Earlier this week, I was discussing editorial calendars and social media planning with someone and the question arose, “How are major corporations supposed to structure their social media plan a year out, when things are changing so fast that it could all be obsolete by then? How does a company to buy a product (or an app) that’s going to take 6 months to develop, when 6 months from now, there may very well be another “in” thing taking its place?” Now, dealing mostly with small businesses and rarely with corporations, I didn’t really have an answer for him at the time, and I thought that these were all valid questions. But as I mulled it over for a few days, the answer became increasingly apparent to me: You don’t. Or at least, you can’t and you shouldn’t.
Be a Speedboat, Not a Cruise Ship
Think of a speedboat; what adjectives come to mind? Small, fast, agile, able to chase somebody down and turn on a dime, but probably a little weak. And a cruise ship? The exact opposite: Enormous, powerful, luxurious, loaded with amenities, but extremely slow and difficult to adjust. While it seems that small businesses are more akin to speedboats and corporations to cruise ships, when it comes to social media, everyone has to be a speedboat. Companies need to be able to act fast and make adjustments even faster. This is a VERY scary thought for a lot of businessmen, especially executives who protect their brand like a first-born child. But if each of your Facebook posts is spending 3 weeks getting bounced around Copywriting and approved by Legal, you’re doing it wrong. Plain and simple, that’s just not what social media is about. It’s about timely conversations, engaging with consumers, spontaneity, and a little informality. How am I, your consumer, going to feel about your brand when my question finally gets answered 10 days later? Or worse, if it never gets answered because only items that were pre-approved 6 months ago are allowed to be published? Furthermore, what will your investors think when you completely miss out on the opportunity to capitalize on a breaking news bulletin, because it takes you 5 days before you can even publish something on the topic?
Not All Corporations are Cruise Ships
If you work at a big corporation, I know what you’re thinking: “It’s a nice idea, but no big corporation would ever function that way. It’s just not the way it works.” Times are changing. And unless Oreo and Tide planned the blackout during the Superbowl, you can bet that someone on their digital team was given the autonomy to instantaneously post the most talked about ads of the entire Superbowl within 15 minutes of the Superdome going dark. Or how about this gem from social media titan LinkedIn?
— HireOnLinkedIn (@HireOnLinkedIn) February 4, 2013
All publicly traded companies, all doing it right: making decisions on the fly, acting fast, getting there first, beating out the competition, and creating a buzz while they do it (not to mention making their brand look great).
And Now Back to Planning
So now back to the question: How do you plan a year’s worth of social media activity if you don’t know what new sites, channels, or strategies will pop up 6, 8, or 10 months from now? Even more challenging still, how do you measure your success? I would pick on two distinct areas:
1. Landmarks– There are certain items on a company’s calendar that aren’t going anywhere, regardless of how much social media evolves and reconfigures itself. Conventions, holidays, launch events, and other similar major milestones in the calendar will never move and are an easy landmark to circle from day 1 as a way to connect your dots throughout the year. Make sure your activity builds leading up to the milestone, and includes days for follow-up as well. That way, you can identify the low points in the calendar and fill them with sand.
2. Goals– Think creatively about what the company’s goals are and continue to move toward them as your strategy changes. This one is much trickier and requires the company to be a lot more adaptable and open-minded, but bear with me. Here are some goals that depend very specifically on the social media landscape of the day:
– Reach 50,000 Twitter followers by December
– Share 4 photos to Instagram every day for the month of June
What if follower counts aren’t an important metric one year from now? Or if Instagram gets swallowed up by better app that allows people to share short-form photo AND video? These goals are more appropriate:
– Grow community across all social media channels at a rate of at least xx% per month. (If you missed my column on growth and engagement rate, here it is again.)
– Place emphasis on sharing photos during the summer months
These goals, while a little more amorphous, allow the company some leeway to make changes on the fly, while still holding them to a standard and keeping them goal-oriented. The ambiguous nature of them means that whoever is managing the social media has the ability to jump on a trend that is up-and-coming or abandon something that has gone by the wayside without worrying about meeting these very specific goals that were laid out for him.
So there you have it. Is your social media presence a speedboat or a cruise ship? What are you doing to become more flexible, fast-moving, and agile as a company?