Yvette Pistorio

Social Media Marketing: Tactics Versus Strategy

By: Yvette Pistorio | July 25, 2013 | 

Tactics versus Strategy

By Yvette Pistorio

I read an interesting article this past weekend on MITSloan Management Review by Gerald Kane, and can’t get it out of my head.

It was about how undergraduate students have a strong procedural understanding of social media tools, whereas graduate students have a stronger strategic understanding.

I’ll admit it – that’s how it was for me.

When I first started working in social media marketing, I learned how to use all the tools and features, as well as how to create content for separate audiences.

The only metrics I paid attention to were how many fans and followers my company had. I didn’t have any goals, so wasn’t even sure what to measure. I just went with it.

Tactics Versus Strategy

I saw this quote by Sun Tzu in a Vocus blog post and liked it’s meaning, “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

The problem is, people come up with “social media strategies” that end up being, typically, a bunch of marketing tactics. Thinking back, my social media strategies were just that: A bunch of tactics, but there wasn’t really an answer to why we were using that particular one.

So what’s the difference? Think of tactics as actions. They are the things you do to execute your strategy.

Things to Consider Before Deploying Tactics

Liana Evans, contributor to Search Engine Watch, shares a few things to consider before you deploy social media marketing tactics.

Answer the “Why”

Like many of you, I couldn’t answer the why when I first started in social media. I just read all of the “How To” articles I could find – how to use {insert social network here} for business – and went from there. I didn’t consider why I was using it for MY organization until much later.

All strategies need to answer the ‘why’ question. Whether for brand awareness, customer service, or something entirely different, once you have answer the ‘why,’ you have a goal and can measure it. Which brings me to my next point.

Define and Measure Goals

If you don’t have a set of goals to measure, how do you know if you are successful? A lot of people struggle with what to measure when it comes to social media – myself included. And the answer is, I hate to say it, it depends.” Your goal will help you determine what you measure.

For example, clients like to see the number of Twitter followers increase. Higher numbers are great, but isn’t it better to have 100 engaged followers than 1,000 who ignore you? You should be measuring not only the followers, but also retweets, clicks, and mentions. Mentions help us find new people to follow and start engaging with as well. A win-win.

When to Reevaluate

Don’t get into the mind frame of  “We’re doing it this way because that’s what the budget allows.” If something isn’t working or you aren’t meeting your goals, it’s time to reevaluate.

When you create a strategy, set hard dates for reevaluation. Even if what you’re doing is working, there’s always room for improvement – especially at the rate technology changes.

As Joel Falconer, a contributor to Lifehack, said, “Every tactic must suit the strategy. If you can’t explain how a tactic helps you achieve the strategic outcome, then it’s probably not the best choice and needs to be rethought.”

Keep in mind, Twitter and Facebook are still young and new networks pop up all the time, so who knows what lies ahead? It’s easy to learn knew tools. But it’s even more important to understand how these tools can help you achieve your organization’s goals and objectives.

How often do you reevaluate your marketing strategy?

About Yvette Pistorio

Yvette Pistorio is the shared media manager for Arment Dietrich. She is a lover of pop culture, cupcakes, and HGTV, and enjoys a good laugh. There are a gazillion ways you can find her online.

  • rdopping

    Sound advice that any MBA will tell you is the core of any good business plan. Right? I wonder how many people with very little business acumen are out there “advising” companies on business strategy who have little to no experience putting together an actionable plan?
    Thanks for sharing this Yvette.

    • rdopping I know! It’s scary when you think about it. 
      So maybe I shouldn’t go for that MBA after all… 😉

      • rdopping

        yvettepistorio Riiiiight…..go get ’em.

  • Good article, Yvette! Understanding the difference between strategies
    and tactics is key, and like critical thinking, is a skill often
    THIS “Your goal will help you determine what you
    measure” is gold. Everything should tie back to your strategic
    communications or marketing goals, and be re-measured at regular
    It all kind of seems like common sense to me, but experience tells me that common sense isn’t so common 😉

    • Kato42 Love it “Common sense isn’t so common” couldn’t agree more! I’ll be the first to admit, I didn’t know the difference between tactics and strategies when I first started, hence why my “strategy” was absolutely terrible!! Lesson learned though 🙂

      • yvettepistorio That’s what really matters, I think – that we keep learning. Really, I figure if you’re not learning something, somewhere – at work, a new hobby, in your personal relationships, from your most recent mistake, whatever – you might as well be dead. Because what’s the point?

