(Social Media) Strategy: Lessons from the Trenches

I’m fortunate to have benefited from a number of strong mentors and leaders who have supported me or taken a chance on me throughout my career (thanks to Melissa Thomson, Howard Jones, Terry Fallis, Joseph Thornley, Tristan Roy and others). I recognize the massive impact those people had on my life, and do my best to pay it forward – whether meeting people who are looking for career advice, or connecting Canadian newcomers with people in the industry, or supporting the next generation of practitioners.

One of my favourite ways to pay it forward each year is to help to support students in Seneca College’s post-grad Social Media Marketing program who are preparing to present their final culminating group assignments – real-world social media strategies for real companies (full disclosure: I also sit on the program advisory committee for post-grad programs at the Seneca College School of Marketing).

When Bill Doern asked if I would participate once again this year I readily said yes, and on a Friday afternoon this Spring I listened and provided feedback on social media strategy presentations by 10 teams of aspiring digital marketing professionals.

I noticed some common themes that emerged as I reflected on the feedback I provided to the students. At first I thought typing them up might provide some insights for other young pros who are starting out in this field, but as I reviewed them I realized I’ve had conversations about each of these things with clients within the last few months, so maybe they’re not so ‘beginner’ after all (or maybe I just am…).

1. Question the brief.

Sometimes you will get a fantastic brief from a client that is right on the money and sets you up to succeed. More often there will be holes, and sometimes it will be straight-up off the mark. The brief becomes a document of record – something the client may look back on to determine success or failure in a project, so failing to challenge the brief at the outset will make things difficult for you down the road. If something seems off or if there’s a gap in understanding, push. Sometimes you’ll get new information that helps you to understand the rationale for things. Other times the brief might change as a result. Either way, your life gets easier.

2. Make sure the objectives matter.

Despite the collective efforts of many of us in the industry, we continue to encounter occasional briefs that call for increased follower numbers as an objective, or ask for increased awareness when really the client’s problem is in a different part of the sales/buying process. You want to know your efforts are wel-spent, and the client wants their budget to be well-spent, so sweat the objectives and sweat the KPIs.

3. Ground everything in your objectives.

It’s really easy to get caught up in all the things you could do. It’s much harder to make difficult decisions about what you should do. Strategy is just as much about deciding what not to do as it is about deciding what to do. So as you’re developing and reviewing digital marketing strategies, frequently refer back to the objectives to make sure you stay on track.

4. Sometimes less is more.

Continuing the thought about what not to do… resources are finite. Especially time and budget. Sadly that means that there will be times the recommendations you’ve just developed are all on-strategy, but the resources just won’t stretch enough to do everything effectively. In those moments, choose to do less. In today’s cluttered digital landscape (especially with COVID-19 forcing everyone to go big on digital), spreading yourself thin will just mean getting lost in the noise. If resources are tight, do a few things. Well.

5. Pull the thread through.

The most frequent piece of feedback I provided to the Seneca teams was to make sure they pulled a thread through their presentation from start to finish. Everything in a strategy should connect back to a bigger picture. You can still be creative and unexpected, but if it isn’t in service of that original business objective then it is all for nothing.


I always emerge from these sessions exhausted by the marathon schedule but inspired by the next wave of talent coming into our industry and happy to play some small part in helping them to succeed. Hopefully these pointers can help a few other people too.

(Shout out to Seneca grads Mike Klose, Julia Clements and Parminder Sarna for taking valuable time out of their days in these dry-run sessions, too.)

(Image credit: Jon Tyson on Unsplash)

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