Social Media: Channel or Strategy?

Terms related to social media are quickly evolving, and must be used and interpreted in context. For example, I’m often asked for advice on shaping a “social strategy.” It’s an important question — but without further definition, can be overly vague. Social media is a vast and ever-expanding array of platforms, tools and capabilities. It would be like referring to “Internet strategy” when the Web was gaining traction in the 1990s. There are implications for marketing, collaboration, production, HR, design, publicity, and much more.

Similarly, many in the profession, myself included, use the term “channel” for social media in the context of services and support. That’s accurate when we consider the fact that social media is a means for the customer to contact or interact with the organization (and vice versa) and the related work must be forecasted and appropriate staffing made. On the other hand, it’s arguably more than “just” a channel. Consider the one-to-many nature of service delivery; networking properties; the ability for a community of others with common interests to collaborate and share; and, the believability of friends’ advice and recommendations over advertising. Whereas an email or a phone call is self-contained, most social conversations inherently reach others — and in that sense, go beyond the confines of a traditional communications channel.

This area of management is evolving quickly, and terms will be added and clarified. It’s no problem to use any of them as they are, as long as they are expanded and explained as needed.