6 Factors that turn social media strategy into RESULTS

social media workshops and strategy

After working as a marketing consultant for more than a decade, I know how exhilarating it is when a client really executes well on a strategy.

Unfortunately, I too often see deeply-embedded cultural baggage weighing down a company’s full potential to succeed. Here are the common elements that make the difference between a strategy document gathering dust on a shelf or becoming a dynamic business driver:

1) Active executive sponsorship

social media leadershipI was recently brought in to do a social media strategy workshop with a big health care company. The president of the company greeted me and said “I know we need to do this. We are counting on you to lead us in the right direction.” Not only did she verbally demonstrate support, she was actively engaged in the entire meeting and led the part of the program determining next steps. This active leadership is CRITICAL to organizational change.

There is no such thing as a grassroots cultural change. The person at the top must “get it” and make people accountable for the change. Measurable expectations for change must be driven into performance objectives. Here is the most important thing a leader can do to keep the change going week to week:  Ask questions about it in staff meetings.

2) Immersive learning

immersive social media“Can you just do this for us?”

When I hear that question, I know my client is not ready to commit to the organizational change needed to make a social media strategy work.

The big difference between a company “checking the box” and one that is really being transformed is that people are rolling up their sleeves and learning by doing. They’re not out-sourcing tweets and blog posts. They’re making “content” and customer engagement central to the company’s marketing mission and adjusting job requirements accordingly.

This is excruciatingly difficult. For 100 years, we have been conditioned to pay an advertising agency to handle our customer media and then sit back and wait for something to happen.  Certainly advertising is still an important part of the marketing formula. But a content strategy must be organically linked to some extent between employees and customers for it to “take” in the company culture.

3) Patience + Resources

social media resourcesStarting a social media strategy from scratch is like putting a soccer team together while the game is underway — you still have a business to run.  Certain players will rise or fall, certain strategies will work or be abandoned as we adjust to the competition and the reaction from the market.

To persevere in this rather chaotic transition, a team should be provided with the appropriate amount of resources and enough patience to allow them to gel and perform.  The change is not sustainable if it is simply an “add on” to an already full plate.  You wouldn’t take a cross-country trip in a broken-down car running out of gas. The first few miles might be fine, but for the long-term you need to have a vehicle and the fuel to help you get to your goal.

4) Focus

social media focusChasing the shiny red ball is a strategy killer.  If you have done the upfront research and planning, you should be confident in following a plan long enough to give it a chance to make an impact.  Shifting priorities without following through on a plan will waste time and money faster than anything else.

5) Creative application

social media creativityA few years ago, I might not have made this such a priority.  Back then, it was probably novel enough just being on the social web! But today, everyone has a blog. Everyone has a Facebook page. Are you devoting creative resources to these efforts to really stand out and deliver the goods for your customers?  That is becoming increasingly difficult isn’t it?

6) Measurement aligned with goals

social media goalsRepeat after me. “I will measure my marketing efforts.” In today’s data-filled world, there is no reason NOT to measure. It’s just this simple: How do you know your strategy is working if you don’t measure? Don’t get caught up in the endless ROI debate. Pick meaningful KPI’s that are helping to move the needle for your business objectives.

Well that’s my take on what it takes to make a social media strategy work. What’s your view? Which one of these is the most important to you?

Business icons courtesy BigStock.com

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  • I agree that you need to take on social media including blogging yourself. I tried to outsource some of my blog posts and they seemed very generic. When I take the time to write my own blog posts they have much more meaning. Sometime I still outsource simply for SEO. I make sure I do at least one written and one video blog myself each week. That works a lot better.

  • All six of your points are right on track! The culture shift starts at the top, and if the CEO or President doesn’t support it, nothing really changes at all. Great post, and blog!

  • I agree, Julie! Outsourcing works best when the content is sandwiched with some of your own. 🙂 That way you take some of the pressure off, but are still really engaging with your readers.

  • It definitely makes a difference if you jump in and do your own social media. It’s tempting to source it out, but in the long run it’s not worth it! Question for you, Mark — what are your favorite measurement tools? I hate to admit it publicly, but this is where I am lacking!

  • Couldn’t agree more, Mark. If you’re just “doing” social media because you feel you have to or because everyone else is, you’re going to fail. That’s not a good way to approach this.

