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Dealing with the unstructured

One of the major shifts we have seen in the past five years or so is that business models are under serious challenge from mobile technology, the Internet, and especially social media. This rapidly changing business model picture is happening because the way that organizations relate to their customers, their employees, and their stakeholders is changing, and social media is driving and shaping much of this. As a result, executives are on notice regarding the need for an urgent change of focus in organization capabilities and how these can help deliver greater business value.

One such capability is how to deal with unstructured data and information that is now permeating the Internet especially via social media. Not so long ago, we lived in a world that was highly structured and systematized. Data tended to be tightly organised into rows and columns and tables. Analysis was done by interrogating spreadsheets and using various formulas for interpreting performance in various areas. But advances in technology have caused massive amounts of unstructured data to be created on a scale never thought possible just a few years ago. Here are two examples to highlight the point –

(1) Growth in Twitter activity – from Twitter Q2 2014 results:

  • Average Monthly Active Users (MAUs) were 271 million as of June 30, 2014, an increase of 24% year-over-year
  • Timeline views reached 173 billion for the second quarter of 2014, an increase of 15% year-over-year.

(2) What happens in one minute on the Internet – from Intel September 2013:

  • One hundred thousand new tweets
  • Six million Facebook views
  • More than two million search queries on Google.

The above provides some insight into the massive amount of data that is being generated. But the key point is that it is largely unstructured data. With social media, the main type of data is commentary, text and photos that come in many different forms and languages. It is not information collected in a structured form that is easy to summarise and analyse. Organisations are therefore challenged in how their capabilities need to be re-shaped to make some sense of all the data that is relevant to them. Consumer facing businesses like airlines, banks and retailers have a vital interest in the patterns that are emerging in comments and chats on social media. How are these potentially impacting their brand, their products and competitor moves?

Recent growth in the field of analytics has meant that sensible conclusions and decisions can now be more effectively made from these large volumes of data. This is especially true for the analysis of information emerging from unstructured data from social media. Pattern recognition is a key capability and interestingly the use of some skills outside of the traditional technology fields is starting to emerge.

The issue is not whether these capabilities need to be re-shaped but rather how quickly they will change organizations as we know them. The winners will be those organizations and industries that strongly embrace these capabilities as truly new change initiatives and deliver them accordingly to add value.

For many organizations, this will represent a major challenge. It does require the discipline to take a reality check on future directions and priorities. For instance, a transport business would need to ask about its capability in managing, say, a growing pattern of customer frustration regarding their booking systems. As part of this consideration, it would also need to assess how quickly such a capability can be developed or acquired, and the cost of the investment.

Organizations need to consider four factors:

  1. Think of the building of new capabilities as a major business change initiative – not just recruiting a few more analysts
  2. Consider new capabilities in the context of real competitive advantage – not just a systems improvement or upgrade
  3. Drive the change from the C-suite – new capabilities need the right level of investment and commitment from the most senior levels in the business
  4. Build new thinking in the business – patterns in social media provide the opportunity for a new agenda for the future

As French author and Nobel Prize winner Andre Gide once said, “One cannot discover new oceans without the courage to lose sight of the shore”.

Are you more than a social media butterfly?

Diverse ways to use social media

One of the most interesting conversations in a group is to talk about how those people use social media. It is always revealing to see how broadly the conversation can roam and the wide variations in how people use social media. Some will say they just “love Facebook” or they are spending a “lot of time on Pinterest” and so on. But as we unpick those comments, we find there is enormous variation in what people actually mean. The use of Facebook for instance differs widely and there is no concept of one size fits all.

So how do we put some structure into the discussion about how people use social media? I have found it helpful to consider user behaviour in social media along two dimensions.

One is the frequency of use of social media, recognizing that some people are casual or infrequent users and may view social media as somewhat incidental to their personal or business lives. At the other end of this scale, some people are very heavily involved in the use of social media and may well be obsessed with it. For these people, it may be that they access social media in some form every hour of every day.