  • And these are the things that separate the “gurus” from the professionals 🙂 A blind squirrel can make status updates.. It takes a deeper understanding to know the strategy and goals. Great post Yvette!!

    • KristenDaukas Thanks Kristen!! It took me a few years to get there, but I made it!

    • KristenDaukas Blind squirrels make the best stew. That is not entirely tongue-in-cheek either.

      • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes KristenDaukas Mmmmmmm, blind squirrel tongue stew.

  • hailleymari

    Really interesting article Yvette! I had the idea of tactics vs. strategy in mind but this post helped me really separate the two. Thanks!

  • That’s an insightful and concise explanation of the difference between strategy and tactics yvettepistorio. Something every new practitioner should read and learn. I like the examples you use. Thanks!

    • martinwaxman Thanks Martin! Agreed – I wish I had this when I was a new practitioner – I learned the hard way! But hey – I learned, and am still learning…

  • Steven J. Snelling

    I’ve come into the light…I just read the posting! Now, time for a-c-t-i-o-n! As always, a learning experience. Please keep them coming…

  • Arment Dietrich, Inc.

    Lol!!! We’ll keep them coming Steven!

  • Everything here lately is like gospel. Taking this all to heart as I build out my new gig yvettepistorio , so super big thanks. And I just put that quote up on my monitor. 🙂

    • katskrieger Love that quote!! You get to do it all from scratch which is pretty cool though – still waiting to hear how it’s all going…

  • Randy Milanovic

    Strategy certainly comes first. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a “to do” list masquerading as a strategy. To help marketers work with their clients, we launched a free communication briefing tool just yesterday. We hope people use it often and improve opportunities for success in their marketing efforts.

    • RegisDudley

      Randy Milanovic This is great! Where can we find the free tool?
      I always follow the order of:
      Rough timeline
      Thorough timeline
      I never stray from that order. It’s pretty much engrained into me. Building that order as a habit helps me to always stay focused on achieving objectives and measuring impact.
      One issue I find is that a new platform often pops up and a senior manager decides we’re using that platform without considering the strategic relevance. I try my best to use that platform in my plan, but I don’t if it doesn’t have strategic value.

      • RegisDudley Randy Milanovic What free tool are you looking for?
        I’ve come across that issue – when Pinterest came out my company said we HAD to be there b/c it’s the next big thing but that’s not a good reason. No one could tell me what they wanted to accomplish with that network. Unless there is value, there’s no point. You don’t have to be on every single social network.

        • RegisDudley

          yvettepistorio I agree. No need to be on a platform if it doesn’t move you toward your goals. As for the tool I mentioned, Randy said his org launched a free tool and I was inquiring about where we can find it online. RegisDudley Randy Milanovic

      • Randy Milanovic

        RegisDudley Randy Milanovic Hi Regis. I love your outline.

        • RegisDudley

          Randy MilanovicThanks, Randy!

    • Randy Milanovic Oh nice!! We’ll have to check it out, thanks for sharing Randy!

      • Randy Milanovic

        You are welcome.

      • Randy Milanovic

        I hope you do. It’s simply a useful tool for marketers. It’s not an app or commercial tool. My approach is one of transparency. We actually use it internally at our online marketing firm. My goal is to help others be more successful in their marketing efforts.

    • Randy Milanovic I totally agree with the “to do list”. Been there. Randy, I am interested in the communication briefing tool. Where can I find it? Thank you.

  • Knowing when to reevaluate is key. For me, it’s not so much budget driven as it is peer driven. I tend to think I need to do something because someone else is doing it. The truth is, we don’t all have businesses that are Instagram ready! LOL I love the idea that you need to know your goals in order to know what to measure. I’m keeping that little nugget front and center!

