Why Strategy is Essential in Social Media Communication

My business partner and I started Tidal Strategies with two things in mind: we wanted to do great, high quality work, and we wanted to support the communication efforts of those who were contributing to a cause. We knew that consulting forays can prove challenging, both in time spent doing this high quality work as well as finding the types of projects we feel a synchronicity with. What we did not anticipate, however, was the need to build the case that strategy in social media is so much more than a ‘nice to have’. Without a strong reason to be in social media, many are putting forth more and more effort, in shinier and shinier tools, with little to no tangible reward. For those who are limiting their social media involvement due to staffing, issues develop from lack of sentiment monitoring or other nasty branding issues, such as crisis communication naiveté. Great strategy avoids this while finding ways to utilize social media to its best and proper use in each specific case.

The barrage of new tools never stops. From new Myspace, to Pheed, to networks that may have crept up in the last-minute or so, those with social media tools in their armory need to be constant researchers of new social media outlets, tools and analytics. Beyond research, we need to understand the appropriate use of each, not only to participate acceptably, but to use these networks sufficiently, and only if necessary, for our branding goals. Not every social network lends itself well to every product, service, community or organization. The strategy comes from defining which tool is needed for your specific purpose. Having a purpose is where many of us fall short.

In creating a social media strategy, what we are really doing is creating an arm of an integrated marketing communication plan. All pieces in our IMC plan work together to build upon each other. Email, our website, in person events, advertising, public relations and social media all work in harmony to build the brand experience for the end-user. In this case, no social media plan or platform stands solo as a strategy: having a Facebook Page is not a strategy. Unfortunately, being ‘in Twitter’, is not a strategy either. So, how do we adequately define a social media strategy?

Everything fits together. Using your organizational goals and communication strategy, how does social fill in gaps or strengthen opportunities to connect with your audience or highlight your brand? Ensuring that all pieces of your communication strategy fit together is crucial in creating a consistent brand identity. Does Pinterest serve your audience and brand in the ways that you anticipate or is it simply a place to be ‘first’? In some cases, being first has its merits, but in social media, you may be ‘first’ to put too much effort into a place that you have not created clear goals for and have no idea how it benefits your organization. Shiny objects that pull your attention and time away from other duties may prove difficult, leaving social media accounts stale. Death of an account could be detrimental if left stagnant, and conversely, not being in a place where your audience spends time communicating can also hurt. Bottom line: research is the first, and a continuous step for those involved in social and interactive media.

Numbers are not a strategy. Often, consultants, newbies and C-Suite employees see numbers as a be all and end all in the social media – and even marketing – space. Numbers do not equal brand affinity. Neither do one time purchases or donations. For instance, 88% of Facebook page followers never return to a page after ‘liking’ it. We rely on Facebook’s newsfeed functionality to serve up our posts to our audience. With a barrage of statistics like ‘only 1 in 6 Facebook page followers ever see your posted content‘, what once were ‘communities’ are quickly becoming paid commercials via ‘sponsored’ content. Considering all of the work you do to maintain a page, this is can be very disheartening. Then again, impressions (eyeballs) should not be the main driver of our involvement. We want our communities to see value in our content. To seek out, read, share, comment and add to it. These need to be the primary ways in which we gauge our success in social media. Lead generation, fundraising and event registration can be other ways we gauge campaign or focused marketing tactics via social.

In Social, we’re building a community. And a brand. The primary use of social media should be to galvanize a group, a community, around a cause, idea or experience. But this also is what we are communicating with and through our brand. Although we are maintaining a place in a conversation, we are also developing a persona as our brand by how we choose to interact (voice and content-wise) and how much we push versus pull people into engagement. When we use these channels to repeat our messages (cutting and pasting web or email content), or when we lessen their meaning (‘we need 50 followers by Friday!’), we lose the opportunity to become thought leaders around our respective topics. By opening up and listening and showcasing others via cultivated content, we gain credibility and authenticity in the broader social media world, which then is directly attributed to our brand.

Considering all that there is to gain or lose, all the time and money invested in research, maintenance and cultivation, having a strong social media strategy can ensure that we are working in the right direction. Without it, frustration and mission creep become the norm and we are hard pressed to find reasons to continue. This is what we strive to create: high quality strategies that revel in community created content for a stronger idea of what our brand ‘is’. We hope you take on the challenge, and reap the rewards of doing this work.

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