Question from Geoff and Qui: In social media campaigns, so many efforts rely on the tools and the technologies, as opposed to a bonafide communications strategy. Why is a strategy important for your social media effort. Further, why is it so important to research the social web community to inform your strategy? Please limit your answers to 500 words and cite sources (using hyperlinks or traditional end notes).
Strategy is not only the framework that defines your communications plan, but also the benchmark upon which you measure your success. Far from being a plan to execute, strategy is about the big picture – choosing an approach to the communications problem at hand. It answers the questions of how and why, not who and what.
On the other hand, tactics are the who and what of your plan. What message are you sending, through what channel, and to whom? To understand why this is the action being taken, the strategy must be referred to.
However, selecting the best strategy is not a straightforward process and varies by situation. For example, communicating with a group of teenagers requires a very different approach from a reaching out to working moms. We know this instinctively, but how does one determine the correct strategy for approaching them? The answer is always research.
Teenagers tend to be very active in the social media space, particularly on social networks, instant messaging applications, and SMS. But a recent report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project suggests that teens do not consider their online social activities to be “writing.” How successful would a letter-writing campaign targeted at teens be if this kind of information was not included in an analysis? In fact, this data should inform the development of a more effective strategy that achieves the overall objective.
This is particularly true in the social media world where tactics may change drastically in a three month period. The rise of Twitter over the past year illustrates this concept. Any social media campaign launched in July 2007 based upon tactics would have completely missed the boat with Twitter. Nature Conservancy succeeded in 2008 using L’il Green Patch, a Facebook application as a tactic to achieve fundraising and awareness goals, but 2009’s Twestival in support of Charity: water succeeded by activating people through Twitter, not Facebook. While this may reflect a change in the popularity of different tools, it could also reflect the different audiences activated by the campaigns.
Similarly, the recent kerfuffle over Motrin’s “baby wearing” advertisement for aspirin that outraged mommy bloggers illustrates that Motrin did not do enough research. Before launching a social media asset, Motrin should have known who were the key influencers among its audience. This research would have shown them that mommy bloggers are an influential group, and that they use a range of social media tools including Twitter.
Regardless of whether a given campaign includes social media elements, all communications activities should be rooted in a strategy-development process that includes research.