Why do companies’ social media efforts fail?

Though there’s a number of reasons companies fall short on social media, one of the most common reasons is simple: a lack of strategy.

Getting active on social media for the sake of being on social media is no longer enough (if it ever was). Gone are the days of handing your company’s Twitter account off to the intern and hoping for the best. Achieving your marketing goals using social media is difficult. If you hope to have any chance of finding success, you need to start with strategy.

A substantive social media strategy will include much more than just 5 questions and answers, but in my experience these simple questions can have a tremendous impact:

  1. What problem do we solve? What problem do your customers have, and what does your business do to solve it? It’s not just what you solve, it’s Though they may be selling the same thing, a mom-and-pop bookstore and Amazon solve different problems in different ways. Your social media messaging will vary greatly depending on how you address your customers’ needs.
  2. Why should anyone care? You may have heard this question phrased as: “What’s your value proposition?” I prefer asking why anyone should care because it’s direct and hard to answer. Take away all the fluff, boil it down, and present your answer simply. If you don’t know why people care, there’s no chance you’ll impact their feelings about your product or service.
  3. Who’s in our target audience—and where do we find them? Are you targeting middle-aged moms? C-level executives? Retired golfers? Some combination thereof? Once you know who your audience is, figure out things like what publications they read, what issues they care about, and what other products they use. Doing so will tell you a lot about where you’ll have the best chance of finding them on social media.
  4. What are our key messages? I don’t mean “Buy our stuff!” or “Happy #MotivationMonday.” Anyone can come up with those messages. What story are you going to tell? What’s the common thread you want to see woven throughout all your social media content? How does it tie into the rest of your marketing? Identifying your key messages will give you a constant source of inspiration, and will provide a guiding light as to whether the content you develop down the road is in line with your social media goals.
  5. What does success look like? Here’s the big one: What tangible results do you want to see as a result of your social media efforts? Secondarily, how will you measure success? (There’s no one metric that will tell you everything you need to know.) If you’re unsure, you’re only setting yourself up to be disappointed down the road. You can’t know if you’ve fallen short or exceeded expectations if you don’t ever decide where the finish line is.

Remember as you go through this exercise that a written social media strategy should not be a twenty-page document detailing every single last thing you’re going to say over the next two months. (That’s called a content calendar.) Your strategy should be concise and give guiding information that will inform your messaging today and six months from now.

These questions aren’t the only ones you should ask when building a social media strategy, but they’ll help set the foundation you’ll need to succeed. After you answer these questions, you’ll need to think about execution (platforms, tactics, content, and more) and a number of other issues before you ever get started publishing.

One thing’s for certain: your chances of success are much greater when it’s explicitly clear what you’re setting out to do on social media and how you plan to do it.