Digital Marketing

Social Media’s Chicken and Egg Dilemma

When it comes to social media, many marketers unwittingly end up in a paradox of circular thinking. How often have you heard – or perhaps even said yourself – something like the following, “Our current social media efforts aren’t working. However, with the limited results we’ve seen, we really can’t justify investing more to take things to the next level.” This strategic stalemate is the social media chicken and egg dilemma – how can you accomplish the one without the other?

This kind of circular thinking is reminiscent of those old commercials for job skills training programs, “I can’t get a job because I don’t have any experience … I don’t have any experience because I can’t get a job …” Likewise, social media is a leap for many brands struggling with this new media shift.

As such, many employ a toe-in-the-water approach, holding off major commitments of time, talent, and treasure until obvious results appear to justify these outlays (we can talk another time about how social media still has to “prove it” more than other channels). This logic problem creates a chicken and egg dilemma that can cycle continuously ad infinitum.

You can probably read the writing on the wall. Surprisingly, you’ll find many internally at your organization that can’t recognize this hurdle much less figure out a way over it. As marketers, we have to do something to break the cycle.

Strategy First

These paradoxes have an all-too-familiar challenge at the core. Often our marketing is adrift and not producing those obvious results because our strategy is rudderless. While it sounds like a mandate to eat your vegetables, it’s critical that even the most basic toe in the water needs to be grounded with a clear strategy.

This needn’t be an arduous task either. I’m fond of pointing to Rudyard Kipling’s poem about the “Six Honest Serving Men” where he notes the importance of answering those simple five Ws and one H — why, what, when, where, who, and how. This framework has guided journalists fleshing out stories, managers executing big projects, and it can help you define more clearly your current social media efforts, regardless of how nascent they may be.

Answering why your brand is doing this, what your tactics are, who is implementing, and so forth allows you to establish a baseline. This is important homework to have done as you work to break the cycle and convince your leadership to take your social media to the next level.

Implement & Iterate

With your social media grounded by a solid strategy, your next step is to implement. As you proceed with the execution, having a clear business objective allows you to avoid the noise and measure what matters.

Again, if this seems like a strategy primer, it’s critical to have clear objectives to inform your measures of success which in turn help make the case for future investments. If the results are promising, it will be an easier sell internally to expand your efforts. But what if your results move the other direction? Simple. With your business objective as your compass, rework your tactics until you find an iteration that gets your metrics on a positive path.

As an aside, don’t forget advise that was conveyed to me by one of my first mentors, former Troll Communications exec and consultant Peter Bergen. He was quick to note that in marketing, a clear failure is as useful as a clear success. Now you know one more thing that doesn’t work so you can focus your marketing even more.

Decisions Based on Results

So how does all of this impact your organization’s social media chicken and egg dilemma? By grounding even your most elementary campaigns with business-based objectives defined by solid metrics, you have something closer to a proof of concept. From here, you can make decisions based on results and reality, rather then wringing your hands and feeling like you have to take a leap of faith or gamble on your next big social media push.

Start with strategy, measure what matters, and refine as needed. Above all, try something as opposed to remaining a victim of the cycle. As Tom Peters famously said, you need to “Ready, Fire, Aim” with your strategy.

Photo via Flickr user Mark Turnauckas