    I also think #2 is incredibly important. When businesses come to me and ask if we can “do” their social media for them, I tell them we’re not the right company for them. Although that can work sometimes, in my opinion, it’s always better to hire someone to help you with the strategy and to guide the effort, but it should be executed internally. Sadly, many businesses aren’t willing to commit the resources to make this happen.

  • I do think there is a place for out-sourcing, especially if you are a sucky writer : ) Thanks for the comments!

  • Thanks for your kind words Bonnie. Glad it resonated with you!

  • It’s a great question and certainly you are not alone on that one Tara! When it comes to measurement, I start with this question — “What action or attitude am I trying to impact?” So the answer to that is obviously different for every organization. But I start there and then try to match data available through Google Analytics and other sources that can be a leading indicator of success in those areas.

    If my goal is “awareness,” then page views and subscribers are certainly important measures.

    If a goal is “increase donations” then something like downloading a form or clicking a contact button would drive the right behaviors that eventually lead to donations.

    If you have a specific problem you’re struggling with,let’s set up a call and maybe we can figure it out together.

  • I have a feeling this will; surprise you but i actually am OK with businesses “checking a box.” Maybe i will write a post about this! : )

    I think the cultural transition takes time and can be very painful. Maybe by “doing” social media a company can still learn and experiment and maybe adjust based on tiny successes and lessons. As long as a company is moving in the right direction, it might be encouraging that they are at least taking a step. Does that make sense or am I crazy? : )

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  • I completely agree on the measurement starting with questions like you’ve outlined. Whenever I’m looking to write an algorithm or piece of analysis, I ask the team what questions they’re trying to answer. Then we’ll design the research, report or tools together so the whole team understands the data and takes ownership on using the insights we find.

  • Great piece. The line that (particularly) chimed with me was “There is no such thing as a grassroots cultural change”. I have been to so many events , conferences and debates and this subject comes up time and time again. I’m lucky to work for an organisation where the CEO believes in what we do on social media and keeps urging us on. I’ve not (yet) come across an employer that gets it right without executive trust , faith and belief.

  • Well done Chris!

  • … and you never will : ) Thanks Paul!

  • Have bookmarked to read, and comment when things slow down around here Mark…

  • Know the feeling!!! : )

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  • Miguel Barreiro

    Thank you its difficult to keep up to date with social media marketing. It keeps moving so fast!

  • I believe that these six guidelines you’ve laid down here Mark are valuable, not just in terms of social media strategy but in marketing strategy overall.

    This is especially true if you’re the consultant coming in with the “Answers” into a jungle of employees who are potentially going to feel that your revelations will reveal their lack of initiative, creativity, resourcefulness, and just plain simple unwillingness to work.

    As a hired gun, you need an endorsement from the top. You need full authority or else the employees aren’t going to take you seriously and there’s a good chance of them sabotaging your efforts so that they can prove you “wrong” and get you to pack your bags so that they can go about “lack luster business as usual”.

    This reminds me of a story I just heard one of my treasure mentors, Dan Kennedy, tell about the top DUI attorney in Las Vegas who is in Dan’s coaching

    When Dan told him he needed to be doing this, the attorney
    told the staff about it and they told him that people only call to shop price
    and that they’re embarrassed and that they could never get contact information
    from them that would allow them to pursue the people who didn’t set up an

    Dan’s suggestion was to fire all the staff who wouldn’t get
    on board and hire people who didn’t have to reprogram, who didn’t know you
    couldn’t get the contact information because they learned how to get the
    contact information on the first day there.

    He refused to do that.

    So he tried to force the staff and they did everything they
    could to prove his new idea wrong by not capturing any information.

    This led to them having a meeting the next Monday offering
    $20 bucks for every full lead capture – name, email, address, and phone number.
    Miraculously, the attitudes of all these people who got DUI’s changed overnight
    and they began to cheerfully hand over their contact information.

  • Ah! I guess it depends on what you mean by “checking a box”. When I think of the companies “checking a box”, they are the ones that are not invested and just want to outsource the entire effort just so they can say they are social. I think some businesses just feel the need to have social without understanding why they should be using it or even if it will benefit them. That’s what I think is a mistake.

    But, I totally agree that testing it out and experimenting it is very important. There is definitely an element of that when a company takes this on. But, I think that’s why strategic guidance can be so very useful on the front end. You’ll save a lot of headache and heartache that way.

    So, no, you’re not crazy! 🙂

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  • Adam

    Love the guidelines Mark (and the icons).

