Sunday, 30 October 2011

Why you don't need a social media strategy

I am regularly asked to share Wolverhampton Homes social media strategy and I have to reply that we don't have one. Here's why:
  1. A strategy should be concerned with the how question: how will you achieve your objective(s)? Recent examples for us have been 'how will we raise awareness of hate crime?' or 'how will we change people's perceptions of an area of our city?' These questions can be answered by describing the tools you will use, the messages you will communicate, the audiences you are seeking to reach and how will you know whether you've achieved your objective. If we ask the question 'how can we use social media?', the use of social media becomes the end in itself. 
  2. Too often people fall into the trap of confusing a social media strategy with guidelines. Guidelines can be very useful, particularly as you extend the number of people who are using social media in your business. Wolverhampton Homes guidelines are here.
  3. Social media is a communications tool. As with other tools, our job as communications practitioners is to understand them and select the appropriate tool for the situation. I prefer to develop strategies for campaigns and messages rather than tools. Wolverhampton Homes doesn't have a newsletter strategy; we use the newsletter as a tool in campaigns - and we take the same approach with social media.
  4. When you're using a new communications tool, it's better to focus on experimenting and learning how your audience responds to it than waste your time writing some grand strategy. It may give you or your managers (false) comfort but in reality, you are probably just postponing getting on with using it. The risk with new tools is that people may focus on using them for their own sake rather than focusing on what they want to use them for. 
  5. If you don't believe me, Eric Weave puts it much better than I can.


  1. Hi Kate, this is a really interesting take from one of the social housing 'trailblazers' in the field of SM. And it mirrors exactly the debate at Orbit as to whether we take a 'top down' strategic approach or continue to nurture the 'grass roots' work going on... in actual fact we have decided to do both.
    A strategy is basically a 'plan' and while I agree SM is a tool, it perhaps can be seen as comprising a range of 'tools' with a need to deploy different tools to engage with different audiences like customers (Facebook, probably?), stakeholders (twitter mainly?) and staff (blogs/forums on intranet probably?). We also need to manage and integrate our messages and have objectives... otherwise why are we doing it? So in that sense I am a traditionalist. No plan (strategy) = risk of lack of focus, goals and SMART outcomes. You're dead right of course that SM lends itself to 'informal/organic' but both theory and practice of PR demonstrates having a plan (or strategy) tends to enhance the likelihood of delivering excellence.
    There is also a qualitative difference with larger, complex organisations such as Orbit which works in 100+ local authorities and has a federal structure with local autonomy. A plan or strategy helps us focus our effort, maintain standards and delivers rigor to how we communicate with SM, just as we do in media relations.
    So, taking on board what you say is helpful - and we'll de developing our very own hybrid version!

  2. Thank you for your comment Boris. I would disagree about a plan and a strategy being interchangeable - we have got a plan! We plan all our web content, social media included, in advance, so it has maximum impact when combined with our other communications channels. I absolutely agree about having objectives and SMART outcomes, I would just say that the objectives should be related to the message rather than using the tool itself. These mix of views make communications a very exciting place to work at the moment! Great to hear/see everything that's happening at Orbit and hope to catch up with you soon. :)

  3. Good post. My simplistic take on it is this: We don't have an outbound telephone call plan so why do we need a plan or strategy for social media?

    It's just another form of communication where common sense applies. Don't damage the brand or break the law of the land and no-one gets hurt.

    I get the stuff about standards and guidance but you have to be careful over managing content.
    Our internal social media channel , Yammer , took off precisely because there was NO guidance , NO plan and NO launch. It went viral because people found their own uses for it and adapted it. And it became self regulating. If we had launched it with a list of do's and don'ts it would have failed.

  4. Ah thanks Paul, that's interesting to hear about your yammer. We use the Council's one but I would love for us to have our own section. Have you blogged it at all?

  5. No haven't blogged it..yet! will drop you a mail probably worth you popping over or us to you given we are neighbours!

  6. Yeah definitely - I shall look forward to it!

  7. Despite my initial glee at hearing the view that a social media strategy isn't needed, I tend to agree with Kate that some form of planning is needed - and some reviewing. My feeling is that social media (in housing, and at the moment) doesn't need the kind of high level planning of a strategy.
    However, I think you do need to plan and frequently review your social media channels - it just doesn't need to be as complex as a strategy.
    One example I can give you from my experience of managing a twitter account for L&Q (@creatingplaces) is that it is starting to become a customer service channel used specifically by our homeowners.
    This has led to our Communications Team (who have always managed the Twitter account) consulting with Customer Services to produce a revised plan, and very probably some customer service standards.
    I think we'd still be needing to do this now even if we hadn't decided to just jump in and experiment with Twitter a little while ago. (As a big HA, people still talk about you on Twitter even if you don't listen).
    We're now benefitting from our past experience in using Twitter, which is proving enormously useful in planning for our future use of all social media.
    Thanks for posting this Kate, it's a good debate to have.

  8. Thank you Paul. Really interested to hear how you're integrating comms and customer services in the management of Twitter. We're kind of at that point with facebook and it's about how we take the next step in our social media work. Would be good to chat about it some time with you.

  9. Of course. I'll give you a shout when we've finalised a plan. I'd be happy to share it and get the benefit of your advice. I'm hoping that the plan will include a move to Facebook for us too. As you say, it's an exciting place to work at the moment.