Creating a Social Media Strategy: The Secret Sauce

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to offer a workshop on the topic of creating a social media strategy to a group of budding entrepreneurs. It’s a big, meaty topic, and no two strategies are ever developed in the same way. Over the years, I’ve developed a methodology of what goes into strategy development, and focused on that methodology for the workshop. There are four elements to developing a social media strategy: evaluating current organizational assets, researching competitors (and comparables), choosing appropriate channels for ongoing participation, and measurement. I might add developing online campaigns (as relevant) to that mix.

Before creating a strategy, however, organizations should have a sense of these three things:

  1. Realistic commitment to social media (time, personnel, budget).
  2. The value the organization can offer on the social media channels.
  3. What the organizations wants to get back from its social media engagement, such as brand awareness, sales, members, volunteers, specific project goals, or other.

These are your starting points, and will likely be refined throughout the strategic development process.

Preparing to Be Strategic

Preparation for the strategy involves two parts: evaluating your internal assets and evaluating the competition. Social media implementation is helped or hindered by your existing assets: brand messaging, amount of staff time, size of your mailing list, freshness of website, ease of website revisions, content management system, and size of budget for social media efforts. Spend the time to consider your existing assets and what may need to be built before you create a strategy.

Environmental Scan and Competitive Analysis

80% of the time spent developing a social media strategy is spent researching and evaluating competitors and comparable organizations, and particularly looking at how they are and are not utilizing social media. An environmental scan goes beyond “what is the competition doing” to thinking about “why are they doing that,” “why isn’t that working for them,” and “wow, that’s a phenomenal idea.” The scan should paint a picture of who is using social media effectively, who isn’t, why, and what that tells you about the online audience and market.

Go beyond raw status metrics of number of followers or subscribers, and think about what the value is that others are offering within their social media channels. I spend time looking at websites, and whether or they are inherently social and engaging. At the end of your competitive analysis, you should have a pretty good idea of which channels your organization wants to use, why, some tactics within those channels, and a few campaign ideas. Don’t rip off others’ ideas or tactics. Rather, think about what’s out there and how that inspires your organization’s messaging and social media activities. The scan is about looking and finding opportunities for your organization.

Designing the Strategy

During the workshop, I discussed a few approaches to designing online engagement and engagement theory. Design your organization’s online engagement by thinking about the social media funnel: create engaging content and environments, develop trust, then move people to action. Create a social media strategy that incorporates “programming” online engagement, offers co-creation opportunities, and creates spaces for online fans to discuss what is important to them.

Perhaps the most important piece of the social media strategy is knowing what “the conversation” will be about within your social media channels. I don’t mean conversation about your organization, but instead, about what is important to your supporters. What is it that your online stakeholders want to talk about? What can you post online that offers value? How will you engage them in this discussion? How will you encourage them to take the actions you want them to take?

I’ve included a very bare-bones social media strategy included in the presentation, for reference and perspective.


Measure what you need to know. If the bottom line action for your organization is to enroll in workshops, that’s a key metric to track. If it is volunteer turnout, track that. It’s less important to track numbers of followers than whether or not they are actually taking the actions you want them to take. One note: keep in mind that there may be several stages leading up to actions, and it is valid to track those as well. For example, while volunteer turnout at an event is the end action, capturing email addresses of interested volunteers could be one intermediary metric to track.


Most strategies don’t talk about evaluation, but it’s important to think about it now, while you’re creating a strategy. How will you evaluate success? Who will evaluate it? How will all staff and board be kept up to date with the organization’s social media efforts? Importantly, what will you do when you know something isn’t working?

The Secret Sauce

The secret sauce isn’t methodology or theory or preparation. It’s a willingness to experiment, try, and admit failure. It is a key factor in growing your social media engagement, persisting with social media, and developing strategies that will work for your organization. If you have an organizational culture that supports experimentation and learning, then you’re more than halfway to the right strategy.

Debra Askanase has 20 years of experience working in nonprofit organizations, from Community Organizer to Executive Director. She is the founder and lead consultant at Community Organizer 2.0, a social media strategy firm for non-profit organizations and businesses. She blogs about the intersection of social media, nonprofits, and technology at and regularly provides advice and commentary to our eJewish Philanthropy community.

image courtesy of forologic, Creative Commons license