Social Media Strategy: People

The people we want to communicate with should be at the heart of our social media strategy. This is part of our series about our social media strategy framework.

This article is part of a series about our social media strategy framework.

Most of the industry’s approaches to social media in the last few years have been led by technology or platform hypes. From corporate blogs to communities to social networks to YouTube to Twitter to Social Media Newsrooms to Facebook to Quora/Pinterest/etc. Whatever was the talk of town when someone at a company discovered social media become the “strategy.” And not much has changed. “Do we need to be on Pinterest?” is asked by companies all around and shows how little is still understood about the underlying principles of social media. It’s still perceived as mainly new technologies, a new communication channel, new tools or a mixture of that.

We think that all of these are symptoms of a much more fundamental behavior change in how we humans communicate and interact. This shift is much slower than the emergence of new platforms and tools but also much deeper in the fabric of our society. That’s why we think that each social media strategy that only plans for tools and not for behaviors will ultimately fail. Thankfully, we’re seeing a lot more right answers to the question about the relevance of Pinterest in the form of another question: “Depends. Whom are you catering to?” This shifts the focus to the right viewpoint: people.

We have to put the people we want to communicate with at the very start of every social media strategy. Everything else evolves from that.

So, after we have defined the business objectives for the social media strategy with the client, we go into an intense workshop and research phase in which we try to make ourselves and the client as familiar as possible with the people we want to reach.

Defining a set of target groups1

There are a ton of ways to approach this, and which way is the right one depends heavily on the client’s preexisting knowledge and materials. If the client already has a pretty clear picture of its target groups, we can go ahead and focus on the target groups’ digital behavior and preferences in communication etc.
If the client is not sure about whom to talk with on the social web, we take a step back and work through some questions like:

  • What are your usual target groups?
  • What target groups do you want to tap into in the future?
  • Who likes you, and who not so much?
  • Whom have you been struggling with?
  • If you were to have all the resources in the world, whom would you go for?

These questions will help to get the mind open about what might be possible and also gives the client a better idea of what social media might help with.

It’s good to keep in mind that there are a lot of different types of target groups. They can be based on socio-demographic data, on people with similar behaviors, on individuals or groups of people/networks. It’s always interesting to explore if a different approach to a target group might open up a new and helpful approach.

Getting to know a target group

When a set of target groups is roughly defined, it’s time to dive deep into everything there is to know about each target group. We usually pull data from three types of sources:

  • Client data. Everything the client already knows about the target group like internal market studies, focus groups, and personas. But also material that the client might not even be fully aware of, like insights from web analytics and statistics from existing social media activities.
  • Desk research. We try to get our hands on every study available out there that is remotely connected to the target group and/or the market of the client2. From market research by the likes of Forrester, eMarketer and many, many more to media data released by the big publishing and media companies.
  • Listening. We believe that it’s crucial for a viable strategy to be based on insights about the target group extracted not only from talking about them but talking with them. It’s one of the big downfalls of our industry that we usually only talk to our target groups when we want to create vox pops to convince the client of our strategy. We need to listen with a much more open mind to what they are saying (explicitly or implicitly). We should do this by asking them questions directly as well as looking at what they say online (social media monitoring/analytics). A good approach is to find the most interesting voices of the target group online and then invite them for an interview.

After we’ve gathered all the material we can get, we condense it into the most important characteristics and insights about the target group to paint a detailed picture of them. Everything we come up with afterwards has to be in line with this picture. It informs the kind of conversation (content) the client will have on the social web and where it will happen (platforms). Like the question of whether Pinterest is a good fit for a client.


  1. We’re not very fond of the term “target group.” It seems to reduce people to “buckets of consumers.” Nevertheless, it’s an established industry term. We’re trying to counter that connotation with keeping descriptions of people in target groups as human as possible. We want our clients to understand the complexity of the people they want to talk to and embrace that in the strategy. 

  2. It’s one of the great joys for us in our job that with every new client, we can dig deep into another industry or industry branch and learn as much as possible. 

Social Media Strategy: Goals

The first step of developing a social media strategy is defining the goals. This is part one of our series about our social media strategy framework.

This article is part of a series about our social media strategy framework.

Choosing a destination

Mike Arauz recently defined strategy as “the practice of figuring out the best way to get from here to there.” That idea is at the heart of this social media strategy framework. But before we can figure out the way, we actually have to define the “there.”1 It’s impossible to consult a route planner without being able to give a destination.

