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In Social Media, Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

I’ve received many inbound requests for comments based on a report from Gartner, an IT analyst firm, that estimates as many as 70-percent of social media campaigns will fail in 2011. There are a series of discussions hitting the blogosphere and the Twitterverse exploring this very topic, some elementary and others on the right path. I contacted Gartner earlier this week and the problem is, that this data isn’t new at all. In fact, these discussions are fueled by information originally published in 2008 and in early 2010. Yet another example of the importance of fact-checking in the era of real-time reporting, yes, but, when I paused for a moment, I appreciated the timelessness of this discussion.

Are many of the social media programs in play yielding tangible results?


Are they designed to impact the bottom line or are they tied to meaningful business outcomes?


The truth is that you can’t fail in anything if success is never defined.

eMarketer recently published a report, “Social Media in the Marketing Mix: Budgeting for 2011,” that documents the increase in social media spend we knew was imminent. However, in addition to showing us that companies are actively investing in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social platforms and campaigns, eMarketer’s Debra Aho Williamson says that businesses are spending more money for all the wrong reasons.

Indeed, business are moving from experimentation or ready, fire, aim approaches to deeper phases of implementation and integration.

Williamson shares a perspective long cautioned against here and in Engage, “many companies are expanding budgets for social media marketing not because they have been successful at it, but because they are relying on gut instinct—the feeling that ‘this is something important so I’m going to do it even if I don’t know why.’ Or worse, they have watched their competitors earn accolades in the press for their work in social media, and they are afraid of losing any more ground.”


Failing to plan is planning to fail and this is a lesson that strategists and practitioners will learn as they progress. If transparency and authenticity were prevailing maxims over the last several years, accountability, metrics, and outcomes serve as the foundation for social media success in the immediate years ahead. An effective social media plan must address business dynamics and it takes much more than a Facebook and Twitter presence. To keep things simple, social media are transformative…but essentially they’re channels, services, and networks used for intelligence, communication, and visibility.  If we introduced email to the organization today, would it focus solely on marketing or customer service? Of course not. Email is not owned by any one department. It extends the reach, voice, and capabilities of every person from the inside out and the outside in.

Viewed this way, we see that a social media strategy must gain attention from the very top of the organization and see its integration across relevant business teams. Activating processes and engagement in business units is not tied to one switch either. It takes time to learn, to visualize new processes and systems, to open doors between departments. But, doing so sets the foundation for the social business, for an adaptive business. Switches will get introduced as their needs are defined and the electricity is tied to each one in order to perform specific actions.

The lens in which businesses must view social media is through an integration aperture. Social extends and empowers every business facet that is affected by online activity. That includes marketing, communications, sales, CRM/sCRM, product development/R&D, HR, finance, legal, et al.

According to eMarketer’s report, integration is strongest in marketing and weakest in critical business functions. To envision the future of social media, we would see each of the grey bars slide from left to right, initially led by an internal team or business strategist to help with a change in culture, process, and overall goaling.


To gain support, we need to make the case to the C-Suite. It’s the evolution from champion to business strategist. Everything starts with defining the mission and purpose at the top so that respective business units can perform according to goals and tasks. By focusing only on one or two aspects of social media, we narrow an important view of the 3F’s (friends, fans and followers) and what the real needs and opportunities are that lie before us. The answers you seek are not limited to catch blog posts that promise “The Top 10 Ways to Master Social Media.” Your answers require research…not just listening.

Approach the search box of social networks or monitoring and research tools such as, Radian6, Spiral16, etc. as a blank slate. Fill in the blanks to enliven the 5W’s +H.E.

To what extent

Then categorize the information you discover to make the case for each of the affected groups within your company. Success here requires more than one community manager or one team leading the social effort. It’s not an easy process. But then whoever said social media was easy…is wrong. Unearthing the intelligence that exists when we read between the lines, we become the experts in which we initially sought guidance and we open up individual career paths beyond the social media “help desk.”

Success is not a prescription. ROI isn’t discernible when the R (Return) or the I (Investment) are undefined. There isn’t one way to excel. That’s the point. Success requires definition based on intentions, goals, and mutual value…across the organization from the top down, bottom up, inside out and outside in. Success is defined departmentally and also at the brand level. Additionally, success is tied to desirable actions and outcomes. Indeed, there’s much to do…

We are not simply competing for the moment, we are competing for relevance now and in the future. The future of business is indeed social, but more importantly, it’s adaptive.

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59 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “In Social Media, Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail”

  1. You get out of life on what you put into it..if you don’t have that master plan of getting something done..then chances are you will end up out of luck.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  2. Elisha Tan says:

    Just curious, do you think that social media levels the playing field between big and small companies? When it comes to adaptivity, start-ups always have an advantage.

