What Does “Social Media Strategy” Mean?

This post was originally written for the Higher Ed Experts Faculty Voices series. As a member of the faculty, I teach Social Media Measurement for Higher Ed, a 4-week online certificate course to help higher education professionals improve their ability to quantify their social media efforts. In addition to discussing higher ed social media metrics, students develop measurement plans and reports they can use immediately at work.

Just for kicks, I recently googled “social media strategy.” There were 146 million results. People sure seem to have a lot to say about this! The first page was mostly “how-to” articles that never bothered to define the phrase. Then, there’s this gem (warning: strong language), which clearly illustrates that people are fed up with trying to articulate their strategy.

Social Media Strategy Simplified

I think social media professionals are overthinking the idea of strategy. This is unfortunate, since strategy can be a key guide for how you do your work and how you represent it to stakeholders. At its core, strategy connects the dots between what you do and why you do it.

Let’s quickly break this down.

  • Why: Your goal, objective, or mission statement. In higher ed, it might be related to admissions, graduation, fund-raising, or engagement.
  • What: The tactics you use in pursuit of your goal. Maybe you have a student blog, snap on game day, or do an alumni day of giving.
  • Strategy: A plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal or objective.

Defining Your Social Media Strategy

Your social media strategy connects your goals to your tactics at a high level. It lays out a clear action plan for your social media program. You should be able to articulate this action plan in 1-2 pages. Some questions that may get you closer to articulating a strategy include:

  • How will you use social media?
    • Hint: It might be more than just distributing content to engage people
  • How will you determine what platforms are used?
    • Hint: Who is your target market? Where are they?
  • How will you allocate resources to enable effective strategy execution?
    • What tools will you need to execute the strategy?
  • What does success look like?

Keep It Simple!

Earlier this year, I took a course at UW-Madison on Business Strategy and Acumen. Our instructor stressed that planning is the consequence of strategy, not the reverse. You don’t need to plan for weeks and weeks and weeks to come up with a strategy. Rather, identify your goals, articulate the strategy you will use to meet your goals, and then you can figure out all the things you will do to meet them (your tactics). You shouldn’t feel a ton of pressure to get it absolutely right the first time, because the best strategies are able to evolve over time. A new platform might cause you to rethink your strategy, as could a mass migration away from a particular app. It’s ok—a nimble strategy is a good strategy.

For fun, I asked the higher ed Twitterverse to define social media strategy in one tweet. I only received a handful of responses, which leads me to believe this is a concept that is still not well-articulated for many of us. Some replies were examples of a specific strategy; two hit the mark quite well. Unsurprisingly, one response was from an alumna of my Higher Ed Experts course.

Want more information like this? This is a tiny preview of week one of my Social Media Measurement for Higher Ed course, where I set the foundation for a deep dive into social media measurement and reporting by helping you reflect on and refine your goals, strategy, and tactics.

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