This actually explains a lot when looking at many social media efforts out there. The brand or company just got out the door and started moving without knowing where they were headed. They kept making decisions about the next step of the journey by looking at their immediate surroundings and choosing what seems right without thinking about where it will take them in the long-term.

Guess what? This is a completely reasonable approach. It’s basic exploring and being guided by serendipity. It can be a really great experience, especially in a new area that there is much more to learn about. It can be an appropriate strategic approach.
But if it remains the only approach of getting around and journeying in an area, it’s very exhausting and inefficient. We need to choose our destination, apply our gained knowledge and figure out the path we want to take to get there.
That’s the stage that most companies are right in now, when it comes to their social media strategy. They need to move from exploring the field to choosing concrete goals and then setting out to reach them.

How to choose the “there”

Choosing a destination always starts by taking a closer look at where we are right now and how we want to advance from this place. What positive effects are we seeing, and what challenges and problems are we facing right now? And how could social media help with them?

The goals a company chooses for its social media strategy are highly individual and dependent on that company’s unique situation. We can only make some recommendations based on our experiences with the clients we’ve worked with.

Goals should always be connected to the business side of things. That’s why we labeled this element of the framework ‘business objectives.’ That doesn’t mean that the social media strategy should have to ‘sell product’ right from the start. It nevertheless should be connected to that goal in the long-term. A strategy that doesn’t help the long-term growth of the business is a hobby. And we think it’s time that social media turns from a hobby into a viable part of the business strategy.

We’ve seen good results emerge from working with the management to understand the business challenges they are facing and then connecting the social media strategy to one or more of them. From establishing a new distribution channel to gaining more insight into target-group. From getting up to speed with digital communication to getting more customer involvement in product development. The possibilities are endless and social media can help with a lot of these.

A good set of goals comes down to these points:

  • A good mix between external (new distribution channel) and internal (rejuvenating the company) goals.
  • Goals should come from more than one department. If the strategy is only informed by the marketing or PR department, it will fall short.
  • The goals should be organized into short-term, middle-term and long-term to provide a good mix between actionable next steps, a plan and a vision.
  • Goals should be quantifiable and measurable to the extent that is possible. If no metric is available, a new one should be established.2 Fluffy goals sound nice in a powerpoint but won’t get the buy-in from the management and the employees. For us, a good measure of the quality of the goals is if we see the clients’ eyes light up when we explain the goals we’ve chosen. If they gain hope that social media will actually do something for them, they will get behind the effort.

When you have a clear set of goals that are a good mix and seem tough to reach but not too tough, you have defined a good “there”. Now that you know where you want to go, it’s time to figure out how to get there from here. It’s time to define a strategy.

The next article in this series is: Social Media Strategy: People.


  1. Companies that are not sure about their “here” have another kind of problem that we’re also very willing to help with. 

  2. We will talk in detail about measurement in the article about Analysis. 

Our Social Media Strategy Framework

This series of articles describes our structured approach to developing social media strategies with our clients.

Social Media Strategy Framework

Over the last few years, we have been developing our own approach to developing social media strategies. First individually at our former agencies and jobs, and then through the last 1.5 years together, this framework has been iterated numerous times and has grown a bit more mature with every client we’ve worked with. It has been informed by countless insights and inspirations from all kinds of folks in the industry and beyond. We now feel it’s time to publish our approach to give back and open it up for more people to improve and advance it.

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Overview

The framework is meant as a guide, which helps us work through a process with our clients in a structured way. It tackles the questions, which help us define the answers that turn make up the strategy.

1. Goals

No strategy makes sense without clear goals.

Business Objectives
What goals does the company want to achieve with the help of social media? What business metrics are the benchmarks for the strategy’s success?

2. Strategy

The strategy is developed to achieve the goals.

People
Who do we want to talk with? What is there to know about them? About their interests, their goals, their lives, their behavior, etc.?

Content
What do we want to talk about? What are the topics and ideas? What is the added value that we want to provide on the social web?

Platforms
Where do we want to talk with them? Which platforms are the best for the people we want to reach and the content we want to talk about?

3. Setup

A strategy needs to be implemented and constantly tested and improved.

Monitoring, Analytics, Reporting
How can we listen to what people say about us and the topic relevant to us? How do we measure what our strategy achieves? How do we gain insight and improve our approach?

Internal Organization
Who is in charge of the strategy inside the company? What roles and teams need to be designated? What processes need to be in place? Which vendors need to be brought in?

Articles in this series

Throughout the coming weeks, we will publish in-depth articles on each part of the strategy.

