The Unsexiness of Tactical Brilliance

by Jason Falls |
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Note: The following is a guest post from my friend and brilliant marketer, communicator and entrepreneur Geoff Livingston. His new book, Welcome to the Fifth Estate, is a must-read.

Social media conversations lead one to think that strategy, understanding the latest technologies, mastery of influence theory, and measurement are necessary to have a good program. Sure, those larger concepts are very important in designing a program, and they are certainly the sex appeal of social media. In reality, the most important capability is the deceptively simple ability to execute tactically in social networks, on your site with content, and through building and sustaining relationships.

Without the ability to execute every single day, no program will be long lived even with the greatest strategy out there. Starting conversations, serving people and communities in their needs, providing useful interactions, and understanding the natural balance of community investment versus promotion are not new topics. And they are tactical in nature, so we don’t see much of them anymore.

If strategy is a planned approach to achieve a desired goal, then tactics represent the actions of engagement. In a social media sense, tactical mastery is the art of contacting and interacting with stakeholders using selected outreach approaches and tools.

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Image by Monica’s Dad

Using a sports metaphor, tactical execution is reminiscent of line play in America’s favorite sport, NFL football. While playmakers at the quarterback, receiver, running back positions, and hard hitting defensive players get the big contracts and most of the attention, it is the offensive and defensive linemen that are usually the cornerstones of great teams. Without basic blocking and tackling it is virtually impossible to win a championship, much less make the playoffs.

Tactical execution is the unsexiness of blocking and tackling on the social media front line. Understanding how to actually communicate and manage a loyal community creates a strong core for any company. That’s why an entire chapter in my new book Welcome to the Fifth Estate highlights best practices in tactical execution, gleaned from more than five years executing on the front lines.

The Honor of Being a Great Specialist


Image by Wallula Junction

Jeremiah Owyang posted earlier this year about the career path of a specialist. Without knowledge of larger disciplines, the path is not a bright one. Yet, without the specialist who understands the ins and outs of community management or learning that capability within a small business, brands struggle to succeed.

Thus, a chicken and egg conundrum occurs. Without understanding larger business and marketing principles, one cannot make social work well within a larger communications program, yet without understanding the nuances of two-way communications online, traditional marketing approaches fall short in social.

In our work at Zoetica, brands small and large ask us to audit their social programs to determine why they are not achieving results. While they often need a strategy, there is an inevitable core breakdown in the daily execution of tactics. The first thing we teach and build is the capacity to function in social communities with both time and human resources, and how-to savoire faire.

Larger brands usually hire to achieve this, while smaller companies — entrepreneurs, included — have to adapt, reallocate time and train themselves in online community execution. A great example of a smaller brand that has done this from the onset of social media is Samuel Gordon Jewelers, a family owned company based on Oklahoma City. Featured as a case study in the Fifth Estate, Owner Dan Gordon‘s continuing drive to adapt (see Shonali Burke’s case study) new social technologies and make them work within his larger marketing program is impressive.

Dan has made social a successful, results-oriented tactic for his business over and over again, from blogging to geolocation check-ins. He is consistently out on the interwebs building and sustaining relationships online. His blue chip network activity on Twitter and Facebook has generated followings of approximately 4,000 each. These may not be the biggest, but for a small local business this represents a substantial following.

Tactics may not be the sexiest thing to invest time in, but there is a great honor in it. Role playing as a career, or as a task within one’s day-to-day marketing life makes social work. While tactical proficiency may not lead to the Fortune 500 executive or uber-pundit status that so many social media conversations seek, it does create the results that businesses and organizations crave.

By practicing every day, learning to execute well on the one or two tools that matter most and then expanding as necessary, if resources and successes warrant it, one can become tactically brilliant. In the end, this is the cornerstone of social media success.

Thank you to Jason for letting me blog about this theme within Welcome to the Fifth Estate.


Geoff LivingstonGeoff Livingston co-founded Zoetica, a social enterprise that provides superior communication consulting, training, and strategy to help mindful organizations affect social change. He has worked as a public relations strategist in the Washington, D.C. region for more than 17 years.

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).