Social media is an organic, living and breathing online marketing channel. You could argue that it is not a marketing channel, that its a community of individuals who choose to be connected and marketers are trying desperately to force their way in there. But its undeniable that social media is proving to be a very convincing online engagement and relationship building/ retention channel – it still remains to be seen if social media will be a good acquisition tool. I think it will come, but few companies or organisations have done it well yet.

The problem with social media for marketing, is that its difficult to plan in detail. Because of social media’s organic nature, where individuals within the community guide the conversations through their likes and comments, it doesn’t lend itself  to the risk averse business who want to plan, pre-write and pre-approve every post. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an excuse to get away without planning and creating a strategy for your social media campaigns, it isn’t. I’m just raising the point that like other online marketing channels where you can plan to the last detail, such as search creative messaging, landing pages, online banner ad creative – the same does not work for social media.


I’ll give you the example of a current social media campaign where I am experiencing this exact problem.
One of my clients is incredibly risk averse and because of this conservative culture, social media can be problematic. However, facebook and twitter were identified as important channels for consumer engagement and building awareness for a new product – sustainable timber and paper products. It is important to get people talking about and understanding the issues around logging and forestries if we are to convince them to pay a premium for sustainable products.

So we put together an initial 12 week social media content plan that the client could sign off, prior to launching the social media pages within facebook and twitter. The plan outlined the key conversation topics that would be covered, we even went as far as to create a few example tweets, to the correct twitter 140 character limit, so the client could see how we would be communicating the issues – the tone of voice, the persona. We also identified the landing page links that we would push the community to for more information and created #hashtags that would be used within the posts or tweets and hopefully our supporters would also start to add them to their own posts whenever they were sharing our content and creating conversations of their own.

At this stage, everything was going well and I was comfortable with the social media strategy and content plan we had outlined for the launch of our new consumer awareness campaign about sustainable timber and paper products. But then, the client wanted us to go so far as to draft each individual tweet/ post that would be posted. At first we thought this was very labour intensive but it would probably work well for us over time as we would then only have to copy and paste the tweets into the post box and wouldn’t have to try and think of something to say every day. However, as we started planning the individual tweets, we realised that as our audience would grow, we would need the ability to repeat the introductory topics, which we had planned deliberately to engage consumers and explain the issues to them. We had consciously focused on the threats facing our global forests as the early topics of conversation, to provide some background information and to create context. Of course by focusing on the threats and the animal species in danger, we were hoping to get our supporters emotionally involved and also to provide them with the relevant facts needed for them to make their own educated decisions.

So we worked around this issue by sprinkling our “facts” and “threats” posts throughout the content throughout our 12 week plan so that supporters who joined the community in week 3 would get the same background information as people in week 1 and likewise for new likes in week 10. And this worked, in theory, and we were able to get a sign off from a happy client who was satisfied that we had covered all bases. Of course we had also anticipated areas of potential risk and had drafted responses for questions that were certain to arise – on areas where there is misinformation (such as carbon and climate change) as well as consumer backlash to corporate partnerships created to drive the campaign forward.

But, and here it is (I know you’ve had to read 700 words to get to this point), it doesn’t work in practice. We’ve been live now for about 3 weeks and we’re already finding sticking to the content plan difficult. Some of the weekly themed topics are a bit dry and while they provide important information, they aren’t engaging the community. So we started to improvise, and follow the topics that were getting the most likes and retweets and comments, but this was not what was approved and the client has reined us back in to follow the approved social media content plan.

I have tried my best to educate the client as to the unwritten rules of the channel, social media, which I had also done prior to presenting the online channel strategy. I have also demonstrated the importance of responding to posts in a timely fashion and follow the thread of the conversation, but this doesn’t work with their conservative nature. So we’re trying to find other ways to engage the community, because as you can imagine, its not growing as fast as the client would like, because we’re not following the rules of social media. A rigid content plan does not allow for creative posts and inspiring conversations, but we are not defeated yet. We have access to incredible photography, so the “pic of the day” will go a long way to keeping up our credibility. Our scientific integrity is in tact, we just need to create that emotional outrage that will get people talking. We need to make it personal, so we’re trying to ask questions of our community and get them to create the conversation without relying on a factual post. And its starting to work, but its slow work and I digital is fast.

If you’ve run a successful social media campaign that has grown quickly and spawned huge amounts of viral activity in sharing and retweeting your cause, I’d love to hear about it.