Rethinking Social Strategy

Brass Tack Thinking - Rethinking Social StrategyI really enjoyed this post by Brian Solis that articulates that social business and social strategy as we’ve been defining it are rooted in ideas that stretch beyond what we’re comfortable with today.

We’re eager for all-encompassing terms, and we have some in depth discussions about finding just the right monikers for the upheaval that we’re feeling and experiencing. By giving it a name, we can understand it better. Work through its characteristics and nature. Define it in a way that makes it clear for us.

But Brian’s post inspired me to comment on something that I’ve been chewing on for some time, especially as more and more information comes out about what, exactly, a “social strategist” does, or how we can articulate the nature of a truly social business.

Neither social strategy nor social business can be tucked into a singular definition or layer. They happen at every level of a business, and need to be considered in the appropriate context.

Leadership

The top layers of an organization often encompass the driving force and vision for the future. Not to say that groundbreaking ideas can’t come from anywhere, but in terms of responsibility, the executive and leadership teams are and should be more concerned with the future of the business than almost anything else. It’s course setting and destination plotting at its finest, and in a social media context, this is where we need to be asking the “Where do we go next?” question.

It’s also where culture and intent around social media have to be set, because while culture is created and fostered within the fabric of a company, it is stewarded and endorsed at the top and cannot thrive long term without leadership buy-in (and the patience and cultivation that requires). At this layer, we need social strategy and social business to be designed around that distant view, around translating a vision and illustrating a picture for where we want to go, what we believe to be true, what we hope to impact and change.

Management

At the middle levels of an organization, we need shorter term planning (6-12 months) as well as a keen focus on integration and optimization of existing efforts. How can we build systems, people, and processes that not only integrate with each other, but that help realize the vision and ideals we’ve got in our sights for the long term? This is also where we need to focus on organizational alignment to ensure that everyone is functionally and intellectually moving in the same direction, and devoted to the discussion and education that requires.

In the course of that, the management needs to work with the leadership team to be willing to rethink everything. That can mean creating entirely new or reinvented business models that are designed to adapt to and around social media, rather than trying to cram what we know and are learning about social into existing and familiar constructs.

Execution

I think this is where we end up typically parking “social strategy”, but it’s one piece of what really is a much greater whole. These are the layers that realize the plan as it’s set out, but the real work in that side of things isn’t just in the delivery. It’s in the testing, the breaking, the mining of that process for learnings and insights that can be fed back into the system and used to improve or rejigger things as needed.

Execution isn’t just doing. It’s doing with the intent to understand what happens when you do. There are few people that can understand the nuances, challenges, unexpected successes and subtle details like those who are charged with actually walking the path. And our social business needs to pervade this layer as much as the leadership realm, lest we disperse our plans and theories to the wild and never truly understand how they worked in practice.

Reinvention

I truly believe that capitalizing on social’s power requires rethinking some very fundamental and pivotal ways that we do things, not just the surface treatments that we give them. I don’t have all of the answers yet for what that means or how it looks. But I’m thinking about it, I’m writing about it, I’m contemplating. I don’t think social is the only and sole answer. What I *do* think, however, is that social is the catalyst in many ways for re-examining our own assumptions around how all of the elements of our business work best.

The trick for most business is that instead of building on a new foundation, we have to reverse engineer some of the things we’re already doing. And that’s messy. Some we have to start doing, from scratch. Some we have to do differently or better. Some we have to stop doing altogether. All of those things have implications from how people work to what they do to how they feel and what value they provide, and changing them can have some repercussions that aren’t always easy to handle.

Change that endures requires not just obstinate persistence, but methodical and patient stewardship. And the evolution of social strategy for a business needs to take place, in parallel, in many different areas. They need not all continue or change at the same rate, but significant movement in some areas but not others is what creates friction and discord. I think that’s a large part of what we’re feeling now; some areas of social business emerging faster than others, likely ones that are more closely aligned with what we already know and understand while the more difficult aspects of culture change and fluid communication are less clear (and as a result, move much more slowly as we unravel them).

There is much to consider, and it’s going to take some bravery on the part of businesses and the leaders that guide them.

How to make it all work together, in concert? What does that new business model look like? That continues to be our ultimate question, and the one for which I don’t yet have complete answers. But I’m finding pieces. And perseverance cannot be underestimated.

  • Anonymous

    Great post Amber. I especially like the roles being defined. I think there has been a perception that tweeting and doing status updates was social media. As it grows the responsibilities and direction is reshaping as well.
    Happy Thanksgiving!
    B

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Brian, you’re right. And for many businesses, that’s a perfectly okay start (everyone has to begin somewhere). It’s stuff that can be translated back to the kinds of communication they already relate to, so it’s much easier to socialize internally and get buy-in for. The really tough stuff is a few layers beneath that. And while it’s hard and takes time, it’s the kind of thing that really equips a business to build on a new foundation instead of trying to shove a round peg in a square hole. :)

  • http://rickcaffeinated.com Rick Stilwell

    This sentence nailed it for me: “Execution isn’t just doing. It’s doing with the intent to understand what happens when you do.” Boo yah, Amber. That is dead solid perfect right there.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Rick. Strength in execution shouldn’t just be about blindly following a roadmap, but instead critically evaluating each step on that map as to whether it’s the right one. That’s a level of execution that challenges some of our assumptions about who is “qualified” to question or assess those things but as social pervades all levels of the business, we need to empower people to think that way even at the most tactical layers.