The other dimension relates to the type of use of social media. Some people may focus only on the personal side, such as connections and contacts with friends, the sharing of photos of their travels, and so on. Typically this is more conversational, and the main objective is the contact rather than the content. Others will be more content focused and use social media to access a wide range of information and knowledge on their topics of interest, whether news and current affairs, history, or hobbies. Communities of interest on social media form an important part of information and content sharing.

Four categories to consider – where do you fit?

The figure below blends these two dimensions and highlights four major categories of how people use social media.

Figure 1b

The first of these in the bottom left quadrant is the group labelled Social Media Butterflies. Their behaviour is focused on personal and social use, such as contact and conversations with friends, but with somewhat infrequent use. These users may access their social media sites on a very infrequent basis or may be quite passive in the way they participate. In other words, they may have a burst of activity when they have some spare time or when they go on holidays, for example.

The Social Media Fire Hoses shown in the bottom right quadrant of the matrix are also aligned to personal and social activity, but are high-frequency users. Their activity on social media is not only highly visible but also very intense in terms of frequency and profile. They are heavy users of social media that forms a significant part of their daily lives. They will be active through their smartphones and tablets, ensuring they can and do participate whenever and wherever they are. Frequent personal and social connection is vital to this group.

The top left quadrant of the matrix shows the so-called Social Media Pickers who are not frequent users of social media but will access particular information and knowledge when they require it. Their focus is more on content rather than contact. For instance, they may access the social media sites for certain magazines or journals, or they may explore information on specific areas of interest such as sport.

Finally, the top right quadrant shows the position of the Social Media Sponges. These users are frequently engaged with social media, but with the major focus on accessing and sharing content. They may have linked themselves to various media sites, journals, thinks tanks, consultancies, and so on, and spend considerable time on content by accessing information and knowledge across a range of topics and interests.

Positioning varies more than you think

One of the great features and exciting aspects of social media is its multitude of potential uses and how different people will approach the way social media is used. But there is no right or wrong positioning here. Everyone will work out his or her own positioning and balance, and this is likely to change over time. Those exploring social media for the first time may start tentatively as low-frequency users, but over time they may find they become high-frequency users because of contact with family and friends. Others may have a very different experience.

The positioning may also change depending on particular circumstances. For instance, when people are travelling, their friends could be in the category of Social Media Butterflies and be well engaged with those travellers, but then change to another pattern of use when the travel is completed. On the other hand, when those friends are planning their own trips they may well be Social Media Pickers as they scour sites for information and commentary on various places to see and stay.

The pattern may also vary depending on the tools being used. A person may be a Social Media Butterfly on Facebook and access photos or family contacts from time to time, but at the same time may be a Social Media Sponge on Twitter and follow many business and media sites that provide regular updates on articles of interests.

The above discussion focuses on individual use, but the same broad principles are important in organizations and how they engage in their social media journey. Organizations will need to think carefully about what they want from social media, and hence the type and frequency of social media use will become key elements of how that strategy is executed.

Here are some questions to ponder regarding your own experience:

  • Where are you placed on the matrix above and how has that changed over time?
  • What position in the matrix above gives you a real buzz?
  • Can you identify some missed opportunities in the way you utilise social media?


The above is drawn from material contained in Matt English’s book Grasping Social Media available online at

Beware the two sides of strategy

Our strategy is not working – life is grim

I stood at the front of the room ready to facilitate the executive team meeting. This team in the financial services arena had just assembled for an important meeting to consider what was wrong with their social media strategy. The CEO had put much personal effort into shaping and refining the social media strategy for the business, and he and some members of the executive team had a lot riding on this meeting.

The strategy was documented via several Powerpoint decks and supporting information from six months earlier, and there were clearly identified outcomes, steps to be undertaken and an articulation of the competitive advantage. A plan had been laid out regarding greater customer and stakeholder engagement via Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter. Executives were also encouraged as part of the strategy to get more personally involved in social media via LinkedIn.