    • TaraGeissinger Exactly!! I think a lot of companies think “well our competitors are there so we should be too” and that isn’t always the case.  I think as marketers we should check these things out and look at what kind of value it could bring to our brands. Is it worth the time and effort? Maybe, maybe not. And yes – goals are a must!!

  • yvettepistorio great article! I started the same way as you so you’re not alone. But now that we know how to do social media strategy and report on our success it blows my mind when clients don’t want help doing just that. Some of my “really” big clients don’t want to track their marketing campaigns to direct sales, etc. they just care about increasing page likes. 
    Do you have any advice on how I can make them see the importance of strategy & results?

    • jennimacdonald We have similar clients and recently one of them told me they want to see more than likes and follows so I was REALLY happy about that! 
      I think you have to show your clients. Show them how their marketing campaigns effect their sales etc. so they can see the value in it. You can also try and find an example so they can see what another company does – that usually helps. Could be tough with strategy and results, but I think there are case studies out there you can share with your client.

      • yvettepistorio jennimacdonald Maybe a way to get them to see the importance is to compare to something they know well. For example if they are a business whose bread and butter is design and implementation of high end kitchen cabinetry, would they spend $1,000 on a slew of cheap giveaways for a trade show that are unlikely to bring in business (at least it’s not measurable) versus spending the same amount on deploying representatives to spend in-depth time with builders/contractors demonstrating the cabinetry? Definite option for follow up there and knowing if they ended up using you b/c you know who they are. Long way of saying: tie it to an example they can understand.

        • biggreenpen yvettepistorio jennimacdonald Agree w/this, a lot of time it’s figuring out how to speak their language. Of course, having said that, for seasoned PR pros like y’all there’s probably also a stop-loss point to keep in mind.

  • I boil it down to asking why we are doing “X, Y, and Z.” What is the point, what is the purpose and how does it serve us?
    If you can’t answer those questions you need to stop and think about what you are doing.

  • I agree w/Tara, re-evaluation is often missed but is important. That’s the thing about tactics, they’ll change very quickly but strategy not so much so you have to plan carefully. 
    Your post actually brings something else up for me too, which has to do with culture and personnel. I’ve always been a big picture person, in fact I realized the other day that I am a geek, just not the kind people normally envision…..I’m a “thought geek”… I need to know how everything works and connects. But, that’s not everyone.
    I’m not sure everyone actually needs to be a big picture person ( try to encourage b/c I think it’s valuable), but regardless it’s certainly true that you have to make sure you don’t place a tactics expert in a strategy position because you’ll end up with a handful of great redwoods in the middle of a marketing desert.

  • yvettepistorio Great article!

  • Really, really great post yvettepistorio! Reminds me a bit of a Clinton campaign slogan that said, “The economy, stupid!” – in this case it’s “The Strategy!” 🙂

    • lizreusswig yvettepistorio 😀 Why thank you!
      Haha!! Yes, yes – definitely the strategy! I’m even guilty of this too – looking back there were so many “strategies” that I wrote that were just tactics…it’s a different way of thinking.

  • nshafer2

    Nice post yvettepistorio!

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  • Loved the Sun Tzu quote – seen this in leadership meetings, too. You put executive teams together to focus on strategy, but small companies can easily get overwhelmed with tactical decisions/issues during those leadership strategy meetings.
    Those issues need to be addressed, but if you are constantly derailed by the “living in the moment” tactical fires, you can’t focus on the long-term strategy that ensures your longevity to be around to fight tactical fires years from now!

    • dbvickery Hey now, I like living in the moment….I call it The Zen Marketing & the Art of Firefighting =P

      • JoeCardillo Art of Fire Fighting – definitely been there. Oh wait, that’s a weekly occurrence.
        I could use more Zen…should have heard me fixing the washer yesterday. 😉

  • Hey Yvette, 
    Thanks for referencing the Vocus blog post with the Sun Tzu quote. I think there is a wealth of information out there about social media marketing tactics to it’s easy to nail those down – but little about actual strategy which may prove difficult to some.

    • staceylamiller Agreed!! 
      Loved that quote – really captures what was going through my head when I wrote this 🙂

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