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In Social Media, Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

I’ve received many inbound requests for comments based on a report from Gartner, an IT analyst firm, that estimates as many as 70-percent of social media campaigns will fail in 2011. There are a series of discussions hitting the blogosphere and the Twitterverse exploring this very topic, some elementary and others on the right path. I contacted Gartner earlier this week and the problem is, that this data isn’t new at all. In fact, these discussions are fueled by information originally published in 2008 and in early 2010. Yet another example of the importance of fact-checking in the era of real-time reporting, yes, but, when I paused for a moment, I appreciated the timelessness of this discussion.

Are many of the social media programs in play yielding tangible results?


Are they designed to impact the bottom line or are they tied to meaningful business outcomes?


The truth is that you can’t fail in anything if success is never defined.

eMarketer recently published a report, “Social Media in the Marketing Mix: Budgeting for 2011,” that documents the increase in social media spend we knew was imminent. However, in addition to showing us that companies are actively investing in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social platforms and campaigns, eMarketer’s Debra Aho Williamson says that businesses are spending more money for all the wrong reasons.

Indeed, business are moving from experimentation or ready, fire, aim approaches to deeper phases of implementation and integration.

Williamson shares a perspective long cautioned against here and in Engage, “many companies are expanding budgets for social media marketing not because they have been successful at it, but because they are relying on gut instinct—the feeling that ‘this is something important so I’m going to do it even if I don’t know why.’ Or worse, they have watched their competitors earn accolades in the press for their work in social media, and they are afraid of losing any more ground.”


Failing to plan is planning to fail and this is a lesson that strategists and practitioners will learn as they progress. If transparency and authenticity were prevailing maxims over the last several years, accountability, metrics, and outcomes serve as the foundation for social media success in the immediate years ahead. An effective social media plan must address business dynamics and it takes much more than a Facebook and Twitter presence. To keep things simple, social media are transformative…but essentially they’re channels, services, and networks used for intelligence, communication, and visibility.  If we introduced email to the organization today, would it focus solely on marketing or customer service? Of course not. Email is not owned by any one department. It extends the reach, voice, and capabilities of every person from the inside out and the outside in.

Viewed this way, we see that a social media strategy must gain attention from the very top of the organization and see its integration across relevant business teams. Activating processes and engagement in business units is not tied to one switch either. It takes time to learn, to visualize new processes and systems, to open doors between departments. But, doing so sets the foundation for the social business, for an adaptive business. Switches will get introduced as their needs are defined and the electricity is tied to each one in order to perform specific actions.

The lens in which businesses must view social media is through an integration aperture. Social extends and empowers every business facet that is affected by online activity. That includes marketing, communications, sales, CRM/sCRM, product development/R&D, HR, finance, legal, et al.

According to eMarketer’s report, integration is strongest in marketing and weakest in critical business functions. To envision the future of social media, we would see each of the grey bars slide from left to right, initially led by an internal team or business strategist to help with a change in culture, process, and overall goaling.


To gain support, we need to make the case to the C-Suite. It’s the evolution from champion to business strategist. Everything starts with defining the mission and purpose at the top so that respective business units can perform according to goals and tasks. By focusing only on one or two aspects of social media, we narrow an important view of the 3F’s (friends, fans and followers) and what the real needs and opportunities are that lie before us. The answers you seek are not limited to catch blog posts that promise “The Top 10 Ways to Master Social Media.” Your answers require research…not just listening.

Approach the search box of social networks or monitoring and research tools such as, Radian6, Spiral16, etc. as a blank slate. Fill in the blanks to enliven the 5W’s +H.E.

To what extent

Then categorize the information you discover to make the case for each of the affected groups within your company. Success here requires more than one community manager or one team leading the social effort. It’s not an easy process. But then whoever said social media was easy…is wrong. Unearthing the intelligence that exists when we read between the lines, we become the experts in which we initially sought guidance and we open up individual career paths beyond the social media “help desk.”

Success is not a prescription. ROI isn’t discernible when the R (Return) or the I (Investment) are undefined. There isn’t one way to excel. That’s the point. Success requires definition based on intentions, goals, and mutual value…across the organization from the top down, bottom up, inside out and outside in. Success is defined departmentally and also at the brand level. Additionally, success is tied to desirable actions and outcomes. Indeed, there’s much to do…

We are not simply competing for the moment, we are competing for relevance now and in the future. The future of business is indeed social, but more importantly, it’s adaptive.

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59 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “In Social Media, Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail”

  1. Paul McSweeney says:


    We are a digital marketing agency in the United Kingdom. The need for engagement and long-term strategy is paramount, but it is difficult to sell this to SMEs who are cash-strapped. Many still think a facebook and twitter account suffices. There is no strategy other than “to keep up with the Joneses”. To do a good job for clients, you need to gain a deep understanding of their vision and their markets in order to speak knowledgeably about their brand (if they will let you!). All this takes time, before you get on to participation, engagement, and ultimately Influence. They are not buying the long-term strategy sell, they want the quick-fix.

    So what do you advise? Create a series of easy-to-follow stepby-step tools to set up the social media accounts so they can manage it themselves and act as an ongoing advisor…or take the money and not give an optimum service:) I know its the former..just trying to come up with the ideal solution for the client.

    A great fan of your work. I am reading Engage,and realising how many SMEs in this country have barely dipped their toe in the water vis-a-vis social media strategy.

    Best wishes,


  2. PamMktgNut says:

    Brian – I think I already told you when you originally published this article how much I loved it. However, I just recently (this week) noticed you had referenced my 2011 Predictions article via a Google analytics report.

    I feel that you are sometimes the other half of my brain, just smarter. 😉 I agree with just about everything I read and hear from you. I feel like I say the same things over and over to clients about engagement, planning etc. Some of them eventually get it, some dont’ or won’t. I guess the best we can do is be the voice of reason or a broken record to them.

    Anyway, just want to give a big thanks for the inclusion! I give you credit for your inspiration to me whenever I can in my writing and conversations.

    Have a great Friday & weekend!


  3. Michelle says:

    Business strategy also applies to the small businesses and entrepreneurs like me. Coming from the corporate world I learned it is absolutely imperative. Thanks for the good article.

  4. KVdm says:

    Of course one should plan things… to a certain degree. Listen to the voice of reason and ban the heart, ban all life, ban inspiration and let perspiration talk. Total boredom will be the result. No thank you.

  5. Yet another example of the importance of fact-checking in the era of
    real-time reporting, yes, but, when I paused for a moment, I appreciated
    the timelessness of this discussion.

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