Strategy is not just for Christmas

I’ve spent a lot of my time over the last decade helping businesses to put together strategies for the use of social media, both internally for collaboration and externally for community building and marketing. I know that for some companies, my strategy was a document that they continued to refer to for literally years after we put it together. (I caught up with one ex-client three years after I delivered his strategy, and he said he and his team will still referring to it and still found it useful!)

But many strategy documents come with built-in obsolescence. If you’re not very careful, social media strategies can age fast, because of the rapidity of change within social media. But it’s not just the tools that change, it’s the demographics. Facebook is ageing, Twitter getting younger, and the 55+ demographic is growing faster online than any other. Your target audience could be shift platforms whilst you’re busy implementing a strategy that’s now out of date, and how would you know?

That being the case, I was very interested to stumble on Thomas Martin’s blog post about “agile strategy development”, in which he calls for the Agile methodology to be applied to company strategies.

Similar to software development, the complexity of strategy development is increasing. Globalisation, faster innovation cycles, stronger competition are only some of the factors that make it harder and harder to devise stable, long-lived and eventually successful strategies. Agile strategic planning addresses this by keeping the strategy fluid.


Agile strategy development shares the following characteristics with agile software development:

•  Continuous monitoring of the external environment during the Analyze activity.
•  Regular review and – as required – updating of strategic objectives and plans during the Define and Plan activities.
•  Frequent feedback from Execution on the effectiveness of the implementation.

Although Martin suggests that such an approach requires “less external input” from consultants, I’d argue that what it requires is actually a longer-term relationship with a good consultant who has a familiarity with your business but also enough distance to help you see the bigger picture.

I succeed as a consultant because I can see a company’s problems from a very different vantage point to them, not only because of my own deep experience with social media, but also because I’ve worked with so many companies that I can see common errors in thinking and execution that would otherwise be missed.

To get the best result from social media you need an informed strategy, a regular review process, and dependable advice that both ensures that you are on track whilst also bringing in a fresh perspective and valuable expertise. An agile approach to strategy makes a lot of sense to me, and it’s something companies should seriously consider. If you’re going to spend time and money on strategic thinking, it’s essential that you keep that strategy fresh, relevant and up-to-date.

Print and digital: Managing the crocodile and the mammal separately

I used to be a big booster of print-digital editorial integration, but I’ve had a change of heart for a lot of reasons, reasons which I’ll outline more broadly at some point. When I first got into online journalism in the mid-90s, to be honest, I probably was suffering from a little of resource envy. The legacy business just had a lot more money, but it also made a lot more money. However, I’ve changed my mind. Simply put, I think that print and digital are two entirely different sets of products, and they often have different audiences.

I was just summarising a Pew report on successful revenue models for local newspapers for Knowledge Bridge, the site that I edit for the Media Development Investment Fund, and I found this eloquent and excellent metaphor for managing media disruption from former Harvard business professor Clark Gilbert who is now head of Deseret Management Corporation, owner of The Deseret News in Salt Lake City. He said:

In Gilbert’s theory of media evolution, the Deseret News print product is the crocodile, a prehistoric creature that survives today, albeit as a smaller animal. He believes the News, which has already shrunk significantly, is not doomed to extinction if properly managed. Deseret Digital Media is the mammal, the new life form designed to dominate the future. Armed with graphics, charts and a whiteboard that looks like it belongs in an advanced physics class, Gilbert speaks with the zeal of the cultural transition evangelist he has become. He argues that the path ahead does not involve merging the crocodile and mammal cultures, but maintaining them separately.

That makes a lot of sense. It doesn’t guarantee success, but it’s a sensible starting point. The next step, he admits, is the challenging part, which is to execute that strategy, which involves a lot of wrenching cultural change. However, he’s already got some success to show for his strategy. Digital revenue has grown on average 44 percent annually since 2010, and it now makes up 25 percent of the groups revenue. For those on the crocodile side of the equation, while print revenue dropped 5 percent in 2012, at least circulation numbers are headed in the right direction. Circulation is up 33 percent for the daily newspaper, and it’s up a stunning 90 percent for Sundays, due in large part to a new national edition.

It sounds like his excellent metaphor and smart strategy also is backed with some very good execution.