    Most important? I would have to say executive sponsorship, C-suite buy-in, whatever you want to call it. Organizations have finite time and resources, and the people at the top choose which priorities get focus and energy. To have the initiative be more than window dressing and more than “look, we do social now,” you have to have buy-in at the top.

    Actually, #6 bookends nicely with that idea. Even if you have executive sponsorship, measuring and showing that goals have been achieved is how you keep it.

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  • Susan Young

    Hi Mark,

    Spot-on as always! I especially agree with No. 2 that it’s not about blog posts and content. An organization’s willingness to outsource customer service and engagement to a community manager just screams for help. And a kick in the butt, too.
    Best regards,Susan

  • Great advice, Mark. I agree with all these, but number one is definitely the most important. I just had to force a client to take a three month break until they could get the proper internal resources/support in place to make our program work. We did all the prep work, then they couldn’t help us actually launch the program because the internal support and dedication wasn’t there. Now it is, and it’s amazing to see how quickly things are moving!

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  • Susan Collini

    I work with a number of small businesses who need to use social media just as much as bigger companies, but they have less in the way of human resources. I’ve found that breaking down what needs to be done into bite size achievable chunks, rather than facing them with the overall ‘game plan’, builds motivation, effects greater enthusiasm and helps establish core skills needed for success.

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  • Digett

    I can’t decide if 1 or 2 is the most important, but they really do go hand in hand. Yes the bigwigs need to be on board (otherwise there’s no funding or accountability), but then so does everyone else. CEO Jane might hand down the funds, but in the end it’s Joe in Marketing who has to do the work — if he’s not passionate about it, the whole effort might be sunk. Everyone needs to be willing and excited to jump in.

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  • Mark, I think #6 is the most critical. While I have invested generously in marketing in recent years, the one thing that must be a constant, is that what ever tactics we decide to use, MUST BE MEASURABLE. Good read, thanks for sharing.

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  • Ok, there’s one vote! : )

  • Superb insights and a great anecdote. Thanks Lewis!

  • Nice point and I agree Adam.

  • Susan, it means a lot to me that you took the time from your busy day to comment. Thank you!

  • Wow, that’s great Nikki. Really wise move on your part!

  • That is a great point Susan. You need to build “small wins” into the program to help it gain momentum. Probably should have had that in the original post!

  • I think the ultimate situation would be to have the new plans baked into performance objectives. If you tie it to money, the hearts and minds will follow! : )

  • I’m with you all the way on that on Michael. Thanks!

  • Mark, 6 excellent points always learn from your posts/comments. For me the power is in the integration of all six points and the issue of culture is critical; this is a fundamentally different way of doing business. There really isn’t a one size fits all solution and unless the entire organization is engaged and connected there will be lost opportunity and perhaps obsolescence.

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  • Digett

    Nothing encourages social media participation like money being on the line! 🙂 Although the cynic in me doesn’t like it; something tells me that a person who does social media as part of their job will be better at it if they’re actually passionate, as opposed to doing it because it’s a line in their job description. I could be underestimating the power of bonuses, though.

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  • I think that is a perfect observation Joseph. Could not agree more!

  • If you don’t love social media, you suck at social media. : )

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  • @mikebertelsen

    Have priorities for sure.

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  • Volker

    Great advice – completely agree with 2-6. Actually I’d like to challenge the executive sponsorship – whereas I agree that on long-term management buy-in is absolutely necessary, I think it is also necessary to see that social media enthusiasts in the company need to do something before they get management attention. So it is not something you get, it is something you need to work for. Too often I hear that management doesn’t understand the advantages of social media – but if you ask how they were informed, it is mostly through standard business meetings with some power point slides. You have to give managers the opportunity to experience the advantages, think more of a 5 minutes training instead of a old-school presentation to them. Maybe don’t call it training, call it management presentation, but do it in a way of training 🙂

    So I think that 1 and 2 goes hand-in-hand.

  • I guess I buy into that Volker. I think we agree. it doesn’t matter HOW the executives come on board, but they need to get on board. Executive education through passionate people lower in the organization would work. Thanks for the thought-provoking comment.

  • Hey Mark,

    These are extremely salient points. I experienced it firsthand during my internship at a government agency which employs over 200 people. It was similar to many mature organisations I came into contact with – they think that social can be an outsiders’ job. Not entirely wrong, but like you said, they see it too much like advertising, which is another game altogether. A successful social business needs to build its roots inhouse and outsource certain dispensable parts, like daily monitoring and ad buying, for example.


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