An article in a CASE Currents issue caught my attention, probably for its pyrotechnics-promising title: “Just Do It. It’s time to burn your Facebook strategy.”

The author, Tracy Playle, starts off by reminding us that social media is just a tool — a vague, evolving tool that includes a range of technologies, platforms, brands and services — that enables human interaction and communication. Wide-ranging stuff, but still just a tool.

Social media platforms communicate brand and experience content that has always been out there, just not in such a public way. In-person conversations, talking on the phone and emailing are all other ways people share their experiences and opinions with friends and coworkers. Would you develop a strategy for any of those communication methods? How about the printing press? We shouldn’t treat social media as a different animal; it’s just a big fat tool in your arsenal of other tools and as such doesn’t deserve a strategy all to itself.

In fact, that’s a bad idea.

Being strategic = smart; Building a strategy around one tool = shortsighted

I agree with Playle: It’s not very strategic to have a social media strategy all by itself, without the context of a defined, overall strategic plan to meet the organization’s goals.

Two main reasons going it alone with social doesn’t work:

  1. By developing a social media strategy in a vacuum we predetermine that social media is the answer. That it is what’s missing. That it is what will solve our problems, leading to the nirvana we know is just around the corner if only we were getting social media right.
  2. A stand-alone social media plan also focuses our attention, as Playle says, “on only one facet of our complex and connected communications landscape, which also includes print, personal meetings and events,” among many other tools. “We risk having a communications strategy that is not interconnected.” One where the parts don’t intentionally support each other to achieve the big goals.

A better approach, and one that Zehno applies to all of our client partnerships:

  1. First, build the organizational strategies that map out where we want to go. (I know this part’s not easy – and it needs to include how to get there, not just where to go. That’s the tough part.)
  2. Then, determine which parts will benefit from marketing and communications.
  3. Next, identify those audiences we need to communicate with in order to meet our goals, and the content that will get their attention.
  4. Last, we decide the best ways to reach those audiences. We don’t shape our communications to fit the tool — we choose the tools that best serve our organizational and communications goals.

Integration

Something else to keep in mind is that the best uses of social media often include components that aren’t online at all. Playle gives some great examples of integrating social media with other activities:

  • Geosocial networking (such as foursquare and SCVNGR) can be used to enhance campus tours
  • Using hashtags on Twitter adds value to events and build communities around those experiences
  • Audioboo interviews recorded at reunions can be used for student marketing on websites

Some of these opportunities may go unnoticed if you’re not thinking about social media in the larger context of organizational goals.

Goals and content first

Social media can be a part of every strategic brand and marketing communications plan for education. But it’s a tactic in service to a strategy.

If you know what you’re trying to achieve, who needs to be reached and what content will be most engaging, the right tools and technologies will become self-evident.

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Find out how we can help you with your communications planning.