      • http://rickcaffeinated.com Rick Stilwell

        In my niche professionally and trying to help others get a leg up, it’s the simple part of your sentence there. Either they don’t see the real issues (“how can Farmville skills help my business?” – “um, not much, but….”), or if they participate in social media personally, that’s all they see and their professional interaction is as scattershot as the personal. Having a mindset to put some hard work and research/listening/adjusting into it, and you have something to build on. “Empowering people to think” is huge, too – and that’s where your writing crosses over into other professional lanes as well. :)

  • http://twitter.com/webby2001 Tom Webster

    It’s the organizational alignment bit that most social strategists (who are actually marketing strategists) are woefully ill-equipped to address. Some of my traditional media clients often lament to me that they can’t get their talent to execute in social media – to participate, engage in conversations and execute all the tactical interactions. In reality, the issues they are dealing with go back to how that talent was hired – and how they are being treated. I don’t think you can have a social strategy as I interpret the word strategy unless your employees are hired, trained, and incentivized to do so. You can’t have an organization that is truly optimized for success in social unless you hire the right people, keep them engaged and fulfilled, and then reward their passion with empowerment.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Yes, yes yes. The other part that’s true: creating that organizational alignment sometimes means making difficult decisions about roles, people, or process that no longer fit the model. Real systematic change will, by default, break and obsolesce some things that are currently in place. And that’s really hard for some businesses to face down.

      Thanks so much for expanding on that point. It’s one that I don’t think we can emphasize or discuss enough, and the social strategists that lead those initiatives and discussions need skills and strengths beyond simply external communication.

  • Marvin Tumbo

    Remarkable post Amber. In Kenya, I realized that most of the work we were doing at my company was basically teaching businesses what social media was and then trying to get them to buy into the idea. Of course our conversation rate was quite low. Now we have began running social media workshops because we have seen the knowledge gap when it comes to the role that social media can play in Kenyan Businesses. Our target group is management because as you say, this needs to be “stewarded and endorsed at the top and cannot thrive long term without leadership buy-in.”

  • http://twitter.com/DavidBaeza David Baeza

    Enjoyed you post Amber. Timely in light of many organizations fine tuning their annual planning cycles. The emphasis on social strategy can’t be understated. Much effort is being focused on alignment with Corp Comm, Sales, Product and more. Content calendars that align with persona’s which map to broader content strategy…and more. Then there is the culture. The sticky gooey stuff that can’t be manufactured or planned for, but it must be nurtured and protected. The cultural fabric of the company is reflected in its social voice. When we think about the long term vision of the company, we need to think in terms of creating a deeper and meaningful connection on the social web which is an extension of the culture. I sounds hard, and the execution can be challenging, but the act of connecting will come naturally if the culture has been nourished and allowed to grow organically.

    Have a great Thanksgiving.

  • http://www.womanzworld.com/ Natalie Sisson

    I definitely need to share this post with a friend who is attempting to change the mindset of a financial institution about using social media. Obviously they’re bound by some pretty strict rules in terms of information they can put out that has been signed off over a 4 month period but it amazes me that they’re not jumping on board and wanting to talk to their clients/ customers and get the conversation going.

    Financial advisory firms are always advising but do they listen. I’d love to know if you have any examples of such firms who have successfully implemented social media into their business strategies.

  • http://www.theemotionmachine.com Steven

    On all levels of business execution there needs to be a consistency in purpose and culture. If the leaders are on a different page than the managers, then there will be an incongruity between the “vision” of the business and the actions of the business. Thanks for this Amber!

  • http://www.communion.net Communion

    That’s a beautiful piece of writing, something that describes the want and the need of the hour. Every step of the business today is intermingled and relates to the other levels and also to people with different responsibilities and postion.

  • alex FH

    “How to make it all work together, in concert? What does that new business model look like? That continues to be our ultimate question, and the one for which I don’t yet have complete answers. But I’m finding pieces. And perseverance cannot be underestimated.”

    Having sat through at least 3-4 social media strategy type meetings/briefings I can say that the author’s rather enigmatic conclusion above speaks volumes about the real issue here which is how to identify real business benefit. It’s sort of still too soon to say whether companies outside media operators and consumer brands have much to gain from “social media strategy”. Why should everything the internet comes up with be necessarily disruptive of ordinary business? There’s a tendency to assume that it is because then you look like an all-embracing, all-singing neophyte (and who wouldn’t want to be that?). But for a lot of industries it still isn’t either clear what benefit social media has for them, or even if any truly exists.
    Right now for a huge number of companies social media strategy just means not-wanting-to-not-do-what-competitors-are-doing. In most cases you have to wonder what the mostly consumer audience would make of Acme Inc’s latest excitable tweet “New widgets released! Yay!” beyond the obvious infantilisation of all involved.
    The twitter usage statistics are still proving interesting too, with “over 14% of users don’t have a single follower, and over 75% of users have 10 or fewer followers.” hence a massive concentration of actual use is only really the business of Lady Gaga and Stephen Fry Ltd.
    [src: http://techcrunch.com/2009/10/05/twitter-data-analysis-an-investors-perspective/

    • http://twitter.com/nommo nommo

      Alex – your scepticism may be well placed, that’s the risk with these new-fangled technologies isn’t it? But I think Amber is also asking us to look beyond the neophilia to asking questions like “what positive aspects of social media can or should benefit my company at a strategic level” or indeed “what negative aspects of social media can or should benefit my company at a strategic level”Examples might include Nestle, BP or Trifigura… (the latter most definitely not being a consumer/media brand) the take-away message for these? In order to promote a positive brand image – don’t do dodgy/evil stuff in the first place – then you won’t have to deal with the shi-shi-storm that inevitably follows when the public and/or press get hold of it. I am sure there are more…I am sure there are more.

  • http://www.webuildyourblog.com Andrew @ Blogging Guide

    Change is constant in the internet world and this line is really great advice when dealing with change -Change that endures requires not just obstinate persistence, but methodical and patient stewardship.

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