“Just because you’re a Social Media Strategist, doesn’t mean you’re any good at strategy…”

It’s been said that 85% of the people who work in social media have been in the industry for less than two years. I think it was LinkedIn who first suggested this, but it often explains why there is so much bad advice floating around, so many poorly devised strategic plans and so much money wasted on failed campaigns.

The thing with being a social media strategist is that it’s believed (in digital marketing circles anyway), to be quite a sexy title, and yet it is one that requires absolutely no formal qualifications or established processes for development. Hence all the social media ninja’s, guru’s mavens and wizards that we encounter on a daily basis. The problem here is that this lack of experience often causes a misunderstanding of what an actual social strategy is. In my opinion, the misunderstanding isn’t complicated, it is simply this…

“Strategy Does NOT Involve Emotion”

You would think that this is obvious. Business leaders have understood for years that the best strategies are absolutely devoid of emotion, bias or agenda. They are not shaped by the opinion of an individual but around the evidence and insight gained from working closely with an organisation. [Re-read that last sentence because it is REALLY important!!!] The issue here for social media strategists is that one of the main things they believe to be true of social media often blurs some boundaries…

“Social Media Users Share Emotions Not Facts”.

It’s a great quote, one that I believe came from research by Jonah Berger at Wharton University, (I even used it myself when I built the Purpose Pyramid), but it has no place in the strategic process. Emotion has everything to do with social psychology and why people behave the way that they do online, but that has nothing to do with strategy. Facebook even has a term for campaigns that are built upon emotion: “Social by Design”.

Many social strategists have migrated out of the advertising or brand comms industry, which goes some way towards explaining their reliance upon “fluffy” awareness metrics. I’m talking about the kind that are focused solely on engagement – the likes of which you often hear when discussing the relative success of a TV, press or outdoor campaign.

I believe in Lovemarks as much as the next brand strategist (the term refers to an emotional attachment with a brand and was coined by Saatchi CEO, Kevin Roberts), but it’s easy to confuse an “emotional strategy” that will raise awareness, with a business strategy that drives sales. Look at these two examples of strategic processes and it’s easy to see why people confuse the two (you’ll notice the second version isn’t as sexy but involves a specific ACTION plan):

Lovemarks : A Brand Communications “Strategy”

Customer-Based Brand Equity model (CBBE, Keller, 2002, & Kotler/Pfoertsch, 2006), modified by Pyramid
Source: Customer-Based Brand Equity model (CBBE, Keller, 2002, & Kotler/Pfoertsch, 2006), modified by Pyramid. blog.pyramid.se

A “Traditional” Strategic Process

Source: visionsforireland.com
Source: visionsforireland.com

The problem with all of this is that whilst good social media people understand that great campaigns are built on emotion (in order to get someone to share, RT or view it), the strategy that campaign is founded on should NOT be built on emotion.

Strategy Shaped by Emotion = House Built upon Sand* etc. etc…

  1. Look at the data
  2. Find out exactly what it is telling you
  3. Build your strategy on that rock* instead.

Your boss will love you for it.

* (Apologies for the biblical analogy).

Head of Social Strategy @Adobe EMEA. Ex-giraffe keeper. Lover of cheese, Lego and cycling. Currently writing a book on social business called "The 80 Rules of Social Media".

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Posted in Digital Marketing, Social Media
5 comments on ““Just because you’re a Social Media Strategist, doesn’t mean you’re any good at strategy…”
  1. Mel Carson says:

    Nice work Jeremy. What I find when I’m helping companies with their social media strategies is they have simply never had one. They thought they did, but actually it was just a list of tactics. I’m a little gobsmacked how many (some really quite large) can’t give me an overview of their brand, ethics, company culture etc. You need that to plough into the vision, mission and tactics. They help you craft your social voice. And it’s that voice coupled with helpful, relevant, agile and delightful content that creates the emotional connection at the tactical level.

  2. The role of social media strategist will disappear as leaders in all organizations assume responsibility for new social business paradigms. The focus will shift from social media, which is generally used in reference to the tool set, and will focus more on social technologies.

  3. Dennis Yu says:

    Jeremy– well-put.

    I’ve even go so far as to say that strategy and goal optimization are similar activities in social.

    With no goals for social, there can be no strategy.

    With no measurement of the revenue funnel, there can be no optimization.

    Most social media strategists are community managers who don’t yet have the power to amplify content, direct ad spend, or organize across multiple channels.

    It’s impossible to be strategic if you operate in only one channel– even if it’s as big as Facebook.

  4. Brian Hardie says:

    great article – seems that social expertise is in the eye of the beholder for some as not enough organisations are switched on yet to optimising the customer experience and integrating social media fully with other channels. Ultimately, customers choose and organisations need to listen, understand, consider deeply before jumping in. Power to you guys though as by talking and publicising best practice, overall knowledge increases.

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