Social Media is Not a Strategy

October 22, 2009

Photo Credit: The Brand Builder

With the onset of every new technology and business tactic unqualified vendors are born, each trying to make a quick buck through the gratuitous use of buzz words and confusion.  One large scale example is the Dot Com Bubble where unqualified entrepreneurs were able to raise millions and millions of capital, but had no business plan except for the Internet.

Social media is the latest strategy to fall victim to this abuse. 

Many companies, large and small, have been somewhat sideswiped by the whole social media phenomenon and have gotten lost in the fog.  This slip is understandable as it is fairly new and confusing, and the space is much different from what decision makers have seen in the past.  However, it’s inexcusable that so many firms and individuals ride in on a social media strategy flying carpet and promise magic.

Executives should not be fooled, they should recognize the fact that: Social media is not a strategy; it’s a vehicle with which to enact your strategy.

As Facebook crossed more traffic milestones and Twitter brought millions in revenue to large companies, more and more agencies started touting social media as the silver bullet that would increase your company’s revenues and your clients’ happiness.  I mean the only reason that Zappos had a near-billion dollar acquisition was because they tweeted, right?

However, it’s not that companies tweet or post photos to flickr that is behind their success; it’s the fact that these efforts further their overall strategy of content creation, customer acquisition, and product positioning.  Southwest would still be a very successful airline without Twitter, but a core tenet of their business is service and responsiveness, and social media allows them to carry this ethos through more channels.

Too many firms haven’t done their research and convince potential clients that just being in the space is the entire battle.  I’m warning you that your overall marketing is the battle and social media is simply another weapon in your arsenal to help win it.  Don’t miss the forest for the trees and allow a blind investment into social media that results in participation but no interaction or measurement.

Don’t get me wrong, I love social media (dorkiest sentence I’ve ever typed). It has paid dividends for our firm through inbound marketing, client relations, new business, and in countless other ways.   Furthermore, I think there are tons of great firms out there that do social media the right way, such as our partner PR 20/20 and social media firm SHIFT

These firms understand that it’s about an integrated online marketing strategy and there are a lot of steps before and after social media to have a truly successful campaign.  However, it seems that for every firm that gets it, there are a half dozen impostors faking their way to invoices.

So, the next time someone comes to you promising the moon based simply on social media, ask some hard questions, review their metrics, and then look elsewhere.


Ryan Lucia's avatar
Ryan Lucia

Ha. It's funny, I've written similar things over the past few months on my blog and actually talked about this issue specifically in my Tuesday posting. SM is the vehicle, SM is a tool, it isn't the strategy.

Frankly, there are too many people talking about branding and marketing as if they have 1/2 a clue. Too many people are self-proclaimed "Experts" and "Gurus" spreading really bad information. They don't understand basics of branding, let alone producing a marketing strategy and being able to track the success of that strategy. If I had a dollar for every time I've heard or seen the advice, "You need to be on Facebook and Twitter," I'd be a rich man. It just isn't true!

I just keep fighting the fight to help people not do silly things because they heard a moron, who somehow has garnered credibility. All we can do is keep helping I guess.

Sean Nelson's avatar
Sean Nelson


Great post. Thanks for the comments on my What is a Social Media Expert? post at

I think we have similar views, though I think your article went deeper by stating that social media in of itself is not a strategy. Wish I would have had that insight when writing my article.

Always great to find a new blog to follow.

Sean Nelson
Social Media Sonar | the blog

Clay Schossow's avatar
Clay Schossow NMC team member

Hey John,

Glad you enjoyed the article. Remember as you refine the strategy and try to help the agency evolve, STAY CURIOUS. Social media is not about just one network or strategy, it is about continuing to keep up with all of the innovations and thought leaders in the space. By continuing to read and trying new things, you will have a big leg up on those who think they get it by just knowing how to tweet.


John Brown's avatar
John Brown

Thanks for the insightful article! I was recently brought on as an intern to explore social media marketing methods. Currently in the process of fine-tuning our approach as it began like a shotgun blast. This has helped.

Clay Schossow's avatar
Clay Schossow NMC team member

@Doreen Thanks for weighing in. Your website analogy is exactly right. There is a lot of legwork that goes into making any portion of a marketing campaign successful, especially one that is as hands on as Social Media.

@Ellie Thanks for the kind words and passing the post along! You are right that too many people think they need to be in the space but could never answer the question "why?" or "how does it fit into your overall strategy?" when posed to them.



Ellie Becker's avatar
Ellie Becker

This is a post that needs to magnified throughout the marketing space. As a decades-long PR marketing professional who has always believed in objectives-based strategy first and selecting the right tools to deliver results second, I am now frequently countering clients' and potential clients' assertions that 'we need to be in social media.' Getting them to agree to take a few steps back first to ask 'why' has sometimes met, rather, with a precipitous decision to swig snake oil provided by a more opportunistic vendor.

Education is the name of the game now -- for both vendors and clients if the powerful new tools available on the web are to provide the maximum benefit to both businesses and brands. Thanks to @paulroetzer for re-tweeting the link that got me to this post. I'll pass it along.

DoreenatDMS's avatar

Absolutely agree, Clay. Excellent post. Your "build it and they will come" comment above got me thinking about how some folks, years back, approached website design in a similar way..thinking that if they build and launch a site, traffic will mysteriously appear and grow!