The Essentials – Our best blog articles

These are our favorite articles from our blog. If you want to know more about us and the topics we’re interested in, this is a good place to start.

Our Publications

Our Thinking (Out Loud)

You want to dig deeper? These articles will give you a good insight into our thinking:

The History of Our Company

We’ve been writing notes to reflect on our work. Combined, they tell the story of our company.

to be continued

What we read this week (16 Mar)

Our articles of the week: one man’s account of leaving Google, PayPal’s digital wallet, libraries of the future, thoughts on the New Aesthetic and some impressive customer service.

Quotes of the week

You want to have a mind that’s open enough to accept radical new ideas, but not so open that your brains fall out.

Michael Shermer

‘Customers’ are a repeating pattern of behaviour that expresses itself in people.

Faris Yakob

Articles of the week

  • James Bridle: #sxaesthetic
    Great commentary on the New Aesthetic and human collaboration with technology, resulting from a panel discussion at SXSW. With cameo appearances by the Higgs Boson, Kafka and Wikileaks.
  • TechCrunch: PayPal’s New Digital Wallet
    PayPal is looking to “let consumers do things with their money that have never been possible before.” Will these new options prove more convenient, or more problematic?
  • Undercurrent: How Bergdorf Goodman is Killing it in Digital
    Derrick Bradley recounts “one of the most pleasant digital encounters with a brand.” Bergdorf Goodman’s customer service went a couple small steps further than one would expect, making a huge difference in Derrick’s experience.
  • James Whittaker: Why I Left Google
    James Whittaker explains how “sharing” became a bee in Google’s bonnet, and how the ensuing social-oriented projects eventually led him to leave the company.
  • Rachel Coldicutt: The Joys of Having Nothing to Read
    Rachel Coldicutt of Caper gave this talk last year as part of the London Word Festival. Here she tells us why the libraries of the future shouldn’t make it too easy for us to find what we’re after: in other words, why they should “offer you sprouts when what you want is ice cream.”

What we read this week (24 Feb)

Mike Arauz shares his thoughts and a nifty visualization on strategy, bots get rich trading like crazy on Amazon, Facebook is losing e-commerce, and there’s a new emerging job profile, the social media researcher. Enjoy!

Today, of course, we’ve got books and computers and smartphones to hold our memories for us. We’ve outsourced our memories to external devices. The result is that we no longer trust our memories. We see every small, forgotten thing as evidence that they’re failing us altogether.

Joshua Foer

We, the Web kids; we, who have grown up with the Internet and on the Internet, are a generation who meet the criteria for the term in a somewhat subversive way. We did not experience an impulse from reality, but rather a metamorphosis of the reality itself. What unites us is not a common, limited cultural context, but the belief that the context is self-defined and an effect of free choice.

Piotr “Pastebin” Czerski

  • Undercurrent – What is Strategy?
    Our good friend and occasional collaborator Mike Arauz wrote a great piece on the Undercurrent blog – nice infographic included. If there’s one company out there we really share an understanding with of what strategy is, it’s Undercurrent. Must read.
  • GOOD: Who Can Profit from Selling 1-Cent Boks on Amazon? Robots.
    “What do you call a thriving marketplace of robots buying nonexistent books from other robots for millions of dollars? Apparently, Amazon.com.” – Read a fascinating tail about the algorithms that “live inside Amazon”.
  • New Web Order – Facebook Is Losing E-Commerce
    When it comes to Facebook and what it’s capable of, there are always multiple views on what works and what doesn’t. This is an insightful analysis on why E-Commerce and its little brother Social Commerce might not work on Facebook as others say.
  • In the Future Everything Will Be A Coffee Shop
    Titles likes this obviously catch our attention. While the author starts with a rather US centric view on education, he goes on explaining how most of retail will be transformed and eventually become a coffee shop. It’s a bit of a stretch, but an interesting thought experiment nonetheless.
  • Facegroup: Emerging Roles Profile: The Social Media Researcher
    Out of all the job descriptions that contain something with Social Media in them, the Social Media Researcher emerges as one with the most interesting profile. Jess Owens from Face Group explains what its all about.

What we read this week (27 Jan)

This week’s five top articles feature Youtube’s TV revolution, social media brands, 3D printing piracy, collaborative design and thoughts on ad agencies.

Culture is the environment in which your strategy and your brand thrives or dies a slow death.

Shawn Parr

The future is where our wishes and fears converge.

