What it means to be strategic with your social channels has changed a lot over the years. Social strategist Emily Gibian writes about where this discipline has been, and what a good social strategy can do today for brands. This is part of our blog post series on the role of social media today for businesses.

We can no longer think about social strategy as smart, engaging content alone. These days, we must understand it to be the thread that weaves together, supports, and amplifies the brand experience for the user – as a component of their daily digital lives –  enabling them to become brand advocates, make recommendations, and engage on their terms.

Just as much as it’s a delivery method, social media is also our conduit to learn about our audience in more granular ways than ever before. It allows us to understand exactly who our customers are – where they live, what their other interests are, what they value. Armed with this new knowledge, we can present customized content and digital experiences, but we can also make smarter business decisions about, for example, where we invest our marketing dollars overall, how we develop our products, and how we manage customer service.

But we didn’t always see it that way.

Social media – the early days

In the beginning, brands created profiles because they knew they should. They knew social media would play a role in the future of brand marketing but didn’t know quite how to be effective within an entirely new digital space. Social marketers were still often approaching brand message as broadcast. The first stages of social media maturity looked like a race for likes and a steady stream of branded messaging adapted from more traditional channels.

It became clear early on that social was starting to change the way that consumers interacted with each other and with brands. We watched as consumers began to define brands on their own terms. Shaping conversations and demanding to be heard by the brands they connected with.

That’s when social community managers saw the need for a more creative strategy. One that could leverage engagement, but also guide it strategically to the public perceptions the brand wanted to achieve. We began shifting our focus to engagement and engaging content. And while great content is a crucial element of any successful social program, it’s not enough.

Social now – what consumers expect

Now, the advent of smart mobile devices has completely changed the online experience. Consumers expect their brand experiences to be seamless, no matter where they happen to be, regardless of the channel. And that has to change the way we think about social. Or we’ll get left behind.

Social media should enhance the user’s brand experience – make it easier for them to engage with a brand, yes. But it should also to make it easier for them to share their brand experience with their peer networks. We live in a peer recommendation society where consumers make purchasing decisions based on their peer networks. In order to be effective, social marketers must give consumers a reason to share and recommend their brand. We must employ a social media strategy that connects and supports the user experience – from in-store, to web, to social media, to point of sale – and empowers the consumer to have their voice heard.

What do social strategists do?

A strong social media strategy pushes boundaries, but it also must begin with a real understanding of the market, the target audience, and the brand’s overall business objectives. From there we set out to answer a number of questions:

  1. How is what we’re doing furthering our overall business objectives?
  2. How can learning from social communities impact larger business decisions?
  3. How does social media fit into our overall paid, owned, and earned ecosystem?
  4. What channels will best serve our audiences, what types of content will resonate best with them, and have we built a truly integrated experience for our audience?
  5. How are we measuring the success of our efforts? And how can our measurement inform an adaptive strategy?
  6. Are their governance and infrastructure needs internally which must be met to support a successful social program?

What happens when you do social strategy right?

When social is done right, we should be able to answer all of these questions before getting started. Every post, every tactic, and every campaign will be designed to build the right audience and drive larger business goals. This approach sets us up for measured, long-term success – and allows a consistent and integrated experience for the audience, who, at the end of the day, are the arbiters of a brand’s success.

Emily Gibian is a social media strategist at the Deloitte Digital Pioneer Square studio in Seattle (formerly Banyan Branch).