I believe the social media revolution may be the greatest advance in communications since Gutenberg invented movable type.
A critical mass of people has joined the revolution. Their enthusiasm has prompted them to talk about their “social media strategy.”
There is nothing strategic, though, about either movable type or social media. Both are tools—means to an end. They are inventions that help people communicate quicker and better.
At first, I loved the phrase “social media strategy” because my mantra has always been strategy before tactics.
I’ve often criticized people who act before they think. I have little patience for people who try to communicate without first asking themselves some very basic questions.
Non-strategic communicators don’t really communicate. They just make noise. They write news releases without knowing why. They produce brochures without having a target audience in mind. They bore us with PowerPoint presentations because they have not given thought to what they want us to do with the heap of meaningless, irrelevant information they’ve just dumped on us.
Just because we’ve moved into a 2.0 world doesn’t mean things have changed much. The proliferation of noise continues. People tweet without having a clue who they’re talking to. Too many bloggers ramble on without thinking things through. Nonprofits create Facebook fan pages with no real understanding of why. We live in a world where too many tactics are not tied to a strategy, so the clutter and confusion accumulates.
Here’s a bold statement: You will never make an impact without first having a strategy. I’m also convinced you will never be an effective communicator until you’ve first engaged in some serious thinking and done some thoughtful planning.
So how does one become strategic? How does one become an effective strategic communicator? I can answer that in three words:
Ask good questions!
To the simple minded, that may appear too simplistic. To the strategic and innovate people who regularly read this blog, you already know what I’m talking about. You instinctively get it. You’re already asking good questions.
Here are some basic questions, though, that will guide any communicator who wants to begin with strategy and before moving to tactics:
- Why are we doing this? What are we hoping to achieve? What’s our purpose?
- Who are we trying to communicate with? Who is our primary audience? Secondary audiences?
- What do we want our primary audience to do with the information we share? Do we have a clearly-defined call to action?
- What is our core message? Can we say it in one sentence? In 140 characters?
- What are the most effective vehicles for communication with the target audience? What media are most appropriate? How can we integrate the traditional and social media?
Those questions should be asked in that sequence if you intend to put strategy before tactics. If, for example, you begin with questions #5, then you’re too tactical. You’re doing before you’re thinking.
In a 2.0 world, people often believe they are being strategic just because they are using the latest technology or because they own the coolest gadget. That’s nerdy, not strategic.
Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. I often have gadget envy. And I’m a huge proponent of social media.
I hope we learn to use social media for all its worth, both on a personal and a professional level. But let’s not forget that it’s just technology. It works best if you first have a strategic mindset.
You become strategic by first thinking and then doing. The best way to be thoughtful and purposeful in using social media (or even movable type) is to first ask good questions.
That’s it: Ask good questions!
What questions are you using to challenge yourself and others?