The Problem with Planning Social Media (No Problem)

If you were engaged with digital media planning early in the continuum, say from 1995-2000, you regularly heard the phrase, "building the plane while flying it." That cliché was used commonly to describe the exhilaration and similarly the frustration of media planning in an environment that was un-tested, un-standardized and extremely fluid when compared to its traditional brethren. 

The same thing can be said for social media planning right now, because social media is somewhat tested, infinitely un-standardized and extremely fluid.  What adds even more difficulty is, it is more about the platform than any of the individual players -- which adds a level of complexity that can easily overwhelm an unseasoned planner.

When planning display in digital media, it's easy to focus on the publisher as the location for placement, and each publisher has a forecasted, finite volume of inventory that can be planned.  In social media, publishers are increasingly shifting their focus away from their sites and more to a distributed model that relies on third-party programmer development to create access points. 



In a recent article in the Sunday New York Times, Facebook proclaimed its desire for a third party to developers to create new interfaces for accessing the social network rather than driving users to the host .com site.  They are not as concerned with site traffic as they are with accessibility to the platform.  Twitter is leaps and bounds ahead of the pack when it comes to this concept, with most people accessing Twitter through mobile apps such as Twitterific or desktop apps like TweetDeck. 

In fact, I'd go so far as to guess (and this is just a personal guess) that at least half of the traffic Twitter gets may not even come through  What makes it even more interesting and more complex is that many third-party developers are building tools to access both of these platforms, and I truly mean platforms, with the purpose of mining them for data.  That translates to solutions that can use social data and apply it to the general display.  If that doesn't confuse the issue, I don't know what does. 

These platforms are creating a distributed content strategy that aligns nicely with the semantic Web approach, which is also starting to gain more steam.  As we progress over the next two to three years of digital marketing, more overlap will occur because contextual placements are being swept aside in favor of data-driven solutions that may or may not be overlaid above a contextual location.

These two issues are making it difficult.  When you write a media plan and develop a flowchart, the line items in the flowchart are not simply publisher brands, they're technology that layers into your typical publishing brands.  In the case of a social media flowchart, you need to write out all the different components and understand strategically how you're going to utilize them, and apply costs to the usage of each effort.  The development of this portion of the flowchart is more akin to a project management plan than it is to a media plan, because you're trying to identify the calendar of events in social media with the hopes of launching something with a predetermined number of initial publishers that has legs and can catch virality, to extend the impact and estimated impressions over the course of a few days or weeks, not just be isolated to an initial media location.  Forecasting this impact is a guessing game at best, with understanding the audience reaction  far more dependent on the creative and the message than it is when planning basic display (where it is certainly important) where you hope for a click through or some measure of interaction.

Social media planning is a new beast.  It is an art and a science, but there's more art to it than the standard media plan requires.  Today's digital planners need to become familiar with a process of how to understand, plan and develop in this arena.  You'll note that I said "a plan", not "the plan" because that fact is, there's no established, standardized plan as of yet.  This is truly building the plane while flying it.  There are social media agencies popping up left and right who proclaim their expertise in this area, but they are no more experts than you are.  They may be further down the path of developing a process, but that process is not perfect, and it's not going to be perfect for some years to come.  Start with the platforms you think make sense, layer in an idea for when to start, and create a calendar for when to stoke the fire.

Don't be afraid of planning a social media effort.   Tackle it from a place of familiarity.  Tackle it with ideas and concepts that are known and use them to explain the unknown.  Try to think in terms of reach and frequency, and understand the usage of the platform based on your own experiences first, because that will help you build a plan that is effective and accurate and will complement your other efforts very well.

If you've built a process or a plan in a manner that you think works, and are interested in sharing it, please let us know on the Spin Board by commenting below.



5 comments about "The Problem with Planning Social Media (No Problem) ".
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  1. Richard Monihan, May 20, 2009 at 3:03 p.m.

    Was the automobile a "new beast" when it was first introduced? Sort've, yes. In retrospect, no not really. It was a new means of providing an old concept - transport. I liken it to the old saw that railroads had business problems not because of the inroads trucking made, but because they viewed themselves as railroads, not transportation businesses.

