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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Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. More so, he humanizes technology’s causal effect to help people see people differently and understand what to do about it. He is an award-winning author and avid keynote speaker who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation and innovation.

Brian has authored several best-selling books including What’s the Future of Business (WTF), Engage! and The End of Business as Usual. His blog,, is ranked as a leading resource for insights into the future of business, new technology and marketing.

Contact Brian



  • Brian Solis, Future of Business Forum, Oslo
  • Brian Solis, Future of Business Forum, Oslo
  • Brian Solis, Future of Business Forum, Oslo
  • Brian Solis, Future of Business Forum, Oslo