Leila Johnston

  • The New Yorker: Will Robert Kyncl and YouTube Revolutionize Television?
    It’s not a secret that Google wants Youtube to become even more then it is today. What their plans are and how they want to achieve them? It’s all in this long and very good article.
  • What do consumers want from social?
    A study from the CMO Council of 1300 looked at the difference of what consumers expect from brands in social media and what marketers think they want. We Are Social has the skinny.
  • The Pirate Bay: Evolution
    The Pirate Bay goes physical, announces to also share blueprints for 3D models: “We believe that the next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects. Or as we decided to call them: Physibles.” Expect to print your own knock-off Legos soon.
  • Co.Design: Could A Change In Business Model Win Designers A Place In The C-Suite?
    Fuseproject does its design work mostly for equity in startups and is most interested in long-term relationships with the founders to produce better design. Very interesting, alternative business model. A design consultancy that works more like a VC firm.
  • What Do Advertising Agencies Do?
    Faris Yakob explores the real value of advertising agencies and where they’re headed.

What we read this week (13 Jan)

In the spirit of “less, but better,” we bring you our five favorite articles of the week. What a ‘cloud companion species’ should look like, what social networks have to do with airplane seating and one ambitious extraterrestrial plan to get around SOPA are among the themes addressed. Enjoy!

Quotes of the week

When you cut into the present, the future leaks out.

William Burroughs

We don’t get to stop yet. In fact, we probably aren’t going to stop in my lifetime. I’ve made my peace with the idea that every solution I work on, every innovation I’m part of and every exciting development I eagerly enjoy is a step on the way somewhere else. Everything we are currently doing is temporary.

Mary Hamilton

Articles of the week

What we read this week (6 Jan)

Lots of great articles this week. Read about a Somali terrorist group’s social media strategy, the internet as a human right (or not), networked science, the way copyright is broken and plenty more.

Quotes of the week

The best way to predict the future is to hang out with some of the outliers already living it. We don’t make ‘predictions,’ but instead tell stories about the people and products that are exciting us before they’ve gone mainstream.

David Rowan

Internet Access Is Not a Human Right.

Vint Cerf

Articles of the week

  • Slate: Twitter of Terror
    A Somali militant group unveils a new social media strategy for terrorists.
  • Duke University: What Could Have Entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2012?
    The copyright system is pretty badly broken. Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain shows a few of the cultural works that would have entered the Public Domain – allowing you to reproduce, remix, and share them – under the copyright law in its 1978 version. That is, before copyright was extended from 28 years after publication to last ridiculously long, namely for 70 years after the author’s death. There is a whole treasure trove of culture, locked away and in many cases inaccessible.
  • mobiThinking: Global mobile statistics 2011
    A comprehensive, massive overview of mobile stats for 2011.
  • anideo: Harmony
    Apple’s overall success is being mostly attributed to their superiority in design. While there is no argument about their excellence in this field, it is much more then just the design that leads to such success.
  • The Atlantic: To Know, but Not Understand
    The Berkman Center’s David Weinberger, internet theorist and author of seminal books like The Cluetrain Manifesto and Small Pieces Loosely Joined, tackles a new subject: Big Data, and how to deal with it. This article offers an abstract of Weinberger’s new book.
  • heise online: Sparkassen führen NFC-Payment ein
    (Article in German) It is somewhat of a surprise to see the German Sparkassen Group implement NFC chips into their normal banking cards starting 2012. Nevertheless, we are curious how both consumers and retail will react to it and how the conversation will be shaped by this announcement.
  • The Next Web: Amazon’s e-book tax loophole could mean lower European prices, but that’s bad for UK competition
    Without making much fuss, Luxembourg cut the VAT, and in effect ebook prices for consumers. Ebooks, unlike paper books, are subject to full VAT across the EU. So this could change market dynamics quite a bit: Both Amazon and Apple sell their ebooks from Luxembourg, and might now be able to undercut local book prices. Here’s the German perspective (in German).
  • New York Times: Internet Access is Not a Human Right. As an elder of information technology and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, Vint Cerf says the internet should not be a human right. Sounds outrageous? The point Cerf makes is an excellent one, actually: It’s important not to protect the tool, but rather its empowering qualities. A must read.
  • ReadWriteWeb: Google+ Is Going To Mess Up The Internet
    Jon Mitchell, one of the regular authors at RWW, documents his frustration with Google+. An interesting read with some very well placed arguments. The problem with Google+ right now is that nobody really can figure out what Google wants it to become and as soon people stumble into new insights around it, it becomes all very overdramatized and hectic. Google needs to take charge of the communication around its favorite product. But then again, Google was never good at that.
  • brand eins: Das digitale Urheberrecht steht am Abgrund
    Brand Eins, certainly one of the best business magazines in Germany, inquires into the way copyright works – or fails to work – in a digital context. It’s a long, in-depth interview in German. Well worth reading.
  • Clay Shirky: Newspapers, Paywalls and Core Users
    Newspapers have been experimenting with paid vs free content for a number of years, sometimes more, often less successfully. Clay Shirky thinks that 2012 might be the year where newspaper economics could start working out. That is, they might work out once newspapers stop treating all news as a product and all readers as customers.
  • GigaOM: You are what you curate: Why Pinterest is hawt
    A nice overview of a trend that’s been surging for awhile now, and is still gathering steam: Online content curation. Focusing on Pinterest, GigaOM explains why curation services are so successful and why we can expect a wave of services that make curation even more streamlined and structured.
  • CNN: Digital music sales top physical sales
    Digital music purchases accounted for 50.3% of music sales in 2011. That’s a first, and proves beyond any doubt that consumers are willing to pay for online content, and that the CD won’t be missed for long. Now the big question is: Will we see music purchases rise further, or see on demand streaming take over? In other words, is it ownership or access to music that consumers are willing to pay for?
  • Forbes: The Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful Executives
    Sydney Finkelstein, a professor of management, did intensive research on some of the biggest corporate fails in recent history (Enron, Tyco, WorldCom etc.). Some years ago, he published the 7 habits that the senior executives at these companies all had in common. Eric Jackson has revisited them for Forbes. Recommended reading for anyone in executive positions.
  • Do Designers Actually Exploit The Poor While Trying To Do Good?
    A very interesting discussion with Jan Chipchase about design research and the work of big corporations in third world countries.