But the strategy was not working and its impact seemed to be underwhelming at best. Customer engagement via social media was poor and the social media experience was turning out to be costly and frustrating.

Framing a different conversation

Following the preamble from the CEO who was clearly somewhat agitated at this point, I started the session by writing an equation on the whiteboard:

GS + PE = LO

After a moment or two of silence and puzzled looks, I explained what this meant. It translated to:

Good Strategy + Poor Execution = Lost Opportunity

As it turned out, this was a light bulb moment for the group, perhaps not quite at that instant, but certainly over the course of the morning session. The assumption of the group going into the meeting was that their strategy on social media was wrong. This was certainly the position taken by the CEO.

But the equation above helped to frame the issue in a different way, and it led to a very different conversation within the group. The conversation was different from two perspectives in particular. First, it highlighted the dual personality of strategy that is so often overlooked or ignored, namely that strategy development and formulation must be supported by a robust and well-tuned execution or delivery of the strategy. It sounds so simple but is so often missed in both large and smaller enterprises. The disconnect between the two can compromise the outcomes for the organisation and in some case can actually destroy value because of misplaced investments or loss of opportunity for greater customer leverage. In this particular case, there was some re-visiting of the strategy itself, but the view emerged quite quickly that the strategy itself was quite logical and robust. Yes there were some aspects that needed updating and re-focus, but overall the strategy itself seemed to be in good shape, and should give strong advantage in the market place. Rather the executive team formed the view that major aspects of the implementation had let the team down and they fell short in several areas of strategy execution.

Secondly, the executive team realised that strategy execution was easier said than done. They came to the realisation that they needed more thinking around the capabilities needed to deliver and around how delivery happens. Some fundamental issues needed to be re-visited in regards to the social media strategy namely, what needs to be done, when does it need to be done, who is responsible for doing it and what resources are needed to make it happen. For example, in the previous six months there was too much reliance on business functions to execute aspects of the strategy and not enough around key individuals in those functions to drive clear accountability.

In this case, the focus was on social media, but the same principles apply across the strategy space more broadly. Strategy formulation and strategy execution must go hand-in-hand to drive value for the business.

Strategy execution delivers the value

Strategy is too often seen as one-dimensional and too locked into a process. Don’t get me wrong, strategy needs to have some structure and framework, but it is the execution of the strategy that delivers the value. If the execution does not go according to plan, the value from the strategy will be compromised. Too often, we see the execution of strategy get buried in the day-to-day clutter of operational activity where lots of things get done but little achieved in terms of strategic outcomes. The execution aspect of strategy needs focus and patience to make it happen. As Jen-Jacques Rousseau once said “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet”.

Key questions to consider –

  • How well defined is your social media strategy?
  • How well have you executed against your social media strategy?
  • Is poor strategy execution causing lost opportunity in your business?


The above is drawn from material contained in Matt English’s book Grasping Social Media available online at

Matt English is pleased to be associated with KR Strategy a consulting firm operating primarily in the US and Australia which has a special focus on strategy execution. Over many years, its founder and CEO Kathryn Ritchie has developed practical  approaches and tools to help executive teams deliver the right focus, resources and efforts on strategy execution.

“Why should I bother with social media?”

In my travels, I find that this question or a version of it comes up frequently. Despite the very impressive array of statistics showing the growth of social media, I still find plenty of people and businesses that pose this question and have a passive and sometimes quite hostile position against social media. Some of this is related to demographics, but there is a wider span across many age groups and businesses that sit in the nonbeliever camp.

But things can go wrong

They very quickly cite the things that have gone wrong with social media and some of the challenges that do occur from time to time. An inappropriate comment or photo that goes viral on social media will often attract negative publicity, which tends to cloud the broader social media debate. Inappropriate activity on social media needs to be pounced on and offenders need to be dealt with appropriately. But a small number of problems should not be the determining factor in deciding whether social media is good or bad. Traffic accidents are a blight on developed societies, but we still build roads and bring in rules and other factors to mitigate the problems. Likewise, governments and organizations are taking steps to ensure that the right standards of behaviour and conduct are managed on social media.