    As a result, they lost sight of their core competencies within the larger framework. Trucking wasn't the competition to them...even though it was.

    The same is true with social media. There is nothing new here, in the broader sense. It's still the internet, it's still utilizing standard advertising themes. The key differentiation is "maintaining control" of the brand.

    Sorry to say, but brand managers NEVER had control of their brand. If a brand came out, and it was good, word of mouth and consumption did most of the heavy lifting. Nike is huge today not because "Just Do It" and the swoosh were so good, but because these themes dovetailed nicely with the consumption patterns of consumers.
    Nike was able to link some visual and aural themes which suited the times and complemented their main business, thus inextricably linking users with the company, but inside a social context.

    If they'd chosen to say "Do It Now" or some other word arrangement, it's quite possible the theme would not have been as successful. But it's questionable as to whether the brand would have suffered - that's an unprovable hypothesis.

    Basically, the branding succeeded because the public was open to, and willing to, adopt it. Social Media doesn't make it any easier or provide any better tools for the public to adopt lousy ideas, or provide social concepts that don't suit the general mood. But it does provide a better testing ground for those ideas, as well as a core audience to help tweak the ideas and make them better.

    Brands and Advertisers have to use social media to take their leads from, and gently coax users along. As a fan of Guinness on Facebook, I get regular updates about Guinness' activities (concerts, etc.) which may be of interest to me.
    But I also get to provide feedback to the brand at the same time by "friending" the brand, "defriending", or writing comments, providing pictures, etc.

    But how is this any different than what existed before? I was always capable of sending my thoughts to Guinness via email. And at a much more personal level, I remember that Guinness even has a room at the brewery which allows people to post pictures and comments of a very personal nature. I was always able to talk about the brand with friends at the water cooler - but now we do it on Facebook.

    Social Media hasn't altered anything, conceptually. It's just a new twist on an old theme...

  2. Ruben Sun, May 20, 2009 at 11:02 p.m.

    Very clearminded thoughts here Cory. I'd add here that
    not only is it meaningful to perceive of social media engagement from a project management perspective, but also from a service oriented perspective. We see sucesses from brands like Zappos in how they engage their customers online. The challenge for us as service providers and consultants is to manage what messaging strategies we have against facilitating and training folks on the brand side how to best engage in social media spaces and how ot use the toolsets we've built or have utilized.

  3. David Shor from Prove, May 21, 2009 at 1:33 a.m.

    Cory--hope you and the gang are well.

    What I find most interesting about the concept of social media planning is that it ultimately requires technology teams that are just as interested in the latest-and-greatest (with a particular penchant for data mining, API integration and ETL processes). All of these are not subjects taught in marketing classes, and marketing's not taught in CS classes in college.

    So it's a rare team that can, together, look ahead--the digital strategist who must understand the technological capabilities, the SOAP API developer who gives a hoot about marketing, the UxD who is in tune with social user experience design, and the project manager who can bring it all together.

    One of the things we're doing at Quillion is blending our performance marketing efforts with social media. Since it's difficult to plan social media ROI but easier to plan performance marketing ROI, blending the two ensures that advertisers can hedge their budget risk. We must remember that, while 70% of the top 100 advertisers advertise on Facebook, for example, that percentage drops drastically as you move down to the top 1000 advertisers. So justifying social media expense in this new era of ROI requires some creative blending of services.

    Talk soon.

    David Shor

  4. Michael Senno from New York University, May 21, 2009 at 7:42 a.m.

    Great insights Cory. This concept has been top of mind the past few days. I think people need to focus more on page layout to better integrate ads and brands with the content. Planners need to consider timeliness, try to identify what events will drive social media activity, and capitalize on those times of high CPMs. We also need to think more outside the box with social media to try new ways for interaction - and I think putting some of the onus on the creative and the brands is part of the equation. They are responsible for innovation and for holding the audience almost as much as the content provider.

  5. Jonathan Hall from American Pop, May 22, 2009 at 3:28 p.m.

    Great insights. I always tell our clients that we're not working off of a template, we're writing the template (or a template). I think the inclination is to treat people within social media as numbers. To figure out the right formula that results in "social cold fusion". The reality is that social media is forcing marketers to look at consumers in human terms and to reach them in a less ham fisted manner.

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