Business leaders and social media: 4 step strategy framework

by Steve Seager on July 29, 2009

If you are a business leader, it is important for you to lead social media engagement rather than ‘let it happen’ to your business.

This post gives business leaders a basic framework to guide strategy development. You can download an expanded version here on scribd. I will develop this theme over time. Would appreciate your comments to make it better next time!

As a business leader you’re probably already aware that conversations about you are happening online. Things have already changed. There are new opportunities. Your marketing or communications manager has probably already pitched you with his new idea for a LinkedIn group, Twitter channel, or suchlike.

But new channels have new risks. Social media is a very big place. So as a leader it’s your responsibility to at least set business level strategy. So how do you set a strategy in the context of social media?

Before I answer, a little story on strategy: when I was a teenager Geoff, my stepfather, used to take me rock climbing. I loved it. But I was terrified. For a long while, whenever I would start a climb, all I could see was the sheer rock face in front of me.

Climbing then was a matter of focusing on what was right in front of me: one step at a time. After climbing a while, I got stronger. I trusted the equipment more. I got better. Geoff suggested that I lead.

Standing in front of a new climb now, I needed to think about where my finishing point was. I needed to break down and plan the moves needed to secure progress step by step. In climbing theyʼre called belay points.

Some of the climbing between these belay points was easy and small. Some was a real stretch. Leading a climb, my goal now was not look at what was in front of me, but to set direction, and ensure Geoff could safely follow. That was my first taste of strategy. And it’s no different to what you need to do as a business leader engaging in social media.

Strategy framework mountain climber

Whether we are talking about rock climbing, traditional marketing or social media, strategy is strategy. The architecture remains the same. Here it is:

1. Set the business objectives

As Michiel, my business partner, is fond of saying: “If it doesn’t sell, it’s not worth the webspace it’s written in.” So set those targets. If you set the bar too high, don’t worry. You can adjust it later. Do you have a specific product or service that you and your team believe is best suited for a social media campaign? Focus on that for now. You can always adjust and expand later.

Although clear sales targets are a good focus, social media is also a powerful tool for reputation and awareness: another legitimate business objective. So when your marketing team proposes they should get all ‘social’ on your business, be sure to set clear and specific sales or reputation goals. Or, task your team to set them. Don’t let them proceed without first clarifying objectives.

2. Set the communication goals

You may find your team arguing that social media isn’t measurable. It is. Just like anchoring belay points in rock climbing, you can measure progress through linking your goals to specific actions and desired outcomes along the way.

As a business leader it’s your job to set the bigger picture: for example, activating word of mouth in targeted communities. You should focus on clarifying specific stakeholder groups or consumer niches. Get your team to identify specific objectives and check points (‘belay’ points) along the way to ensure you are on track. Michiel highlights some specific metrics here.

3. Set the global strategies

When thinking about social media I usually think in terms of three distinct strategies:

Website strategy: what is the role of your website? Is it a point of sale? A central hub for all your communications? A tool to support your salespeople? An open resource to increase knowledge and learning about your business? These are all different strategies. Set your strategy clearly.

Online strategy: are you still in the ‘build my website and advertise to drive traffic’ head set? Do you consider outbound marketing as your main driver? What about inbound marketing? Most companies have a 90/10 mix of outbound versus inbound. What about changing that mix? What would happen? What about a content marketing strategy rather an advertising driven one?

Social media strategy: how will you use social media? To listen, to gain knowledge and insights about consumers and markets? To proactively engage in dialogue? To nurture advocates? To develop a direct sales channel? Each of these strategies has implications on how your team will engage with social media. Set your strategy. Communicate it.

4. Define your role

Defining your role is important as a business leader. What level of engagement are you personally prepared for? Social media has now made it possible for you personally to engage directly with your buyers, consumers, stakeholders online. Do you want this?

Are you a business leader that loves the limelight? Love engaging online? Social media savvy? Love your blackberry? If so, you can position yourself very clearly as the face and voice of your business. It will take time and effort. It will be part of your daily routine. Are you prepared for this?

Or would you rather have others assume this role? If so, then you again need to decide. Think how much time and effort you are willing to invest. Define your own role. Assign the role of others.

Conclusion and a word of caution

No one ‘controls’ social media. You cannot either. Shouting your same old advertising and brand messages on social media is not a good strategy. Social media is a genuine, transparent dialogue between you, your consumers, and between consumers themselves.

You may not have control of social media but you do have control of your team. By setting clear strategies for your business and your team, you set the ground rules. That will give you influence in social media.

What do you think?

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