People or businesses may choose not to be involved in social media for any number of reasons. The decisions on the use of social media depend on many factors, such as peer pressure, previous experience in this area, or uncertainty about the social media space generally. They are also influenced by experiences they hear about directly or indirectly. People who are reluctant to embrace social media often have a quick and ready recall of things that may have gone wrong, such as comments or photos going viral and having unintended consequences.

New opportunities abound

On the positive side, think of social media as a broader communication and content channel, both for business and personal application. Yes, it is different from other channels in so many ways, but the mistake is often made to ignore what social media can achieve rather than the tools to do it. For instance, a small business wanting to expand its offerings to an established customer base can use social media to drive a broader conversation and indeed start new ones. Powerful conversations and interaction can be unleashed via social media, and in real time. But the business needs to have a clear view of what it is trying to achieve with social media. Whether the business chooses Twitter or Facebook or another tool is important, but this is secondary to the question of what it is trying to achieve.

From a personal perspective, social media opens up new horizons in so many ways. It provides individuals with windows into knowledge and information like never before. People also need to have a view of what really interests them. Are they seeking to engage with family and friends or simply find items of interest? The available content on social media from magazines and organizations is enormous and growing all the time. It used to be that the only way to gain access to articles from good magazines was to subscribe to them or use the local library to look at back copies. But now much of this is readily available via social media. Information feeds on Twitter and Facebook are pushing this material to a global audience, and everyone can participate.

Key questions to consider –

  • What opportunity would you like to pursue by using social media?
  • What is holding you back?

The above is drawn from material contained in Matt English’s book Grasping Social Media available online at

The right business conversation about social media

Organizations have become more and more aware of the need to address social media in some way. It is a rarity today to find executives who have not considered the impact of social media on their organization and what options may be available to them. However, it is still a challenge to ensure the right conversation is conducted within the organization. Too frequently the social media conversation is directed to either the wrong level in the organization or to the wrong function. Let me illustrate.

Social media is not a sideshow

Not so long ago, I was working with a business in the services arena that was growing rapidly. It had a dynamic leadership team strongly focused on gaining market share. In a conversation with the CEO, I asked about their social media strategy and how they viewed this as a strategic opportunity. The answer was that they thought social media was important and that they had asked the so-called young people in the business to develop the approach and how this could be implemented. On one level, it was admirable to have the so-called young people involved, and this gesture was appreciated within the business. Furthermore, it was also seen as a very contemporary statement by embracing the new joiners in the business, especially those fresh from university.

But on the other hand, this approach defied logic in so many ways. In fact, it sadly highlighted a virtual abdication of responsibility on the part of the leadership of the organization. Yes, the young people have a role, and their ideas and experiences would add much to the discussion, but the key point that I emphasized with the CEO was that the social media strategy and its approach are crucial business issues for the CEO and C-suite executives.

In another situation, I was speaking to a group of executives at a breakfast briefing and their view was also somewhat off the mark. They espoused the virtue of their decision to let their IT community come up with some options and really drive the social media agenda. The IT function of course has a key role in the development and the execution of the social media strategy, but it is only one factor in the mix.

C-suite ownership and involvement are crucial

The above conversations are not uncommon and, sadly, miss the mark. Moreover, they could be costing organizations lost opportunity in the marketplace or with their stakeholders. The conversation around social media is one that affects the entire organization and therefore must involve the C-suite. This is the case whether the business is B-to-B or B-to-C as outlined above, but it is particularly the case for a B-to-C organization. It also applies equally to government organizations, especially those dealing directly with citizens.

The business conversation needs to take into account a number of points.

First, the social media activity will have an impact on all aspects of the organization in some way. For many organizations, this will be a very direct interaction with customers whereas for others it will be more around brand reputation and stakeholder management. But the point is that it is a business issue that needs to be considered as a whole and not just palmed off to one part of the organization to address.

