The Best Practice Paradox

by · September 4, 20125 comments

Best practices are defined as methods or techniques that consistently garner results superior to those achieved using other means and/or a process of developing and following a standard way of doing things that multiple organizations can use (Wikipedia).

When it comes to social media there are a plethora of standards, guidelines and case studies aimed at benchmarking the best way to do things across various digital channels. These best practices can be very effective in building a strategic and tactical foundation for your organization’s social media plan. Also, in a larger context, they serve an important role in documenting information in the ever-evolving field of social media marketing and communications. That being said, there are a number of things that your organization should take into consideration before simply adopting industry best practices as your own.

Understanding Social Media Best Practices

A couple of important things to understand about best practices are the information and methodology being used to establish specific social media benchmarks.

When it comes to the source of information, in order to establish its relevance it is important to question the types of organizations that are being referenced in connection with any best practices. Social media best practices from similar companies, sectors or regions will carry more weight than those from sources that have nothing in common with your business.

Brad Batesole, Social Media Manager at lynda.com, feels that organizations need to be mindful of best practice data.

If every brand chased after best practices only, many would miss the mark. What works for 60% of brands, may not be the ideal approach for your fan base. Best practices are often collected by analyzing data trends – and this data tends to come from large brands with a broad reach. While they are a great starting point, they aren’t the definitive answer.

In addition, before jumping in and embedding a benchmarked strategy, process or tactic it helps to understand the methodology that is being used in the research leading up to the development and proclamation of that best practice.

In an article about best practices research, Eugene Bardach, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California Berkley, looks at best practices through a pragmatic lens. He feels that the term “best” is rarely proven using stringent research protocols and recommends that organizations have realistic expectations when it comes to best or “good” practices.

Appearances can be very deceiving. On closer inspection, it often turns out that the supposedly ‘good’ practice is not solving the problem at all. Inadequate measurement plus someone’s rose-colored glasses were simply producing the illusion of mitigating the problem. It may also turn out that, even if good effects have truly occurred, the allegedly ‘good’ practice had little or nothing to do with producing them. Finally, innocently extrapolating from a setting where a good practice has indeed worked well to settings which might differ in little-understood but important ways could lead to weak, perverse, or otherwise damaging results.

Know YOUR Audience

Another critical component of social media best practices is audience analysis. It’s important to recognize that some recommended strategies won’t make sense for your organization because of the simple fact that your audience and their information needs are unique.

Batesole states that best practices are a great starting point, but that it is really important for organizations to be flexible when it comes to modifying guidelines so that they can customize strategies to suite their audience.

Understanding who you are talking to, and how they engage, is vital. For example, some best practices suggest posting to Facebook after business-hours for best engagement – but if you’re in the realm of B2B, you might need to reverse this strategy to hit your target market while they’re in the office, not at home.

Inspiration and Testing

The goal of this post is not to discourage the use of best practices in their entirety, simply to prompt critical thought before embedding them in your organization’s social media strategy. It’s crucial to understand the data behind best practices but it is also important to recognize that best practices can act as a valuable strategic guide and source of inspiration for your organization, helping build knowledge around emerging technology and the evolving social business landscape.

Batesole is a also a big believer in monitoring best practices and encourages organizations to test them within their own environment vs. adopting a cookie cutter approach.

This data is imperative to understanding the evolution of social. We’ve seen huge shifts in how people interact in social, and with new networks such as Pinterest, that method of engagement changes daily. Before, it was compelling enough to just share an article…but now, visual images drive more impact…Take best-practices, and TEST them in your existing strategy. Devise a clear test, try it, and then evolve it to meet the demands of your audience.

How does your organization manage social media best practices? Have you adopted them as-is or refined them to meet your organization’s needs? Have they been valuable in helping you build out your strategies? The comments are yours.

 

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About Mark Smiciklas

Mark Smiciklas

Mark Smiciklas is a Digital Strategist, author and President of Intersection Consulting; a Vancouver based digital marketing agency that teaches organizations how to leverage the dynamics of the web to achieve business goals. Mark is also the managing editor at Solopreneur.ca and is an established marketing and social media practitioner recognized for his visual thinking and practical strategic approach. You can connect with him on Google+.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.techguerilla.com/ Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

    One thing I would add to this as well.  More often than people think these ‘best practices’ and case studies are actually being issued as successes by companies in which they either didn’t succeed at all or didn’t attempt to measure.  Why?  Because they are used as PR fodder for the companies to demonstrate their ‘leadership’ and progressive position.

    There is one fundamental truth about leveraging case studies like they are a roadmap, you can follow but you cannot lead.

    Cheers

    • msmiciklas

      Thanks for the comment Matt. Great insight into case studies. You point highlights the risk of simply embedding these types of best practices “as is”. I think digital marketing/communication managers can still get some value from the social media cases that are out there if they look at them objectively…extract a nugget, idea, theme, etc. and use those inputs in the process of designing an original plan – one that makes sense for their audience and organization.

  • OBVAVirtualAssistant

    For real longevity,
    though, you’ll need to be watchful — and flexible. Your strategy should
    clearly have metrics and milestones attached to it, so you can gauge your
    victories and failures in a real and observable way. This is my social media practice.

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