terms.

      I appreciate the definitions around goals versus objectives which I often see used interchangeably. The primary element that should be associated with either is to make sure that the goal/objective is measurable in order to determine whether or not our strategy has been successful.


    3. Not to be difficult here, but I think this is where a lot of confusion comes into play. A plan is typically part of the strategy document, but the actual strategy is not necessarily the purpose — that’s more the objective, but rather, HOW or with what spirit, for lack of a better term, the goals and objectives will be accomplished.

      Positioning executives as experts is not a strategy; this is an objective, which is hopefully accompanied with a plan for measurement. A strategy for positioning an executive as an expert might be to take an authoritative stance on a particular issue facing companies in his/her industry. Strategy should spell differentiation.

      Tac and I are in sync on this — strategy is one of the most misunderstood concepts in business. I think too often we think if we focus on the motivating factors, rather than cut and dry goals and tactics, that we seem unbusinesslike or impractical, but in fact, its the exact opposite. Strategic planning requires vision — not just goalsetting. Vision ensures that the right goals will be selected along the way.

      I’m not trying to be difficult here, but I think the sooner we all start speaking the same language, the better off we will all be.

      1. I don’t think you are being difficult. I am grateful for the input and just soaking it all in!

        And I am all for “speaking the same language” when it comes to the terms we are using in a shared industry to communicate the same things.

  7. Tara makes a great point about what strategy is. We’ve used the idea that strategy is a statement of what you want to accomplish and a broad description of how you’ll do it.

    Additionally, we talk about strategic thinking as “addressing what matters with insight and innovation.” The key to the definition is it takes strategic thinking outside the exclusive realm of senior management. You want everyone in an organization to understand “what matters” and be thinking about ways to do what you do better. Senior management sets the strategy, but it’s key to infuse perspectives from throughout an organization to make it stronger and more successfully implemented.

    Mike Brown
    Brainzooming (www.brainzooming.com)

  8. Often, too, a lot of strategy pieces don’t take into account either capabilities or other constraints–such as budget, deadlines, priorities, or even shifting marketplace realities.

  9. I think that Strategy needs to include execution, which includes the tools that are going to be leveraged to achieve your goals, and agree that this is a shortcoming for some. You need to have a holistic vision in order to be successful, and by omitting that piece, you are not starting off on the right foot. I see this being included within the tactics portion of the funnel.

    Mike P

  10. First Aliza, thanks for a great presentation to the SDAF today; it was both informative and fun, not an easy combo to pull off!
    And thanks for validating that the social web has some great tools, but we really need to remember our (or our clients) objectives in using these tools. Here’s a link to my post from last week that we talked about — my thoughts on strategy and social media: http://foundry.typepad.com/foundry/2010/03/to-tweet-or-not-to-tweet-that-is-the-question.html

    1. Thank you for sharing the link!

      This statement is interesting, especially given my comments about the “definition” of social media:

      “…social media is just another marketing tactic that needs to have a sensible place in your marketing plan. Strategy first, tactics second.”

      So is “social media” a tactic? Or can tactics employ social media but social media is a set of tools? That is the question! (or questions…)


Comments have been disabled for this post