“Social Media Strategy” – Couples in nuptial bliss or strange bedfellows?

Few days back, I attended Global Youth Marketing Forum 2011 at Mumbai. The growing prominence of Social Media in the year 2010, thanks to facebook mania triggered by The Social Network et al, has injected Social Media Steroids into every marketer’s veins. It was clearly evident during the seminar as every Social Media consultant and Marketer talked of Social Media Revolution, seducing the audience (comprising marketers, aspiring marketers and enthusiasts) with voluptuous statistics, ranging no less than millions, of followers for every brand that rode the social media wave.

Before I go any further, let me put few disclaimers.
I don’t aspire to be a spoilsport craving for attention when the party is on. I am not a cynic who decries the entire change happening around business where it ain’t seem as it used to be. I have been personally touched by this momentous change and it never ceases to fascinate me. What worries me, however is the fact that although we are excited about this new phenomenon, we smugly put on our old glasses (Its about marketing!) and claim foolishly that we are witnessing the biggest phenomenon ever. Is it so hard to believe that the reference of change has changed forever?

I am using “We” here for a purpose, as I have fallen into this trap several times whenever I forced myself to thrust new ideas within the cubbyholes of my old concepts. Luckily, I have been blessed to be in company of enlightened souls (Oh dear, farmer!!) who often jolt me lovingly back to reality.

Let us examine this whole idea of Social Media Strategy”. We have cosily placed together two very different entities (or beasts??) together and carried our daily affairs of business as if nothing has changed. Imagine how it would be if two strange entities were brought together and exchanged wedding vows without really figuring out who they really are. Although the wedding party is not over yet, it is essential to ask ourselves, “Are they in nuptial bliss or are they strange bedfellows”?

First let us explore "Social Media".  Is “Social Media “ =”Social” + “Media”? 
When hydrogen atoms and oxygen atoms interact, water is formed. However, can wetness be understood from observing the properties of hydrogen and oxygen individually?

Our popular conceptions of media arise from the works of Marshall McLuhan who wrote in his famous book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, the iconic phrase, “Medium is the message”. Let me talk straight. In this fascinating world of Social Media, “Medium is not the message”.{Post Note on 15th May 2012: I take it back. My understanding about Mcluhan has changed enough to totally eat up the sentence you just read } It is mere an excuse to be social and remain connected with the consumer. Its essence lies in the personality of the corporation, its consumers discern based on their conversations. How else do we figure out whether our next door neighbor is grumpy or really nice, other than our conversation with him?

It often irks me whenever I see companies using Facebook Wall only to showcase their products. (Dear Flipkart, I am thinking of you, Is somebody listening??) Can you tolerate a person who constantly shows off his toy gadgets and is hell bent on selling stuff to you?

Rather than thinking of Social Media as a machine whose levers could be adjusted to increase the sales dramatically, it would be prudent for companies to think of it as an inevitable extension of the company’s personality which it would want the consumers to believe in.

Oh Good lord!! My words are so typical of old mindset. It’s no longer the case of believing. (Author's note to self:Wake up!) The consumers can see!!

What about “Strategy”? Thank God. I can seek wisdom from my favorite guru, Henry Mintzberg, who managed to describe this beast beautifully in his book “Strategy Safari”. He describes 10 schools of thought in which strategy is formed. At this stage, I think it would be far more appropriate to understand strategy by discerning what it isn’t as opposed to what it is.

Ever since scientific management came to the fore, our popular notions of strategy have been dominated by “Strategy planning”, which essentially separated thinking from doing within the realm of strategy, with its roots from the Cartesian split between the mind( res cogitans) and matter (res extensa).  The thinking cap was worn by the likes of “Strategy Consultants, Strategy Planners and Leaders”, while managers were relegated to doing (sans thinking??). In the words of Henry Mintzberg, Strategy planners were “expected to produce the best strategies as well as step-by-step instructions for carrying out those strategies so that the doers, the managers of businesses, could not get them wrong”.

Although thinkers provided doers with information to take decisions accurately, it turned out to be ineffective as their strategies were divorced out of context, dissociated from the environment where business really happens. This seemed okay until businesses were stable and predictable( Remember those good ol'days??).  In the case of Social Media, context is extremely crucial as businesses are always connected with the consumers over the web. As the ordinary farmer had once put it brilliantly during the screening of my Web-Brahhman movies at Pune, India, this is the first time in history where content is subservient to context.

Thus, Social Media strategy cannot be a well defined, formalized plan per se, without any relevance to the context. Social Media strategy has to be an active response to the environment. This is the reason why it is extremely important to listen before one could strategize. As we go forward, when the social media plan that is being developed no longer stays on the predicted course while it is being implemented, strategy planning would become further obsolete.

While we may have found out who these entities really are, we shall explore further in the coming posts on what it takes to make this marriage work!!
What do you think?? Would love to hear your views!