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In Social Media, Failing to Plan Is Planning to Fail

I've received a series of inbound requests for comments based on a report from Gartner, an IT analyst firm, that estimates as many as 70-percent of social media campaigns will fail in 2011. There are a series of discussions hitting the blogosphere and the Twitterverse exploring this very topic, some elementary and others on the right path. I contacted Gartner earlier this week and the problem is, that this data isn't new at all. In fact, these discussions are fueled by information originally published in 2008 and in early 2010. Yet another example of the importance of fact-checking in the era of real-time reporting, yes, but, when I paused for a moment, I appreciated the timelessness of this discussion.

Are many of the social media programs in play yielding tangible results?

No ...

Are they designed to impact the bottom line or are they tied to meaningful business outcomes?

No ...

The truth is that you can't fail in anything if success is never defined.

eMarketer recently published a report, "Social Media in the Marketing Mix: Budgeting for 2011," that documents the increase in social media spend we knew was imminent. However, in addition to showing us that companies are actively investing in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social platforms and campaigns, eMarketer's Debra Aho Williamson says that businesses are spending more money for all the wrong reasons.

Indeed, business are moving from experimentation or ready, aim, fire approaches to deeper phases of implementation.

Williamson shares a perspective long cautioned against here and in Engage, "many companies are expanding budgets for social media marketing not because they have been successful at it, but because they are relying on gut instinct—the feeling that 'this is something important so I'm going to do it even if I don't know why.' Or worse, they have watched their competitors earn accolades in the press for their work in social media, and they are afraid of losing any more ground."


Failing to plan is planning to fail and this is a lesson that strategists and practitioners will learn as they progress. If transparency and authenticity were prevailing maxims over the last several years, accountability, metrics, and outcomes serve as the foundation for social media success in the immediate years ahead. An effective social media plan must address business dynamics and it takes much more than a Facebook and Twitter presence. To keep things simple, social media are transformative ... but essentially they're channels, services, and networks used for intelligence, communication, and visibility. If we introduced email to the organization today, would it focus solely on marketing or customer service? Of course not. Email is not owned by any one department. It extends the reach, voice, and capabilities of every person from the inside out and the outside in.

Viewed this way, we see that a social media strategy must gain attention from the very top of the organization and see its integration across relevant business teams. Activating processes and engagement in business units is not tied to one switch either. It takes time to learn, to visualize new processes and systems, to open doors between departments. But, doing so sets the foundation for the social business, for an adaptive business. Switches will get introduced as their needs are defined and the electricity is tied to each one in order to perform specific actions.

The lens in which businesses must view social media is through an integration aperture. Social extends and empowers every business facet that is affected by online activity. That includes marketing, communications, sales, CRM/sCRM, product development/R&D, HR, finance, legal, et al.

According to eMarketer's report, integration is strongest in marketing and weakest in critical business functions. To envision the future of social media, we would see each of the grey bars slide from left to right, initially led by an internal team or business strategist to help with a change in culture, process, and overall goaling.


Everything starts with defining the mission and purpose at the top so that respective business units can perform according to goals and tasks. By focusing only on one or two aspects of social media, we narrow an important view of the 3F's (friends, fans and followers) and what the real needs and opportunities are that lie before us. The answers you seek are not limited to catch blog posts that promise "The Top 10 Ways to Master Social Media." Your answers require research ... not just listening.

Approach the search box of social networks or monitoring and research tools such as, Radian6, Spiral16, etc. as a blank slate. Fill in the blanks to enliven the 5W's +H.E:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • How
  • To what extent

Then categorize the information you discover to make the case for each of the affected groups within your company. Success here requires more than one community manager or one team leading the social effort. It's not an easy process. But then whoever said social media was easy ... is wrong. Unearthing the intelligence that exists when we read between the lines, we become the experts in which we initially sought guidance and we open up individual career paths beyond the social media "help desk."

Success is not a prescription. There isn't one way to excel. That's the point. Success requires definition based on intentions, goals, and mutual value ... across the organization from the top down, bottom up, inside out and outside in. Success is defined departmentally and also at the brand level. There's much to do ...

We are not simply competing for the moment, we are competing for relevance now and in the future. The future of business is indeed social, but more importantly, it's adaptive.

Reprinted from

Brian Solis is the author of Engage and is one of most provocative thought leaders and published authors in new media. A digital analyst, sociologist, and futurist, Solis's research and ideas have influenced the effects of emerging media on the convergence of marketing, communications, and publishing. Follow him on Twitter @BrianSolis, YouTube, or at

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  • Sharon Reus

    Of course every marketing program MUST begin with a deep understanding of the company's objectives and the strategy behind the program. But I especially like the statement that, just as email does, social media "extends the reach, voice, and capabilities of every person from the inside out and the outside in." Because that's true, a weak or mis-managed social media presence can not only fail, it can fail disastrously and do harm to the company's brand. (Think Nestle, Price Chopper, etc.) So it's critical that it not just be some intern assigned the task to "get us on Facebook," but instead a well thought out plan that involves management buy-in at every level. And don't forget a clearly articulated social media policy, so that each employee understands his/her role and responsibilities. Great article, thanks!

  • Josh Patrick

    I'm not sure why it would be a surprise that if you don't plan, you'll fail at what you're trying to accomplish. I'm also surprised that it's only 70% of internet campaigns fail.

    The thing I like about the internet and marketing is that you can track literally everything you do. When you find something that works, expand on it. When you find something doesn't work, start a new test. Once you find your tests are successful, put some resources and expand your test. If it still works, then it's time to do a full roll out.

    There is really nothing different between internet marketing and direct mail marketing except, the internet give you much, much better metrics for testing. In my opinion it's having metrics along with an understanding of what drives those metrics that makes for any success a business owner has.

    So, learn about Key Performance Indicators.....understand what drives those indicators and pay attention to them. In marketing, operations, strategic thought and sales this is one of the major keys to success.

    Josh Patrick