Writing a strategic social media engagement plan

I often get asked how I structure my actual written strategic social media engagement plans when working with a public sector or non-profit organization. The answer unfortunately is “it really depends”.

Over the years I have continually tried to update and improve my Strategic Social Media Engagement Workbook based on what I learned from my actual experiences consulting for a variety of organizations from those sectors. This workbook however was always only meant to serve as a guide to help my workshop participants think strategically and create a framework for their soon to be developed plans. By no means was this workbook ever meant to be the be all and end all process for social media planning, nor was it meant to be an actual outline of what a written report should look like.

I’ve never actually been a fan of one-size fits all business processes with trendy trademarked names (no need to name them), magic acronyms or perfect 3, 5, 10, even 15 step approaches. Admittedly however, sometimes these need to be used to appease the mind and turn complex business issues into a logical linear process (especially for all the left-brain thinkers out there). Even in my speaking engagements I often talk about simplifying things down to a goals–>objectives–>strategies–>tactics funnel, which is a great starting point, but rarely enough to justify serious financial and human resource investment within a large bureaucratic organization.

In truth, when it comes down to actually writing a deliverable for a client, even details such as the report style, format, length and the sections I use vary considerably. There are numerous factors I consider, including:

  • Who is the intended audience? (seniority level, background, personality types, etc…)
  • What kind of report is this audience expecting? (lengthy process and risk mitigation oriented vs. short , concise and action oriented). –There have been situations where I have been asked to ensure I submit a “thick” report, without any other comments. No joke.
  • What is my perceived level of their “willingness to change”? (this affects the wording I use and the amount/length of phases I incorporate into the implementation plan)
  • What are their personal attitudes towards the topic at hand?
  • Are they more interested in the report “process” or the “outcomes” that the report is meant to achieve?
  • If the intended audience of the report was involved in the decision to hire me, why did they do so (beyond the RFP text)?
That last question is very important for me to understand and probe into. I have ran into situations before where individuals on a client team have tried to influence the report to satisfy their own hidden agendas as opposed to organizational or branch goals. Reading into this early on in the process is crucial for me as I have learned ways to avoid running into these situations , as they can affect the integrity of the report.

Now for those of you wanting me to cut to the chase and actually provide you with a recent outline of one of my Strategic Social Media Engagement Plans, I have done so below. This is an example of a custom outline I developed that is clearly influenced by outlines used for more traditional strategic organizational planning and marketing planning. Depending on the needs of the client, I often re-arrange the order of things, add sections such as budget, implementation plan, primary research results, policy/guideline recommendations, technology, 4 P’s, 7 C’s, etc…, or get rid of sections all together. Please keep in mind that this is a “report outline” as opposed to the “consulting process” used to determine the content that will end up filling the report. I find that many people have a hard time distinguishing between the two.
  • Executive Summary
  • Project Background
  • Goal Alignment
  • Research Approach and Methodology
  • Social Media Presence Audit
  • Stakeholder Interviews
  • External Environmental Scan
  • Situation Analysis/SWOT
  • Segmentation & Target Audience Selection
  • Positioning & Unique Value Proposition
  • Overview of Suggested Platforms
  • Suggested SMART objectives
  • Recommendations (detailed strategies and tactics)
    • Phase 1
    • Phase 2
    • Phase 3
  • Governance/Leadership and Resource Requirements
  • Risks and Risk Mitigation Strategies
  • Evaluation & Monitoring
  • Appendices
In terms of length, like I said, this depends on the client. I’m a fan of very concise action-oriented final deliverables that are backed by a ton of behind the scenes groundwork I do as part of the process (e.g social media presence audits, interviews, environmental scans, etc…). I have even used simple “Who, What , Where, When, Why, How” outlines before. Some clients however, no matter how much you try to convince them otherwise, just want a lengthy detailed report to show that they did their due diligence in terms of process. Naturally, this is far more common in the public sector than in non-profits or private business.

Ways around this include:
  • Developing long and short versions of a report
  • Writing a really solid executive summary
  • Creating a one-page supplemental handout
  • Breaking down the report into separate stand-alone deliverables and cross-referencing them
  • Creating a stand alone implementation plan spreadsheet
  • Creating a high-level overview presentation deck (I’m not necessarily a fan of bullet infested “decks’ used as actual deliverables, but many people still are).
  • Creating a presentation geared specifically at senior management (this is usually a given)
Ok, so there you have it. A few tips and suggestions from my consulting experience archives. I’d love to hear/read your thoughts.

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Steve Radick

Interesting post Mike – I like that you took the time to go down about 19 levels further than most “experts” would ever do in a public forum to provide this added value. Plenty of people can speak to “being authentic” or “increasing engagement” but you’ve done a nice job here showing the sausage-making that is so critical to the success or failure of these initiatives. As someone who has done these sorts of plans for years, I appreciate seeing someone else show some love to the dirty work that gets done behind the scenes.