It's the Social Media Strategy Struggle

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.

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