I recommend Jay's article, entitled "Want vs. Need For Social Media". He tells the story of how his agency was working with a client who "wanted" a social media strategy, but when the agency inquired if a needs assessment had been completed, they were told this was not necessary since the client already knew what they wanted. Jay succinctly defines the difference between wants and needs: "Wanting something isn't necessarily the same as needing something. A diabetic may want candy but if you give them too much it will harm them."
Jay suggests that it seems logical to assess what you need to get what you want. He then offers a link to a needs checklist, which includes items such as "Search People," "Posting Function," "RSS Feeds," and integration with Digg, MySpace, and DMOZ.
The checklist is a thorough one, but I believe it is a list of tactics and not needs. To extend Jay's helpful diabetes analogy, the need isn't for a syringe, insulin, or an appropriate diet; the real need for a person with diabetes is to control his or her short-term glucose levels. The diabetic may want to control his or her diabetes or want to eat candy, but he or she cannot assess, reject, or approve these conflicting wants without first defining the need.
Wanting a social media strategy isn't a reason to invest in one; nor is the fact the competition is doing it; nor is the fact social media is the most buzz-worthy marketing strategy of 2008. These are all wants, but they are not supported by measurable and relevant organizational needs.
Don't get me wrong--I believe most organizations need and should be considering a social media strategy, but they should start by asking themselves the same questions that are asked before making any significant investment: What do we need? What do we hope to accomplish? What value will this bring to our stakeholders? And how will we measure success?
Hooking up to Digg and sponsoring a group on Facebook are not needs. Instead, social media needs might be defined as:
- To improve satisfaction with our customer service.
- To increase positive Word of Mouth for our brand.
- To increase search engine relevance for key search terms.
- To increase inbound links to our site.
- To improve traffic to our Web site.
- To increase awareness of our brand.
- To improve consideration and purchase intent for our brand.
- To improve specific positive associations of our brand.
- To increase the number of articles and references on media sites.
- To combat negative PR.
- To increase sales.
- To increase collaboration and decrease the cost of coordinating with partners and vendors.
Many organizations are hurrying into social media or community efforts without adequately prescribing why they are doing so. It is understandable that they should want to use these new tools and concepts, but before any design or planning can occur, they first need to determine why a social media strategy is necessary and how they'll know they've achieved what they set out to accomplish.
The mere existence of a blog or social network no more satisfies a corporate need than purchasing insulin satisfies a diabetic's needs. It isn't the ownership of a blog or insulin but how these are used that satisfy the needs.