Step one in establishing a social media strategy, any number of pundits and advisers will tell you, is to establish a strategic plan. This is, without a doubt, sound advice given the number of unknowns that can go drastically wrong for a firm.
Still, though, there is a contrarian case to be made for avoiding that step - or at least minimizing it as much as possible. MarketingVox spoke with six experts in the space to get their take on why a strategic plan for social media might - from some vantage points - be a waste of time.
We still don't know enough about social media and how people react.
Linda Pophal of Strategic Communications is a firm believer in the value of strategic planning - hence the company's name - but in the case of social media, makes the argument that because of its "newness" there can be value in "just experimenting" to learn what the potential is.
"After all, how can you effectively develop a strategic plan for something you don't fully understand. I've done this with my own use of social media - purposefully just "tried things" to experiment and learn, using myself as the "guinea pig" so I can use my learnings in my work with clients."
This is not blanket advice though: large or well-known organizations with well-established brands should proceed with caution with any experiments. "There is the potential to negatively impact those brands by using social media in appropriately, or starting down the wrong path."
There's no industry roadmap anyway.
It is only through that action that brands will learn to succeed online, says Brendan Kownacki, senior digital strategist with Spectrum Science. "No two brands will have the exact same experience when they take their business into the social media space, so there is no reason to postulate and predict and plan - instead, you should do. " There are very few set rules for what can and should be done with business online, he adds, "so why not take a risk, and jump in feet first?"
A plan might make communications sound forced.
Social media is about the moment, and about what is striking a chord virally at any given time, says Gabrielle Medecki, marketing director for Wolfgangsvault.com. People respond and flock to "what everyone is talking about," so the majority of opportunities in social media will not be foreseeable, she says.
It may not even be necessary.
If, that is, you have a clear and compelling brand - plus the discipline to maintain it across various platforms, says Pace University Marketing Professor Paul Kurnit and coauthor of The Little Blue Book of Marketing: Create a Killer Plan in Less Than a Day.
"Everything falls into place if a product is great and the tone and style is consistent. The conversation just naturally flows."
Not having one is good discipline for companies to empower employees.
Oftentimes a written strategy comes into play depending on who is managing the account, says Amber Wallace of Dowitcher Designs. "If a corporation has an intern managing social media accounts, they need a play-by-play guide for how that person will engage people on social media, in large part to limit liability and avoid embarrassing statements. But if people are empowered to engage on social media…then a corporation's employees can be an asset in the social media realm, and can engage through Facebook business pages and Twitter profiles as well."
It's not always smart to assume you'll know where technology will take you.
People have now forgotten, in the thrill of Web 2.0 or 3.0 or wherever we are with this now, that a lot of companies with grand strategic plans came to grief in the face of highly uncertain and rapidly evolving contexts, says Rita Gunther McGrath, associate professor at Columbia Business School and author of Discovery Driven Growth: A Breakthrough Process to Reduce Risk and Seize Opportunity.
She points to Sears, IBM and the billion dollar flop that was the Prodigy service as one example and the firms that invested huge amounts in virtual reality games like "Second Life". "Companies should be engaging in some intelligent experimentation to figure out what social media might do for their business. They should not plan beyond the limits of their knowledge, though. And they should not assume that customers want to do business with them in a social context."
Stay tuned for part 2: So without a strategic plan, how should you proceed?