Tools for social media metrics are still in their infancy.
It's all just Marketing 101: know thyself, know your audience (and *everything* that entails) & where they are, and apply the Golden Rule ... and yes, keep a check on the ego.

Clay Schossow's avatar
Clay Schossow NMC team member

@Suzanne Well put! It is not about a quota. It is about contributing more signal than noise. There are definitely times where I sit back and really think if my last few tweets were actually adding anything to the conversation. I think that is a very important exercise that too many people do not do.

@Dave You mean the amount of Twitters followers I have doesnt matter if I am not also increasing revenue? Thats just silly. Haha. You are exactly right. I think the Twitter-Ego-Effect plays a big role and people start to get obsessed with their "popularity" on these different media and totally forget about real metrics.

Dave Van de Walle's avatar
Dave Van de Walle


Any consultant worth his or her salt - and all the commenters, Im sure - ask the STRATEGY question first. Like, what are you trying to sell? Why are you in business? Why do you want to do this in the first place?

Success metrics should be measured in units sold, market share grabbed, growth in revenue, customers acquired.

Go get em!

Suzanne Vara's avatar
Suzanne Vara


Absolutely on point. The sm platforms are tools to be integrated into your sm strategy but are not the strategy. How quickly we forget what strategy is and what the tools are.

Katie really says it well regarding engagement. I have clients say how many times should I tweet or update FB each day. My answer always is when you find something valuable and relevant to say or share. Some see it as a numbers game and not what sm is all about. Do not try and sell me before you know me, do not try and sell me a cook book because I am a female.

Very well said.

Clay Schossow's avatar
Clay Schossow NMC team member

@Andrew it really is amazing how many people subscribe to the "If you tweet, they will come" and they dont understand that Twitter, Digg, etc. are moving parts of a very active marketing machine. That Twitter offer needs to make sense for the rest of your brand, target the right audience, get featured on your main site, etc. Also, youre totally right that SM is not just some shortcut, it probably takes MORE effort than many media.

@Todd Thanks for visiting and commenting. I have followed SHIFT and read ever since we first launched the site. You all definitely do it the right way.

@Katie Thanks, thats actually my favorite line from the post, too! Glad you pulled it out. You hit the nail on the head about "engagement" -- too, too often that is just some buzzword that people throw around. However, when a brand is truly engaged and takes that to heart, it pays mega-dividends.

Thanks again for the great discussion!

Katie's avatar

I love this - "Social media is not a strategy; it’s a vehicle with which to enact your strategy."

I think it's important for clients/companies to know that just because you have a Facebook fan page or Twitter account does not mean you are engaging in social media - After all, what good will it do if you have a car but never drive it?

SM isn't a magical fix that will increase your profits or instantly make your company #1 - Like you said, Clay, it's something that allows the company to carry out their message to a wider audience through more channels.

I think you bring up some really valuable points about people not really understanding the maintenance and devotion that a social media campaign can take.

You've got to add to the conversation.

Todd Defren's avatar
Todd Defren

Thanks very much for the very kind words.

Andrew FirstFound's avatar
Andrew FirstFound

Clay, I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say here.

I've had too many clients (and friends) turn to me and say "I keep Tweeting about my offers - nobody's buying" or "How do I cheat Digg and get to the front page?"

You're right. SM isn't a magic wand. It isn't even a shortcut to success. It's just another way of marketing your wares. The sooner people understand that, the better.

Clay Schossow's avatar
Clay Schossow NMC team member

Thanks for the comments, glad to see there is already conversation sprouting up around the post.

@Paul That is exactly right and exactly why I listed PR 20/20 ( as a firm that is doing it right and helping clients navigate social media in a responsible and effective manner.

@Heidi Great point. That is something that I didnt even touch in the post: social media is not even the right vehicle for the strategies of *every* brand. You have to decide whether you have the resources, know how, and dedication to play in the space. Thanks for pointing that out.

@Dan I think that has been a big issue; firms from related disciplines (whether its SEO, PR, whatever) realized that they were missing the boat on this billing opportunity and just threw together Social Media Departments that have no clue what they are doing.

Thanks for the comments! Keep em coming!

Dan London's avatar
Dan London

Great post.

I've seen so many shady SEO's make the move to Social Media.

You hit the nail on the head:

"These firms understand that it’s about an integrated online marketing strategy and there are a lot of steps before and after social media to have a truly successful campaign."

Setting realistic goals is the key to any campaign. I have heard VPs say, "oh we'll just send this out via Twitter and it will be huge." Totally unrealistic.

Heidi Cool's avatar
Heidi Cool

Absolutely. The point isn't to just jump on the bandwagon and start Tweeting. It's to examine your business needs, determine potential solutions and consider whether social media fits in the mix. It can be used for many things from lead generation and and customer service to collaboration within an enterprise. But in each use scenario, the social media strategy should be developed to support specific measurable goals as part of a broader integrated plan.

If we start out thinking of our goals and audience instead of first thinking about the tools we want to use, we'll have a better chance of designing strategies and tactics that actually produce. These may include social media, but then again they may not. As with anything else, we must match the tool we use with the job we're trying to accomplish.

Paul Roetzer's avatar
Paul Roetzer

Excellent insight, Clay. We always tell businesses that YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are brands and platforms, not strategies. Social media is a channel for engagement and sharing, not selling.

Social media is about listening, learning, building relationships and bringing value to the communities relevant to your organization.

Thanks for the shout!

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