Social Media Planning and Strategy – An Oxymoron?

Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business and renowned speaker on all things social media, once said: “We don’t have a choice whether we do social media. The question is how well we do it.”

According to a 2009 survey by Marketing Trends, the top three areas of investment moving into next year are e-mail marketing, social media and search. Why? The traditional marketing model has fundamentally changed. People are moving away from physical events and advertising as they are no longer the optimal choices to market brands or products. Meanwhile, more companies are seeing social media as a key marketing channel. According to the CMO Council, “60 percent of the more than 600 marketers who responded in our survey will invest in new online community and networking tools in the next year.” Today, it’s about word of mouth — people  their time online are engaging with like-minded people to learn what others (their trusted networks) are saying about brands, products and services.

I recently attended MarketingProfs’ #techchat on Twitter with Guy Kawasaki, the leading expert in social media. He brought up two thought provoking comments during the chat which inspired me to write this post. First, he said when it comes to social media, businesses should just throw something at it and see what sticks.

Second, he said, social media planning and strategy is an oxymoron. Maybe this was his way of stirring up controversy to see what others would say. A few years back, this would’ve made sense, but given how far we’ve come with social media in B2B and B2C companies and the data and success stories we now have, there is no excuse for companies to not adequately plan and build a strategy.

I recently spoke at a panel session sponsored by Enterprise Network where I had the pleasure to be among a stellar group of social media experts — Kathy Sacks, VP of Communication for InfusionSoft; Al Maag, Chief Communication Officer for Avnet; Ed Brice, SVP of Worldwide Marketing for Lumension, and Patrick O’Grady of the Phoenix Business Journal. For more details, you can read Linda Vandervedre of PR Valley PR Blog. Attendees consisted of entrepreneurs, marketers and business consultants all looking to get into social media, which takes me back to my original point — it’s not a question of if but how well, and doing social media well takes planning and a solid strategy that aligns with business objectives. Companies that are looking to launch social media have a tremendous opportunity to become thought leaders and drive social media forward. To do this, consider these points:

First things first, research: During the panel session, Kathy Sacks had an interesting twist when she said we are therapists, because we need to listen as part of social media. We need to monitor and listen before we do anything. Find out what people are saying about your brand, products or services or even competitors’ stuff. Companies underestimate the intelligence they can gather on customers, prospects, competitors and future markets through social media monitoring. The data points gathered through listening and monitoring will help you better understand where your communities are and where you need to be when mapping out your strategy and plan. Such examples are also crucial when making a case to your team and executive management.

Planning is the foundation for all things social media: Planning has several components. First, define your objectives —to simply listen, monitor, innovate, engage and/or build thought leadership? From there, you can outline what channels are relevant and why. For example, consider launching a blog and developing a presence on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as well as YouTube. Understand your resources and what’s realistic in terms of fully committing to these channels to meet your objectives. Planning requires attention and time because social media is about authenticity, engagement, consistency and commitment. Under the leadership of Heather Loisel, SVP of Worldwide Marketing for JDA, I’ve had the pleasure of working our social media team to see the progression of planning and how that is impacting executive buy-in. A well-thought-out plan will serve as a compass for your strategy.

Strategy will determine your social media direction: “Before you journey, observe the wind carefully, detect its direction, and then follow it. You will get to your destination twice as fast with half the effort.” (Ching-Ning Chu). According to Sirius Decision, a coordinated strategy is in place in fewer than 20 percent of B2B companies that use social media. When building a strategy, everyone must work together to build an enforceable policy, education program, and what key channels you’re going to integrate into your marketing plan and deploy company-wide as part of your strategy. Your strategy should take into consideration how you’re going to integrate everyone into the mix — IT, HR, legal, executives and employees — into the fold. This is key for getting executives to buy into your plan for using social media outlets – getting their approval will allow you to align corporate objectives with social media strategy and goals.

ROI (Risk of Ignoring): Mitch Glasser said it best during the Q&A after the panel session about ROI — that it’s no longer about return on investment but the risk of ignoring social media. This is true. Today, you no longer control the brand; your customers do. And this is unsettling to many marketers. But you have to consider the risk of ignoring social media because if you choose to close your eyes to what’s happening in the social Web, your competitors will pass you by.

Additional Resources:

Linda Vandevrede’s Valley PR Blog: Local Communication Pros Discuss Social Media

Ed Brice’s Marketing Gimbal Blog: Six Social Media Sins

Mashable: 3 Things You Need to Know About Social Media Strategy

 Phoenix Business Journal Blog: Social Media Going Business to Business

Sirius Decision: Monitoring: The Foundation of a B2B Social Media Strategy



  1. Nice post Erik.
    I completely agree that there does need to be strategy behind every companies social media efforts. Companies need to understand their customers and what direction they can both go in together.
    However, I also somewhat agree with Guy Kawasaki. You can do all the research, planning and strategy you want, but because social media relies on interaction between your company and your public, your public can always throw a kink in your chain. There’s always going to be something that happens that you didn’t plan for or expect and those are the times when your strategy goes completely out the window. However, if you did your planning and research properly, you will also know a lot about your public so you can hopefully know how to deal with said kink despite it not being part of your original plan/strategy.


    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  2. It looks like Guy Kawasaki is in the minority (and a small one at that!).


  1. […] Social Media Planning and Strategy – An Oxymoron? […]

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