Why Most Social Strategies Fail

When I ask people what their social business strategy looks like, I usually get the following response, ”Oh yeah, we’re on Facebook.” The conversation continues apace:

- Twitter account…check.
- YouTube videos….yup.
- People who seem to know what they doing with those accounts…kinda.
- Metrics….Likes.

But that isn’t a strategy – it’s a series of tactics. Having a Facebook page is like having a telephone — it’s a tool that needs a purpose. What you DO with Facebook to meet customer expectations and attain business goals lies at the center of a coherent social business strategy.

My colleague Brian Solis and I are in the midst of conducting research on what makes a good social business strategy and a key finding is that as companies evolve their social initiatives, the efforts get disconnected from business goals. So while the company grows in its social media efforts, strategic focus, with a clear goal in mind, falls to the wayside.

This isn’t about waiting until companies have reached a stage of “maturity” before they are deemed to be successful. Rather, we found companies thriving at every stage of social strategy evolution. The key is coherence, where the business goals, executive support, social business capabilities, and the value created by both internal and external social initiatives all work together in harmony.

Here’s an example: one company we spoke with focuses most of their social efforts on developing their Facebook presence. The company rarely replies or engages with people who post on their page. On the surface, you might dismiss this company as not “getting” social media because they don’t actively engage in a two-way dialog.

But in so many ways, their strategy is far more coherent than companies that blindly engage for the sake of engagement. That’s because they are very clear about the purpose of their Facebook presence, which is to showcase the personality of the company. While they enjoy having millions of fans, the key business metric they track is reputation, which is used across all aspects of the business. On a daily basis, they ask their Facebook fans, as well as people in other channels, how they are doing on delivering their products, and if they are doing so in an environmentally sustainable way. They can then compare which channels are effective at driving their goal of improving reputation.

So how can you tell if your social business strategy is successful or failing? One way is to look across the elements of your social strategy and see if they align with each other in such a way that supports clear business goals. Are your capabilities in line with what you are trying to achieve, or have you bitten off too much and are not realizing the full potential of your efforts? Do you have the organizational governance in place to allow disparate business units to align their social efforts against a common enterprise goals, or is each line of business pulling in separate directions?

Another way to gauge where you are with your social business strategy is to take Altimeter’s Social Business Strategy Survey at http://svy.mk/QkcYRH. The aggregated results will appear in an upcoming report, and as a thank you for sharing, you’ll receive a data cut that you can use to benchmark your company against other organizations of the same size. You will receive this benchmark data after the research report is published.

The survey looks at the following topics:

  • Strategy: What are common goals and objectives? How do you measure the value of your social business efforts?
  • Organization: How are your social business efforts organized? How many people are dedicated to social business?
  • Budget: How much are you spending on external and internal social business efforts? What are you planning to spend on technologies and services in 2013?
  • Social Media Policies: What policies do you have in place? How well do employees understand those policies?

Please note that we plan to end the survey in the next week or so, so please take it as soon as possible! Also, please forward to others who may be interested or share with your social networks. Link: svy.mk/QkcYRH.

Lastly, please share why you think your social business strategy is successful — or on the flip side, what is dysfunctional about it. We’d all love to learn from your experiences!

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  • http://twitter.com/spoppe Steve Poppe

    Great analysis Charlene. People often refer to their social media tactics as strategy. If the social strategy doesn’t follow the brand strategy — if it is not guided by that business-building organizing principle, it is just errant typing and sharing. Thanks for proving a calm in the storm that is social media. Best, Steve at whatstheidea

    • http://www.facebook.com/charleneli Charlene Li

      It’s pretty amazing that the most basics of communications and marketing — brand adherence — often flies out the window! We often see style and brand guides specifically for social media channels, as the “voice” needs to be specific defined.

      • http://twitter.com/ainegrainne Aine Doris

        Charlene, do you mean that the “voice” of a brand across its social media channels should be coherent with its corporate voice – its “web” voice, or the tone of its press releases for instance?

        • http://twitter.com/spoppe Steve Poppe

          I know you didn’t ask me Aine, but it’s such a great question I felt the need to weigh in. The “social” voice may indeed be different, but the motivation — in support of the brand strategy — should be the same. Campaigns come and go, the brand strategy must remain indelible.

    • http://twitter.com/latravelgal Sandy

      I completely agree with you Steve. It is important to not confuse social media tactics with a strategy. I see that all too often, with the focus simply being to have a presence across all platforms, but when not real direction on what the content and engagement should be on each platform.

  • http://twitter.com/RichardRashty Richard Rashty

    Agree with the post…In fact most companies substitute “Tactics” with “Strategy” in many areas of Organizational Transformation.

    Before deploying any Social Business initiative, there needs to be intimate relationships identified between Social Strategies and Business/Organizational Strategies.

