2010 and social media advisors

As we get to the end of the year and the end of the decade, there are a lot of posts and articles listing top 10 successful companies/gadgets/social media incidents, as well as company/gadget/social media failures.  And there are still more articles coming up from social media experts, chock full with advice on what to do in 2010, and how to embed social media in your firm/organisation/policy/dress sense.  The advice is all pretty predictable: listen, be understandable and be accessible. I don’t disagree with the advice – indeed I’ve advised as much before, as this blog will attest.  But it’s all been said before so I’m not going to repeat it and provide pearls of wisdom for 2010 on how to use social media.

Instead I’m going to make a plea to anyone preparing a policy, a strategy or a plan for a social media business: stop eulogizing about technology, opportunities and the cultural importance of social media and learn to read and write a damned strategic and business plan.

The number of times I come across so-called ‘Strategic Plans’ that are more a religious expression of belief in technologies and fail utterly to consider local, internationalisation plans or global management techniques, is quite frankly, scary. I’m constantly disturbed by the complete lack of understanding of the financials involved in running a social media strategy, let alone operating a social media business.  Let me make this plain: Free (as per Chris Anderson’s Future of Radical Price) is not a business plan.  It’s not even a strategic plan. (It’s an augmentation of a pre-existing investment; but that’s another post.)

But strategic plans are not just the presentation of costed pathways for a business or product, they are also genuine analyses of the current market and they provide evidence of the value, niche products and audience for competitors in the marketplace.  Strategic plans provide a series of options for development of a business or its assets and products, and these pathways then lead to development of business plans for clear tactical execution of a strategy.  Often a strategic plan will recommend several possible development options but only one or a few are approved at Board level (or Executive level if we’re referring to government or third sector organisations). So a strategic plan starts with an industry analysis, you move on to product analysis, you then look at regional differences, you do decent SWOT and 5-Forces analysis (and possibly VRIO analysis), and then you make recommendations based on competitive opportunities and create financial modelling to support those recommendations.  Then a business plan will develop on the initial modelling for one of the recommended strategies and will focus even more practically on timelines for execution, responsibilities and reporting, and tactical implementation of a strategy. Financial modelling will focus specifically on the business or product, but it will be a subset of an entire investment modelling budget.

Essentially if you don’t know how to develop a strategy and a business plan and you can’t read a financial statement then you have no business giving advice about social media which claims success for a company, a product or even a region.  If you are planning a social media strategy or business, you are kidding yourself if you think your advice is separated from the costs associated with implementing your pearls of wisdom.  You’re a fraud.

So go out and learn to read and write these documents, or find someone who will do it for you, and learn enough to know whether the documents make sense.  Otherwise pack up and find another profession because you will fail.

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