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Sailing in a Storm: Why Strategy Matters

Posted on April 19th, 2013 by

EpicuriousThis world is full of surprises. And only some things can be controlled. If the world were predictable, you wouldn’t need much of a plan. Just do what you feel like, and it’ll be fine.

But when the world throws you a curveball, the absence of a plan can be a liability.

Especially when the news is shocking, you need to know when to change plans and when to hold firm. Trusting your gut is one way to do it, but we are emotional people. And emotions kick in. Emotions don’t make good policy or good decisions.

When it comes to social media, you have a few strategic options:

1. No strategy. Just put up what you feel like. If your social media is being run by your CEO, that’s probably a good idea. Your CEO is probably seasoned, wise, and understands the market profoundly. Unfortunately, your social media is probably run by Stefanee. Stefanee is nice, she is enthusiastic, and she knows all about Twitter and Instagram, but Stefanee probably needs a little guidance when it comes to your company’s value proposition and client ROI. Judgement calls probably should not be left in Stefanee’s hands.

2. Mechanical Strategy (a/k/a 2-minutes-or-less strategy). Some companies tie their tweets to trending topics on Twitter. Whatever is trending, we’ll find a connection to our company, and tie on a hashtag. This is often a bad idea. It’s a bad idea not just because it leads to tone-deaf cultural meltdowns that make you look both tone-deaf and malicious. It’s also a bad idea because it’s hideously embarrassing to be so strategically clueless that you desperately try to get noticed in connection with anything popular. Your brand is not a 10th grade girl.

Gap Twitter

3. Real Strategy. This is harder, but has the benefit of actually working. A real strategy is an integrated set of choices that explicitly show the trade-offs you are making. It differs from Option 1 because it is explicit — it says what you will do and what you won’t do. Because strategy is about saying no. So when something shocking happens, you will know what to do.

We have written before about what brands should do in times of national crisis. That advice still stands. No one is looking to your brand as a guide to moral thinking. And piling on with another maudlin “expression of support” is not going to do anything for anyone. When things get challenging, you need to keep your nerve. Social media is a grind — you need to do it even when you don’t feel like it. That means you need to have a North Star to guide you. A good strategy can be that North Star.

 Adrian Blake is a Bostonian.

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Adrian began his career in the television industry, leading the international growth of Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central. Adrian has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and an A.B. from Harvard.

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