Do you need a social media strategy or a social media plan?

As I’m writing this I’m recovering from of one of the most stressful periods of my entire adult life. This summer we decided it was time to downsize our home. My step son was moving out (hey, not all millennials live with their parents forever) and with one less person in the house, our three story saltbox seemed much too large. We invested in the customary upgrades and cleanup we wished we’d done sooner. We had photos done on a Thursday, listed the house on Friday and sold it Saturday! Talk about a whirlwind.

The finding of the new house didn’t go quite so easily, however. We put offers in on three houses, losing out each time to higher bids in this sellers’ market. Finally, the fourth time was a charm and we had an accepted offer. The closing dates aligned perfectly with the generous timeline our own buyers granted us. And then the shit hit the fan when we were not allowed to take possession of our new house on time. I had to rebook EVERYTHING, including movers. I was very lucky to find¬† moving company the day before our move. Yeah. It was a bit stressful. A couple weeks later and we’ve cleared out 75% of the boxes, put up two Christmas trees, rekeyed all the locks, replaced a doorbell, installed wifi outlets and ordered new windows.

What saved my sanity through all of this? Some on Twitter posited it must be my sense of humour, but I actually think it’s that we had a strategy for money management and then laid out a plan to get there. We might have been delayed a couple of days, but we were confident this was our best strategy for long-term money management, and that things would work out. And I realized this very much relates to a question I’ve been grappling with in social media… what’s the difference between a social media strategy and a social media plan? Can you have one without the other?

What is a social media strategy?

While nobody seems to agree on a specific definition of strategy, they all seem to agree on one thing: it’s about what you want to accomplish over the long-term. The definition I found that I liked the best is this one by Dr. Vladimir Kvint,

Strategy is a system of finding, formulating, and developing a doctrine that will ensure long-term success if followed faithfully. Dr. Vladimir KvintClick To Tweet

So, to totally mangle that definition, a social media strategy could be a system of finding, formulating and developing your social media presence that will ensure long-term success if followed faithfully. You could, for example, decide that one of your business goals is to become a thought leader.  In order to support that goal you will likely need to produce thoughtful content in some form: blog, articles, speeches, videos. This is your strategy: to become a thought leader I will need to broadcast my thoughts and amplify them through social media.

It’s a system, not a plan.

Back to my moving story, we started asking ourselves questions about our long-term life goals, retirement plans and what we want to accomplish and when. We developed, fairly casually and quickly, a kind of retirement strategy to get us where we need to be to enjoy the life we want when we get to retirement age. The strategy involved questioning our spending, saving, investing, and yes, even our house. Knowing what we were trying to accomplish helped us immensely going forward. Our retirement strategy: in order to retire at 65 with a comfortable income, we need to start saving and investing in a way that builds our retirement fund.

What is a social media plan?

Hold up… that strategy thing sounds an awful lot like a plan, doesn’t it? A plan is really a smaller, more tactical part of the overall strategy. Strategy answers questions of how and why. Plans execute on those answers.

Your social media plan might look like a calendar with specific types of posts on specific days. It could involve crafting explainer videos, writing long tutorials on a blog, or working with influencers to sell more of your product. If a social media strategy is about figuring out what type of social media presence (customer service vs. content marketing vs. affiliate marketing) helps you reach your business goals, the social media plan is the timeline for executing specific pieces, monitoring and measuring.

For example, to be come a thought leader you might decide to

  • Write a thoughtful blog once a week;
  • Share it on Facebook and Twitter;
  • Tag relevant industry leaders to engage them in the conversation;
  • Repost the blog on LinkedIn and tag a different group of people there;
  • Share again on Twitter to find a new group of people to talk to.
  • Recycle the topic of the blog post in videos, infographics, quizzes, etc. to interest different types of people.

All of these things can help to build your reputation as a thought leader, but you’ll need to put specific plans in place to do them at specific times/intervals. The planning phase will also look at how each piece of content interacts/cohabitates with any other content you might be producing. Taking the time to plan things out will make your life a lot easier.

Can a social media plan stand alone?

I guess it can. You can go straight into planning your content calendar without thinking about your overall goals and how the content relates to that. But wouldn’t it be more productive to start with the strategy and figure out what you’re trying to accomplish and how those bits and bobs in a content calendar can work together to grow your business towards the goals you’ve set?

What do you think? Are strategies and plans all the same? Can they live independently or are they co-dependent? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.



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