Social Media: Strategy, Tactic or Channel?

Posted: July 5, 2011

Diane Kuehn Founder & CEO

Social media is changing the way business is done today. Social media is changing the way everyone communicates and millions of conversations are taking place online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Social media may be a phenomenon, but marketing professionals agree it’s not a fad. It’s here to stay and businesses must participate full out.

“To succeed today all companies must get faster, smarter and more social.” According to authors of The NOW Revolution Amber Naslund and Jay Beer, who spoke at the Triangle American Marketing Association (AMA) meeting in May. “Business has changed more in the past three years than in the prior 30. It’s not a threat, it’s an opportunity.”

Naslund and Beer liken social media to such technology innovations as the telephone, fax, web and email, but say “we’ve changed business to respond to each of these except social media.”

Marketing professionals agree that in order for companies to experience success in this realm, creating a presence is not enough. Businesses need to include social media as a key component in their integrated marketing plans and ensure an implementation process which requires businesses and individual to engage by actively listening, responding, participating and managing the messaging.

However, there’s confusion about where social media falls in the integrated marketing plan.  Social media has been referred to and even simultaneously called a strategy, a tactic or tool and a channel.

I took the question to a few expert marketers.

Sam Waltz, APR, Fellow, Public Relations Society of America and principal of Sam Waltz & Associates, says “social media is all three, a strategy, a tactic and a channel.  When is the product of problem-solving research and design, social media is a strategy. Social media can be a tactic as posts in various forums, and social media can be a channel when messaging is used on Facebook and LinkedIn to engage certain target audiences.”

Others answer differently.

“It’s a channel, pure and simple,” says Brian McDonald , a senior digital strategist at MedThink Communications and Triangle AMA past president. “You can deploy a strategy to use social media to communicate with customers and stakeholders.”

C. Thomas Smith, III, Director of Operations and Integrated Marketing at Anua and Triangle AMA member, says, Social media is one of a number of tactics or options in an integrated marketing plan in which the objectives, strategies and target audiences are clearly identified.

And here’s a unique twist.

“Social media is not a strategy. Social media is a venue for marketers… a set of technologies or tactics that enable us to elevate and amplify brands and their marketing communications,” wrote Antony Young for Advertising Age and “Social media may be the channel du jour, but the message and the mechanics of how it’s deployed are the things that really count. You could argue both (Charlie Sheen and Ashton Kutcher) essentially have the same strategy when it comes to social media. It goes something like this:

Get a following on Twitter.
Interact and engage directly with fans.
Create buzz and conversation.

But there’s only one brand that’s winning. Getting the overall brand messaging and communication strategy right, rather than jumping straight to social-media tactics, is what’s going to bring success.”

At the end of the day one, simple question remains: “What is the ROI?”

Social media expert Jeremiah Owyang introducedhis Social Media ROI Pyramid as a model example of ways top enterprise companies measure their social media impact.