  3. Thank you for this article. We certainly need a solid action plan in place – like the old saying goes “If we don’t know where we are going, how are we ever going to get there”. Companies have to understand that it is not that difficult to plan out your digital media strategy in line with your business goals. It’s imperative to implement the right web analytics reporting that aligns with those goals in order to start measuring your successes. They also have to understand that the social media consultant must have access to inside information such as financial data, etc. in order to truly benchmark how effective the social channels are. It’s easy to start with small goals through a web ananlytics tool.

  4. Thank you for this article. We certainly need a solid action plan in place – like the old saying goes “If we don’t know where we are going, how are we ever going to get there”. Companies have to understand that it is not that difficult to plan out your digital media strategy in line with your business goals. It’s imperative to implement the right web analytics reporting that aligns with those goals in order to start measuring your successes. They also have to understand that the social media consultant must have access to inside information such as financial data, etc. in order to truly benchmark how effective the social channels are. It’s easy to start with small goals through a web ananlytics tool.

  5. Eric Melin says:

    Thanks for the shoutout, Brian. This is a great article for those planning their social media strategies in the new year. As you say, everything does start with the mission. Clearly defined goals and objectives will absolutely dictate the strategy for measurement and benchmarking, especially with web data. We’re excited to have a chart in our new 2.0 platform that allows you to compare quarterly web volume. Comparing this and other results you talk about over a timeline is essential. How will you know if you’ve reached your goals if you haven’t defined them and you can’t measure them?

    Eric Melin

  6. If 2010 was the year of feasting on social media, then 2011 will be the diet plan. Having a process or framework that is adaptive to the changing social channels and their intersections will be key to ensuring goals and objectives are met.

    Touching on Brian’s piece that all departments must be attuned and engaged to an adaptive social media strategy, my question is whether a top down approach or bottom up approach would be most effective? I think it’s too early to say which approach is liable to be better.

    • 40deuce says:

      I don’t know if there’s a real answer to that question, but here’s how I see it usually going on today:
      The idea of getting into social media gets some of the best reaction at the bottom. The bottom starts to get involved and show the benefits, so it goes bottom up. But then, the uppers (the c-suite or what-have-you) see that the social media integration may be a good idea and then start to do it differently in a top down approach. That’s what I hear/see happening a lot.

      The thing is is that I don’t think either way is better than the other. The key to it is getting buy in either from the top all the way down or the bottom all the way up. Getting everyone involved is one key that will really help social media work in business.

      Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

    • briansolis says:

      The culture of the organization says a lot about how this plays out…but it usually starts from the bottom-up, but at some point, we have to shift from champion to corporate politician to get attention from the C-suite. Getting top-down support is when social transforms the organization.

    • Eve says:

      The hotesny of your posting is there for all to see

    • just ran across this, very fun.I was an old NOTA neihbor on 12th street downtown in 1981.Played with Purdom in the 90′s. Does anyone have a picture of type 1 after Julie Costain added FUCK YOUR EYES to the front of the building ?

    • OH, DAS KANN ICH VERSTEHEN!!!Ich habe noch immer diese Sehnsucht nach dem Ballettsaal, den Ãœbungen, der Anstrengung, dem wohligen Gefühl nach dem Unterricht! Habe 2008 nach fast 25 Jahren aufgehört, …Ich MUSS irgendwann wieder anfangen, vor allem, wo der geliebte Ehemann tanzen doch so garnicht toll findet und ich so also auch nicht dazu komm…

    • he was born in Hawaii. That's the way it was done back then. Hawaii as a new state was very interested in seeking Federal money and the more they registered, the more money they received.

    • Ich hab vor einem Monat zum ersten Mal die Macarons so hingekriegt, dass ich beim Kosten wirklich verstanden habe, warum man danach süchtig werden könnte – das hat allerdings mindestens fünf Versuche gedauert. Und seit gestern hab ich das neu erschienene Macaron-Buch von Hermé zuhause. Die Isfahan-Macarons werden wahrscheinlich die nächsten sein … speziell für katha!

    • It’s good to get a fresh way of looking at it.

    • Si une entreprise étrangère vient travailler en Suisse, elle doit payer ses ouvriers, selon les mêmes conventions que les Suisses, ainsi c’est équitable (concurrence juste) et il n’y a pas de disparité. Il serait presque logique d’appliquer ce principe aux importantions … si j’importe du coton de l’Afrique en Suisse, je paie les ouvriers qui travaillent pour moi la même chose que s’ils seraient ici … là on commence de faire quelque chose de plus juste !

    • http://www./ says:

      In den Himmel schauen , den Wolken nach sehen , das hat was . Einen sch̦nen Tag Рbei deinem Ausflug mit den Kids . GGGLG , Christine

  7. 40deuce says:

    Fantastic insight as usual Brian!

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos (

  8. Thanks Brian,

    I think you’ve raised some valuable points here. Sometimes marketers forget that using social media channels shouldn’t be all about one-way ‘selling’ tactics. Instead, we should be taking a situational approach to identifying specific ‘publics’ and then communicating with each in an appropriate way. In fact, many in PR would say that we should already be doing this with every channel we utilise!

