Most books are written out of a sense of frustration or even anger. You want to get something off your chest and writing 60,000+ words tends to do the trick. What made me angry enough to write The Financial Times Guide to Social Media Strategy was the way in which social media practitioners appeared obsessed by the 3Ts of tactics, trivia and technology. They were wasting time and money on tactical activities that were not aligned to real priorities and wondering why no one took them seriously in the boardroom. Too much of their attention was given to often trivial outputs – cleverly-worded tweets, attention-grabbing posts, amusing videos, beautifully art-directed images, funny Snapchat filters – and not enough on measurable outcomes. Opportunities were being missed. Bad ideas were slipping through the net, whilst good ideas were underfunded. Lessons were not learned. Risks were taken that were avoidable.
These faults were the inevitable consequence of the haphazard way in which social media emerged. Most organisations began using social media without a clear strategic goal. Facebook pages and Twitter accounts were set up on an ad hoc basis, without necessarily taking the time to decide what they were for and how they would benefit different stakeholders. Simply having a social media presence was deemed to be sufficient. Few people were asking simple, strategic questions, such as why are we doing this? How is this going to add value to our customers? Does it meet or satisfy a real customer need? Could we achieve our objectives more cost-effectively by doing something else?
The issue has been exacerbated by what appears to be the new economy’s disregard for strategic planning. ‘Fail fast, fail often’ has become the mantra of Silicon Valley to justify an impatience with deliberation and careful analysis and a laissez-faire attitude to process and strategic rigour. When the algorithm can provide a solution within nano-seconds, the human act of thinking through a problem can appear self-indulgent and the discipline of planning viewed as almost unnecessary. Why bother trying to find the right answer when you can test every conceivable option until you find the solution? There is also a tendency amongst many operating within the new economy to dismiss the received wisdom and practices of an earlier age, which includes what they consider an anachronistic focus on planning, processes and corporate governance. It has led to an unhealthy focus on tactics and technology, rather than strategic thinking.
As a direct consequence of this ad hoc, unstructured approach, most organisations lack robust systems and processes or the resources to make the most of social media and minimise its risks. This means that:
- Activities and investments are not aligned with organisational priorities or customer needs;
- The mix of social media channels and accounts lacks any strategic logic;
- There are ‘orphan’ corporate accounts, with pitifully few followers, from which the hosts have not posted or tweeted for months, if not years;
- Results are likely to be inconsistent and difficult to measure;
- Money and time is being wasted;
- Team members are unclear about their specific responsibilities or objectives;
- Ownership of the social media function is contested between different departments;
- Valuable intelligence and information derived from social media is not being shared widely across the organisation;
- Many managers are cynical or apathetic about the value of social media and consequently wary of making any significant investments. This tends to create a vicious circle in which cynicism leads to under-investment and a lack of senior management focus, which means even poorer results and even further cynicism;
- Organisations are unwittingly exposing themselves to unnecessary risks.
My book aims to put all of this right. The Financial Times Guide to Social Media Strategy hopefully demonstrates the value of adopting a more strategic approach to deliver more effective campaigns, build more valuable networks, gather smarter business intelligence, enhance customer loyalty and transform corporate culture, while at the same time navigating the risks. It is also an unashamed champion of the continued value of strategic thinking. Strategy still matters, even in a dynamic, always-on, real time digital world. If I can encourage even a few people involved in the use of social media to think, to analyse, to plan and to ask questions before embarking on any social media initiative or making any significant investments, my anger will not have been wasted.
The Financial Times Guide to Social Media Strategy: Boost your business, manage risk and develop your personal brand, published by FT Publishing International, is available on Amazon and from all good book stores.