When is a strategy not a strategy?

In last week’s edition of the UK’s The Apprentice one of the candidates, Azhar, kept asking Jade, the Project Manager, what her strategy was: frankly she didn’t have one and at the end of the task her team lost. Unfortunately, however, it was Azhar who got fired: he had the questions but proffered no solutions.

Jade was ‘the one who got away’ last week because in real-life you need a strategy in business: it is now a cliché but it is nonetheless true to say that if you fail to plan you plan to fail.

What though is a strategy? I am sure a week doesn’t go by without someone on the net suggesting that you need a LinkedIn strategy, a Facebook strategy, a Twitter strategy or just a good all-encompassing social media strategy.

The Oxford Dictionary defines strategy as “a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim.”

I suppose I could have a long term aim to have 50,000 Twitter followers or 10,000 ‘Likes’ on Facebook but is that a legitimate business aim? Where is the value?

For me too many self-appointed social media experts believe that ‘social’ is something you do as an add-on to your daily business activities: they do not appreciate that the social media and the social network platforms are tools. Just as I do not have a telephone strategy, a pen strategy or a computer strategy I do not have a social media strategy.

Similarly if I were a house builder I would not have a hammer strategy, a saw strategy or a mechanical digger strategy. I would instead have a house building strategy where my overall aim was to build a house. I would then use the best tools for the job. If someone invented a tool that would help me achieve my aim more efficiently and more effectively then I would use that tool instead, or as well as; but it would not make me change my overall strategy. And that is the issue I have when it comes to talk of social media strategies. It does not make business sense and if a person is in the mindset of tool-strategies then every time the latest social media platform is launched the pressure is on to “do” it rather than assessing how it fits in with the overall strategy. If it helps to more effectively reach the business objective then great, use it, but if not ignore it.

To have a solid business strategy in place is, for me, far more important than chasing the latest shiny object. Pioneering businesses like Zappos, Best Buy, Dell and Intel understand that ‘social’ has to be part of the fabric of the business: it is what you are and not what you do. You might have a strategy to be a more ‘social business’ but not for the tools and platforms that help you achieve it.

A strategy then is only a strategy when it is a plan of action designed to achieve a long term or overall business objective. A strategy is not a strategy when it refers to tools of social communication.

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