    Without building the tacit frameworks for how Social Strategies impact business process and your stakeholders, you have a series of tactical projects and risk unsustainable trajectories.

    • http://www.facebook.com/charleneli Charlene Li

      Richard – I like how you characterize that relationship as “intimate”, as in close and trusting. Definitely not what we see typically!

  • Justin Sanger

    Charlene, I really hope that “business type” and “customer type” analysis finds its way into this study. For too long we have been talking about social strategies and tactics that do not consider these critical dependencies.

    • http://twitter.com/kaviguppta kaviguppta

      Agree. Adding to that, we need to shift to the idea of “what can we do for them”, rather than “what can we get them to do” as well. “What can we get them to do” will only go so far in a “social business” channel.

    • http://www.facebook.com/charleneli Charlene Li

      Excellent point. We have some of that analysis, e.g. size of business, focus of the strategy, and to some extent, B2C vs. B2B. Something to definitely take into account as we dive into the data, as well as in future research.

      • Justin Sanger

        Charlene, thanks for the feedback. One of the key variables is transactional frequency. For example is it a one time transaction, seasonal, or repeat. For the one time which is dominate in our service based marketplace – activity driven by need based or emergency services, we need to think in terms of extracting social value at the point of interaction (to affect discovery/acquisition) and much less about ongoing social engagement (largely retention focused). This is especially true for SMBs as I feel strongly we are leading them down a dead end road with our continual focus on generalized social engagement data and advice. Thanks- keep up the great work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kelbyj Kelby Johnson

    Great post and important topic. While social is not “new” to many, I find that many brands continue to view it as a check box for their marketing mix to be complete. Wrong lens. It’s fascinating to me that brands (large and small) continue to use this fairly well established communications and connectivity venue as a broadcast medium. You are spot on on the coherence and “intimate” connectedness across and up and down the organization for any strategy to work. This is where we’re going. While I don’t use the product, Axe does a masterful job of cross-channel connectedness in their digital marketing strategy. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

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  • Cynthia Thomet

    Agreed! A lot of people confuse strategies with tactics. I like to think of a strategy as the spirit of the organization. It’s “who we are”, “who we want to be” and “our approach to presenting ourselves–whether in the best and worst-case scenarios”. The strategy doesn’t really change, even if the technology or the medium for conveying those core messages does. In the best-case scenario, we may choose a handful of tactics to maintain a regular drip-dose of our message, in the worst-case scenario we may find a need to add more discussion/distribution channels to convey our message. In short, I like to think the strategy is really about having a clear message–knowing self/company/product.

    • http://www.facebook.com/charleneli Charlene Li

      Excellent point Cynthia! One of my mentors, Roger Martin at the U of Toronto Rotman school, once wrote that a good strategy is a good story. You remember it because of the storyline, which is the strategy roadmap. Just like a good message, your strategy has to be remembered to be executed.

  • http://twitter.com/andrewspoeth Andrew Spoeth

    I’m looking forward to the survey results!

    A refreshing way to look at social business strategy: it tells us what we should *not* invest time and resources in, as your Facebook engagement example shows.

    It adds discipline and clarity in a field where it’s very easy to move in too many directions at once.

    • http://www.EmpowerNetwork.com/mikewilliamspro Mike Williams

      Focus is super important when working a SM campaign. If not your lost and off track in no time.

  • seo

    Informative post .You have shared with us.I would like to read your more updates..Keep them coming.

  • http://www.EmpowerNetwork.com/mikewilliamspro Mike Williams

    Very nice way to put it….

    “So while the company grows in its social media efforts, strategic focus, with a clear goal in mind, falls to the wayside.”

    I agree with this comment. We start to focus on the audience size, we forget to connect with the audience we currently have. We tend to avoid asking for business because we have to create content and give value. This is true, but if you create great content you have the permission to ask for business once in a while.

    That my 2 cents!

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  • Anonymous

    Hi, great post! Its very common to hear. In my case, our client is really hard to break, he is focused on using social media as a traditional channel or sometimes even worst, like a “put everything we do” on it. Lacks of clear understanding of how to translate actions into useful results. The worst part “he is always right”.

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  • Social Media Pro

    Good read! This is a good wake-up call to people who are purchasing “social media managers” that just post memes. lol

  • http://www.agencyplatform.com/ Dave Thompson

    Deciding on the goal is the first thing in a social media strategy. Many business hope for a drastic increase in sale but that is not what social media does, it does helps in sales but indirectly. A logical goal and a good tracking tool will surely make a social media strategy work.

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  • Tom Locke

    Great post! Like you said, the most important thing about a Social Media strategy is getting involved in the conversation around your brand rather than simply broadcasting. Building analytics and reports into your strategy gives you vital insight into who your audience is and what works well for them – ultimately allowing you achieve your strategic milestones quicker. The priority should always be to turn fans into advocates and build meaningful relationships on a human level! http://www.coupmedia.com/