Social Media Strategy vs. Brand Strategy

I was listening to a podcast last week featuring a creative director of a beer-focused branding agency. At one point during his conversation with the host, he said something along the lines of, ‘Whenever a client asks me about a social media strategy, I have to correct them and say there’s no such thing as a social media strategy. You have a brand strategy and social media is a set of tools to carry out that strategy.’

My ears perked up at this.

Over the years I’ve heard similar thoughts from people who predominantly work on the creative side of marketing, such as those at branding agencies or ad agencies. I don’t want to say that type of thinking is wrong, but…..ok, yeah, it’s wrong.

The line of thinking that social media is only a way of carrying out a brand strategy assumes that a company’s social media usage is entirely focused on increasing awareness. For the brands that this particular creative director works with, that could be the case. Alcohol brands are often focused pretty squarely on awareness, but there are instances where even they would want to use social media to help meet the other main marketing objectives - engagement, conversion, loyalty, and advocacy.

If we expand the types of brands we’re looking at to include tech, healthcare, non-profits, and even broader consumer brands, most do not have social media programs that focus exclusively on awareness. Any brand that sells products or services online has conversion as a component of their social media program. They want potential customers to click something. And even those that don’t sell online, but have a sales team that understands the role of the digital world in the sales process, want potential customers to click on something (or better yet, provide contact info) so they can track prospects. Social media is one of the main ways a brand entices prospects to come to their website. To effectively generate clicks (leads) a social media strategy should be focused on that.

People who insist that a social media strategy isn’t needed or that social media is simply a way of carrying out a brand strategy have never managed a social media program on an ongoing basis. They’ve never met with a CEO who’s asked them to make sure that social media is supporting sales, or even helping to generate sales (yes, there are ways). They’ve never measured the results of a social media program (and I’m talking beyond followers).They’ve never been asked to create social media-based ambassador programs or employee influencer programs. Social media is broad, much broader than simply carrying out a company’s brand.

Branding agencies and ad agencies are good at creating social media posts, but a strategy specific to social media is needed for a brand to get the most out of its social media efforts. Branding does play a part in social media, but it’s the same way that branding plays a part throughout every function within a company, even those outside marketing. Content must be in alignment with the company’s brand guidelines - specific sentiments must be conveyed, certain colors must be used, exact fonts must be included, etc. But a company’s HR handbook also has to be brand compliant and no one would ever say that a company doesn’t have an HR strategy, it only has a branding strategy.

Every company must have a social media strategy created by someone who really understands social media.

- Kevin