    Tom Bowden-Green

  9. I am so surprised to see your posts!

  10. This is so vitally important I find it really frustrating when it is the stage that is skipped!
    I’m so pleased to see strategic recommendations of a really thorough approach detailed here, thank you.

  11. Bill Simmel says:

    This is solid information on using SM channels, I would love to see more businesses understand these practices before they attempt to embrace SM as an marketing flow. I keep reminding clients Social Media is Talking WITH People NOT AT People.

  12. Thanks for the post Brian!

    If ever, now is the time when this issue should be on the top of each brands’ priorities when it comes to ticking boxes in their social media strategy checklists.

    One thing I see happening time and time again, is that quite a hefty sum of money keeps getting thrown at social media efforts, even when no one seems to have a clue of the expected objectives.

    One of the reasons for this, I’ve come to find, is that brands often start without proper knowledge of ‘where they are’, i.e. they are not familiar with their social media surroundings.

    Hopefully one of the trends we’ll see this year, is that before doing anything, social media efforts should have a reasonable amount initial research done beforehand, because without a backdrop, it’s a bit challenging to say much about any results, if there were no objectives or benchmarks to begin with.

  13. Laura Wagner says:

    Thanks Brian – Locally I’m finding businesses expect success overnight. You’re right, they are told social media is easy so they jump in. But then they don’t do anything and wonder why customers aren’t knocking down their door. And then they quit. But it’s still so new and I’d guess businesses made similar mistakes with other forms of promoting and advertising back in the day.

  14. Jane Gurin says:


    Right you are! I’ve spent the past year pushing my nonprofit to get into social media, and when it finally dipped its toe into facebook and twitter, it did so without committing to an integrated marketing strategy. Frustrating. 2011 predication? Later, people will point out how social media is a big yawn and doesn’t accomplish much. A real learning experience for me!

  15. Tom Scontras says:

    Timing is everything, and social media found itself attempting to grab the attention of SMB’s as they slid across the deck of the Titanic from 08 – 10. It was simply a tough time for many to allocate resource while practicing patience. Although we increased our Twitter and Facebook following 700 percent last year we did not see the return in traffic, trials, nor MRR. Literally sitting here working on 11 (Marketing) budget trying to determine what to type into the cell marked “social”. A great article – which has retrieved my cursor from select/delete.

  16. That is a good analogy – email to social media – where it must be integrated into the organization.


  17. Brian, I believe many of your points are valid but I think you missed many other underlying causes of social media failure and perhaps over-simplified things here. I’ve responded with a post of my own on this topic that fleshes out your article: Five Hidden Secrets of Social Media Failure

    Thanks and best wishes, Mark

  18. Engage is a very goog book with marketing insights on managing next social CRM

  19. My favourite quotation from Sun Tzu reads:
    “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
    If one hasn’t prepared a plan it’s very hard to achieve a success. Especially on such a difficult battle ground as Social Media…

  20. Paul McSweeney says:


    We are a digital marketing agency in the United Kingdom. The need for engagement and long-term strategy is paramount, but it is difficult to sell this to SMEs who are cash-strapped. Many still think a facebook and twitter account suffices. There is no strategy other than “to keep up with the Joneses”. To do a good job for clients, you need to gain a deep understanding of their vision and their markets in order to speak knowledgeably about their brand (if they will let you!). All this takes time, before you get on to participation, engagement, and ultimately Influence. They are not buying the long-term strategy sell, they want the quick-fix.

    So what do you advise? Create a series of easy-to-follow stepby-step tools to set up the social media accounts so they can manage it themselves and act as an ongoing advisor…or take the money and not give an optimum service:) I know its the former..just trying to come up with the ideal solution for the client.

    A great fan of your work. I am reading Engage,and realising how many SMEs in this country have barely dipped their toe in the water vis-a-vis social media strategy.

    Best wishes,


  21. PamMktgNut says:

    Brian – I think I already told you when you originally published this article how much I loved it. However, I just recently (this week) noticed you had referenced my 2011 Predictions article via a Google analytics report.

    I feel that you are sometimes the other half of my brain, just smarter. 😉 I agree with just about everything I read and hear from you. I feel like I say the same things over and over to clients about engagement, planning etc. Some of them eventually get it, some dont’ or won’t. I guess the best we can do is be the voice of reason or a broken record to them.

    Anyway, just want to give a big thanks for the inclusion! I give you credit for your inspiration to me whenever I can in my writing and conversations.

    Have a great Friday & weekend!


  22. Michelle says:

    Business strategy also applies to the small businesses and entrepreneurs like me. Coming from the corporate world I learned it is absolutely imperative. Thanks for the good article.

  23. KVdm says:

    Of course one should plan things… to a certain degree. Listen to the voice of reason and ban the heart, ban all life, ban inspiration and let perspiration talk. Total boredom will be the result. No thank you.

  24. Yet another example of the importance of fact-checking in the era of
    real-time reporting, yes, but, when I paused for a moment, I appreciated
    the timelessness of this discussion.

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