What we read this week (Dec 16)

This week we read about smart homes, customer service, remix culture as the new prohibition, patents, Facebook’s revenues and ROI in Social Media Marketing.

Quotes of the week

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be creating things on the web. This year’s advances in browsers, standards, and smart thinking have enabled us to finally begin to web design. We’re no longer forced to think of the web as a digital reproduction of physical pages, but rather to finally embrace it as its own thing.

Dan Cederholm

The hardest thing to do, and I think the most important, is for agency leaders to unlearn everything we’ve been taught over the years. It’s very hard for people my age to admit they don’t know anything. Fact is, when I was young, I asked older people for advice. Now I’m old, and I ask younger people for advice. Our role as leaders is no longer to be the experts.

Clark Kokich, Razorfish

Articles of the week

  • Can’t get no satisfaction: Why service companies can’t keep their promises
    Dave Gray of Dachis again with another look at the service economy and the foundations for a decent customer service.
  • Homesense Final Report
    Georgina Voss and Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino ran the Homesense project for two years, and helped a number of households enhance their homes through networked technology. (No internet fridges, though!) Here’s the final report with their key findings.
  • Waxy: No Copyright Intended
    “Remix culture is the new Prohibition, with massive media companies as the lone voices calling for temperance.” – A wonderfully insightful article by Andy Baio about a generation of people growing up without even understanding the fundamental concept of copyright.
  • TechCrunch: Apple Made A Deal With The Devil (No, Worse: A Patent Troll)
    Especially over the course of the last 12 months, we have seen an increase in the number of lawsuits targeting manufacturers of Android-based devices. Some of them came from Microsoft, some from Oracle, but mostly it was Apple who was trying to prevent others from competing with their products. In an unusual journalistic quality, Jason Kinacid from TechCrunch depicts how Apple transferred valuable patents to a company that can only be described as a patent troll to increase the opportunity for lawsuits. While the use of patents in general is debatable, it becomes obvious that Apple is using those tactics not to protect their assets, but to hinder innovation.
  • Business Insider: Facebook’s Revenue Numbers Just Leaked, And The Numbers Look Underwhelming
    An interesting glimpse into what seem to be Facebook’s revenues. Let’s just say: Facebook is definitely turning a solid profit, but failing the high expectations. Read the full article for some more concrete meat.
  • What I Learned When I Started a Design Studio
    Khoi Vinh with valuable insights that apply to many more businesses than just design studios.
  • There is No ROI in Social Media Marketing
    Sean Jackson, CFO of Copyblogger, says that asking for the RoI of social media is like asking for the RoI of your employees using email. Marketing is not an investment but an essential communication tool.