11/30/2012 05:14 pm ET Updated Jan 30, 2013

Being Strategic With Social Media

In the last few years, social media has been the go-to solution for organizations seeking a quick fix for things from raising event attendance to publicizing their latest and greatest. Facebook this, tweet that, YouTube this. But, if the past failures of McDonald's, Kenneth Cole, Volkswagen, amongst others, teach us anything, it's that strategy is key. Ad-hoc social media activity is the enemy.

Organizations -- from government agencies to non- and for-profits -- with a clearly defined strategy are in a better position to alert, engage, and activate their target audiences. Alert is to raise awareness for the organization's cause, mission, values, campaign, or whatever its goal. Engage is to loop community members into the conversation (and spreading the word) about its goals. Activate is to motivate members into active involvement through donations, attendance, purchases, or any other specific outcome.

How do organizations layout a social media strategy that's also a logical extension of their overall organizational strategy? From the ground up. Here are ten critical steps and key questions to answer in each:

  1. Layout the strategic context. What are the goals of the organization with respect to its mission, vision, and growth? What are the strategic, financial, and operational objectives of the organization's social media strategy? What is the organization's case statement? How does the organization's social media strategy support the broader organizational vision?
  2. Develop detailed profiles of target audience(s). What are the demographics (e.g., age, gender, marital status, geographic distribution) of the organization's target audience(s)? How can these and other analytical information be combined to segment each target audience group? What existing data is already available (e.g., Facebook comments) that can be mined and linked to individuals for future opportunities (e.g., if a high potential donor indicated a specific interest, this can be used to personalize future contacts)?
  3. Develop detailed platform profiles. What are the key attributes (e.g., target demographics, ability to interact with users, specific limitations) of each social media platform? Once a strategy has been fully defined, steps two and three will enable organizations to fine-tune their tactics, targeting messages to their audiences through the most appropriate medium.
  4. Identify best practices. What are the best practices for utilizing social media to achieve the organization's objectives? Learn from others' mistakes. There is no extra credit for learning it the hard way. This includes learning from peers, as well as organizations from different industries. For example, regardless of the industry, social media platforms are communities, not bulletin boards. Interaction must be two-way to keep members coming back.
  5. Conduct an internal assessment. What are the agreed upon set of strategic, financial, and operational metrics for determining the effectiveness of the organization's presence on each social media platform? What is the organization's baseline performance for each of the platforms? What are the organization's existing processes and structures for identifying, selecting, managing, and assessing its social media platforms? What are the organization's key strengths and gaps?
  6. Develop Strategic Options. Given steps 1-5, what are the set of high-potential strategic options for the organization? What are each strategic option's value propositions to each key stakeholder? What are the agreed upon screening criteria to shortlist the strategic options?
  7. Identify knowledge, skills, and abilities requirements. Given the chosen strategic option, what are the infrastructure, process, and system requirements? How can the organization close existing gaps? What are the necessary investments? What are the associated trade-offs?
  8. Define final strategy statement and business case. What are the resource requirements and expected ROI of the chosen strategic option? What is the action plan (e.g., timing, investments, and expected milestones)?
  9. Identify potential interdependencies. What is the optimal portfolio of social media platforms to achieve the organization's strategic objectives? What are potential interdependencies with other initiatives across the organization? How will these interdependencies be addressed?
  10. Identify and develop required initiatives. What strategic initiatives (e.g., development of governance structure, processes, and policies) will the organization implement to support its strategic direction? Which of these initiatives are foundational vs. differentiated? What are the high level implementation roadmap, next steps, and potential fast-track opportunities?

All of this sound like a lot of work -- and it is. The depth to which organizations dive into each step depends on their strategic objectives, size, and available resources. For example, smaller organizations with less bandwidth may decide early on to focus on only a small subset of opportunities.

Did I miss anything? What are some of the lessons your organization has learned? What best practices have been most valuable for you? Don't forget to share your thoughts in the comments below!