I’ve heard it so many times before:

“We need a social media strategy”

Once we have that, all our problems will be solved, right?

The problem with having a social media strategy is it becomes a guideline for other people to do more work, which is engage in social media. The reason your social media strategy sucked before is because no one was willing to actually engage in social media.

No one was willing to tweet on behalf of the company.

No one was willing to write a blog post for the company blog.

No one was willing to share photos on the company’s Facebook page.

Your colleagues are working at least 8 hours a day (hopefully) and they’re sitting in meetings talking about how none of them have time to engage in social media.

Sitting around talking with each other about your business and about how you have no time is an excellent way to actually have no time to do social media.

In those situations, my advice is to just cancel the meeting and force everyone to write a blog post for that hour (READ: No more “What are we going to do in social media” meetings.)

Does your social media suck because your employees are too scared?

One of the reasons people don’t engage in social media is because they’re crippled by social media anxiety. That’s very understandable.

It’s very possible, actually probable, that your first tweet, Facebook update, and/or blog post will get no response. In fact, that happens a lot, especially at the beginning. If that’s true, why even do it? No one’s paying attention. I’ve got better things to do with my time. It’s useless for me to blog/tweet/whatever.

Social media anxiety also envelops the crippling fear of putting yourself out there, and writing something for which there’s no clear “call and response” interaction. That hesitation is known as wikipause, a term Ross Mayfield coined and described to me. It’s that moment of hesitation when you write or add to a wiki entry and you pause just before you publish. Do I really want to do this? Is this what I want to say? What if no one adds to it and it’s ignored? I know it very well. Early on I wrote many a wiki entry for which I deleted and never published.

If that describes you, you need to simply get over the “pause.” You have to take the leap and put yourself out there. More importantly, the whole organization has to put itself out there. Successful social networking takes advantage of the network effect. Each person has a social network, online and offline. If each person participates in telling the story, especially using the tools of social media, then your organization can realize the power of the network effect, no matter how small each person’s network is.

A social media “strategy” may not be what you need

If your organization is barely involved in social media, hiring someone to develop a “social media strategy” will not be the panacea to solve your social engagement problems.

You know when you’re watching someone do something horribly wrong, and you want them to stop, but there’s nothing you can do about it?

Here’s a story for you:

A friend of mine just quit a job as a part-time social media manager for a 100-person organization. Except for one person who wrote three blog posts a month, and another person who sent out a tweet a day, my friend was the only one truly engaging in social media on behalf of the 100-person company. And she was only working 24 hours a week.

This company is an umbrella organization that has influence over dozens of other organizations. That means the number of personal social networks extend well beyond well beyond the internal 100, probably into the thousands, with the collective reaching thousands more.

Now that she’s quit the company is all of a sudden moving into panic mode and hiring a social media consultant to build a strategy for the company.

Make social media a corporate responsibility

If your organization has a widespread culture of not engaging in social media, then a social media strategy is not what you need. What’s needed is for the CEO to start blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking, to set an example for the rest of the organization that this is something we all have to do.

And yes a CEO does have time for social media. In fact, it’s part of their core responsibility. Here’s what Paul Levy, former CEO of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said to me about his twice-a-day blogging habit on his blog “Running a Hospital.”

“If one of your jobs as CEO of an organization is to represent that organization before the public. With traditional venues being newspapers, speeches, lectures, and the like. Then use of social media is a logical extension of that corporate responsibility of the CEO. The outreach potential is excellent plus you can express your point of view not being filtered by reporters, or editors, or whatever.”

I described the aforementioned story of my friend, the part-time social media manager at a 100-person organization where almost no one does social media, to Jim Louderback, CEO of Revision3, an online video network. We collectively shook our heads.

Revision3 has the complete opposite experience at his company. They have no social media manager because everyone at the company does it…a lot. It’s everyone’s responsibility. It’s so severe that Louderback estimates his hosts and show producers spend 40 percent of their time engaging and connecting with their audience.

If no one is engaging in social media, then a social media strategy is a waste of money

Given the example I described above, I’d put good money down that whatever the social media consultant advises, outside of “you’re doing everything great, don’t change a thing,” the company and its employees will not follow through. The reason is a consultant can’t change years of ingrained corporate culture. And even the world’s greatest advice can’t change people from doing what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis.

While throwing money at the problem or hiring someone to “do the job” would be a nice simple fix, it won’t solve this company’s problem.

The real problem is this company needs to change its corporate culture. One social media consultant isn’t going to be able to pull that off. While a social media strategy will be great eventually, at this juncture employees just need to start doing social media. At this early stage that’s the only strategy they need.

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