Four key social media strategies

Candyland by John Morgan

Is your business using social media as part of its overall marketing strategy? Do you consider the relative social influence and authority of customers? And if so, do you tailor customer service, pricing or product selection as a result?

A research study from the Harvard Business Review has found that companies actively using social media practice one of four distinct strategic approaches, all of which are dependent on the organisational culture, what the company is seeking to achieve in terms of results and their tolerance to uncertainty.

The study – which was the result of an analysis of over 1,100 companies leading social media initiatives from multiple industries and continents – sheds light on how businesses are adopting social media practices in different ways to meet product and corporate business objectives.

The research study identified four key social media strategic approaches:

1. The predictive practitioner

Companies using this approach focus their social media efforts on a particular area of the the business, for example customer service, R&D or sales support.

Comcast, the US-based telecommunications company, uses Twitter to deal with complaints and customer service issues, whilst Asos, the online fashion retailer, has led the way in F-commerce, selling shoes, clothes and other accessories directly through Facebook.

2. The creative experimenter

A ‘creative experimenter’ utilises social media to ‘test’ ideas and concepts as a way of improving functions and practices. A company taking this approach will often use sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to listen to internal and external stakeholders and use tailored platforms such as blogs to create a two-way dialouge with customers.

5 years ago Dell set up Direct2Dell, it’s first official presence on the social web and the gateway to Dell’s community portal. Through this gateway, various other blogs, forums and groups have been set up to encourage Dell customers and employees to interact, share ideas and ask questions.

3. The social media champion

The ‘social media champion’ approach is a step up from the two previous strategies. ‘Social media champions’ utilise social media on a much grander scale, for example as part of a nationwide or international promotional campaign.

In 2010, Ford launched a Facebook-centric social media campaign called the Ford Focus Global Test Drive. The campaign invited bloggers, social media authorities and Facebook friends to share their experiences with followers and friends following the first global consumer test drives of the new Ford Focus. The campaign required joint efforts across marketing, communications and senior executives, and generated an increase in awareness and leads, prompted test drives and raised thousands of pounds for good causes.

4. The social media transformer

A ‘social media transformer’ is a company prepared to embrace social media entirely and ensure it permeates across multiple departments and areas throughout the organisation. A business using this approach will involve both internal and external stakeholders, including senior managers, agencies and customers to enable innovative social media interactions.

Last year Cisco launched their Integrated Workforce Experience (IWE), a social business platform enabling collaboration and knowledge-sharing for both employees and external associates. The IWE created a centralised knowledge and information ‘hub’ and functions like a Facebook ‘wall’, with real-time news feed updates on employees’ status and activities, and information on business projects and partner interaction.


Recognising strategy is one thing, but putting it into practice is another. It’s important that any organisation planning to use social media have clear goals and objectives beforehand to ensure that it aligns with the overall business and corporate strategy. Businesses new to social media should start off at a lower level, as a ‘predictive practitioner’ or ‘creative experimenter’, to test social media in specific areas or departments within the company. Only once confidence has been built (and depending on what the company wants to achieve) can they start to strategically ramp up efforts and aim for the next stage.

Effective strategy implementation is critical, not only to ensure that objectives are met but also to avoid potentially disruptive problems. Companies without a clear social media strategy are prone to ad-hoc and un-coordinated experiments, that despite the best of intentions, may leave them looking unprofessional and amateurish.

Does your company use social media as part of its marketing strategy? If so, which of the four strategic approaches does it fit into?