A Big Picture Social Media Strategy
Social Media Strategy Learning Curve and Framework
Social Media Strategy Learning Curve and Framework

It can be difficult for organizations to see the strategic big picture when it comes to social media, especially if they are focusing all their energy on tools and tactics. Questions abound … How does social media investment relate to business value? What are the real costs? What impact does social media strategy have on organizational culture? What kind of strategic thinking do businesses or non-profits need to embrace? What do leaders need to understand about the social media adoption curve as it relates to the evolution of the company?

This high level framework is designed to illustrate the social media learning curve and to help business and non-profit leaders understand how strategy relates to investment, value and culture.

Axis Relationships


  • As your organization moves along this axis, be prepared to increase your investment.
  • Initially, most social media costs are related to time and labour. There might be one dedicated staff person or a small team working off the corner of their desks.
  • Early on there are limited technology costs associated with implementing a social media strategy – the free tools are usually more than sufficient.
  • As social media scales other investments include programs to leverage employee participation, resources to build out dedicated teams, budgets for increased education & training, administrative costs related to governance and capital expenditures associated with enterprise technology, paid versions of management and analytics tools, etc.

Business Value:

  • As your brand moves along this axis towards integration and, possibly, a social business model, value SHOULD increase.
  • Value will vary based on an organization’s definition. This may take the form of a tangible sales contribution, cost savings, service improvements or efficiencies related to internal communication, consumer advocacy, etc.
  • Value is predicated on the willingness and ability of a business to connect social media metrics to the achievement of organizational objectives. Without goals, analytics or a pattern of correlation, the value axis is assumptive at best.

Business Culture:

  • The organizational culture axis is more of a barometer for potential than a gauge for success.
  • A hierarchical, closed corporate culture rife with silos and communication policies (based on a “need to know” mentality) is not be well suited for social media while a flat organization structure, with transparent internal/external communication practices, has the potential to become a social business.

Phases of Social Business Evolution


These organizations are new to social media and tend to be overwhelmed by the prospect of launching an initiative. The individual charged with “figuring out” social media will usually reside in marketing. In some cases there might be limited implementation.

Some things emerging organizations should focus on include:

  • Assessing their social strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Think about social capacity, content assets, positive/disruptive effects of social media, etc.
  • Segmenting audiences into 4 buckets: primary, secondary, internal and external. Think of audiences as any group that might influence, or be influenced by, your social media initiatives. One example of a primary internal group could be employees while a secondary external group may be bloggers and so on.
  • Conducting social research. Which social sandboxes are your audiences playing in? How do they interact? What are their expectations and needs on each channel?
  • Setting up a listening platform. Pull RSS feeds based on brand or industry keywords from tools like Twitter Search, Social Mention, Google Blog Search into a RSS reader. Start monitoring what people say about your organization, brand or sector and use what you learn to shape a communication plan.


These organizations understand the tools and are proficient at implementation. Often tactical organizations drive social media through marketing or communications via a dedicated individual or small team working off the corner of their desks.

Awareness tends to be the primary objective, campaigns are usually well crafted, experimentation is occurring, major social channels are in place (FB, Twitter, Youtube), some level of monitoring is taking place but there is likely limited formalization of objectives, metrics or analytics.

Areas of focus for brands in the tactical phase should include:

  • Setting a series of SMART objectives. Try to connect social media goals with the greater goals of the organization. How can social media help drive growth, build deeper relationships, save money, improve internal communication, serve customers, fuel new ideas, etc.
  • Development of a content strategy. Take on the role of a brand journalist. What are the information needs of your different audiences and what relevant content can you publish to bridge a connection to your brand or organization. Think right content + right audience + right channel + right time.
  • Commitment to a culture of measurement. Establish metrics and baselines that are relevant to your business goals and start tracking performance. Fine tune your social media program based on your analytics.
  • Assignment of teams and work flows. Build capacity within the existing organizational structure by having interested employees take on some social media responsibilities. Develop schedules around social listening, content creation, campaign management and reporting.


These organizations are advanced in their use of the tools and technology. Integrated businesses may have an assigned leadership role in place i.e. Social Media Manager, Community Manager, etc. that lives in marketing but assists other departments in their efforts.

Social media objectives tend to be connected to overall business goals, implementation is integrated across departments and online/offline channels, social media methodology may be adopted inside the organization i.e. internal blog, pilot projects are designed to advance engagement and build advocacy, a social media plan is in place and measurement & reporting are the norm.

Considerations for organizations in the integrated phase should include:

  • Establishing a governance model. This should include a clear set of guidelines (shared across departments), social media education and a support mechanism that addresses conflicts, questions and concerns.
  • Leveraging employee involvement. In order to scale social media efforts and work towards a social organization structure, employees need to become active in the engagement process. This could include content creation, audience communication and channel management
  • Formalizing an organizational structure. Leaders striving towards social business need to understand which organizational model is best suited (or most realistic) given the flexibility of their corporate culture.


This is the pinnacle of organizational evolution. Because social media is still emerging, there are limited social business examples – a popular case study is Zappos. The vision for social organizations is a totally flat, open structure where any employee can engage and collaborate with all internal/external audiences.

This may be a panacea for most businesses that are rooted in legacy structures – it takes level 5 leadership to guide this type of transformation change. It is far more likely that most of the social businesses of the future will evolve from today’s start ups, already wired for social media and open to new ways to communicate internally and externally.

Leadership Phases

As an organization moves down the axis, leadership needs to drive certain cultural initiatives in order to support social media adoption and integration. This progression towards social business is not a continuum for many organizations. Some companies (by way of culture, choice, skill set or industry circumstance) only have the capacity to get to a certain point.

For the organizations that have the desire to transform their business to a more social model, here are some of the things owners or the C-Suite need to consider during each phase:


  • Make the choice not to ignore the potential organizational impact of social media. It may be great or limited, but there is a responsibility to understand the pros and cons.
  • Authorize an individual or small team to invest the time to learn about opportunities and threats. Have them report back through a strategic lens across multiple business units i.e. Marketing, HR, etc.
  • Study how audiences, competitors and other business leaders interact across channels.


  • Demand planning. Would you blindly finance a project in other parts of the business without a plan? Social media should be no different.
  • Support pilot projects during implementation and learning from trial/error.
  • Allocate time (during working hours) to individuals and teams that are managing the process.
  • Ask for performance summaries – understand how metrics are connected to objectives.


  • Drive programs that will facilitate social media success including organization wide understanding of goals, social media education/training programs and clear guidelines that outline expectations.
  • Support initiatives that leverage employee involvement to scale programs.
  • Champion the culture change and organizational structure required in a move towards a social business model (but only if a positive business value proposition exists).

Does this framework make sense? Where is your organization on the path to social business? What are some of the challenges you are facing and what has your organization done to overcome them? I’d love to hear your comments!

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About the Author

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 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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