In addition, the execution of a proper social media strategy will need the allocation of resources, and so the involvement of the C-suite is essential to ensure that the full business perspective is provided for these decisions. This is also important to ensure that the return on investment process is monitored and managed over time.

Finally, the social media strategy may need to change over time to respond to changes in the marketplace and to the actions of competitors. Earlier chapters have already highlighted the fast-moving nature of social media, which in turn underscores the importance of C-suite involvement in this journey and engagement in the changes that will inevitably occur.

Key questions to consider

  • What plan does your organization have for engagement in social media?
  • What type of business conversation do you propose to have with your executive team regarding social media strategy?

The above is drawn from material contained in Matt English’s book Grasping Social Media available online at

Are you a social media sceptic?

How times have changed

Remember life as it was in smaller communities in earlier times? Think of the English village or the Australian country town or local suburb. These smaller communities shared some unique characteristics. Everybody knew each other and looked after each other, and the notion of privacy was minimal. Their citizens were well connected, and the sense of community was strong and personal.

But as technology changed, so too did the village. Consider the impact of transport. As various forms of transport became available, the village became accessible to others, and it also gave the villagers the opportunity to move to new places either for work or to explore. Other technology changes such as the telephone broke down the boundaries even more.

Today in the Western world, the traditional village has become a mere shadow of its former self as the world has become so urbanized. We still use the term village, but more in the context of the so-called global village. Bill Gates once said, “The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow”.

This concept of the global village has rapidly evolved. Take the idea of travellers being connected. Not so many years ago, travellers had to post written letters home to friends and relatives, and chatting by phone was expensive and therefore a rare occurrence. But today travellers can be connected instantly via phone or the Internet and can even have face-to-face contact using online video tools.

Social media has transformed the playing field

This global village has really come alive in the past five years or so through the various forms of social media that have exploded on the scene. Local geographic constraints no longer define how people connect or interact. Technology has changed the playing field and indeed the language. People now “Google” something or “Skype” someone or “tweet”. Such verbs did not exist until recently.

Of course, the global village is vastly different from the traditional village in many ways, especially in structure, appearance, and behaviour. For instance, in the global village, we deal with strangers very differently. How many friends have we accepted on Facebook that we hardly know? How many times do we buy items from complete strangers on the other side of the planet? The traditional village was a far more intimate affair and much more self-contained.

Social media is enabled by some impressive technology. As the era of both computerization and the Internet came together, the potential power of social media became enormous. Like the confluence of two great rivers, the scope and strength of both together created a whole new dimension.

Yes – social media is different

Social media is different because of three fundamental characteristics, the combination of which we have never seen before. It is instant, global, and transparent.

The first of these is the instant nature of social media. Immediacy is a defining factor with social media. A picture can be uploaded the moment it is taken, or a comment can be issued and circulated immediately. Immediacy is underscored by some recent work by Intel made some estimates of what happens every minute on the Internet, which include:

  • One hundred thousand new tweets
  • Six million Facebook views
  • More than two million search queries on Google

Another aspect of social media that has captured people’s imagination is its truly global reach. One can easily connect with colleagues and friends across the globe. Global conversations, discussions, and information sharing can now occur easily and frequently. We can track our friends and family who are travelling abroad and enjoy their photos and commentary on a frequent basis.

The third aspect of social media that is different is that it is largely transparent. Whilst there are various ways of controlling access and privacy, there is a significant degree of transparency in social media across the board. There is potentially a problem if language and comments in social media are somewhat borderline in their sentiment.

Think about your perspective on social media……

  • How have you embraced the social media phenomena?
  • How would you describe your social media experience to date?
  • Do you see social media as a feature of convenience or a vital tool for you into the future?

The above is drawn from material contained in Matt English’s book Grasping Social Media available online at

Who is your social media buddy?

Enjoying travelling companions

The idea of travelling companions has been around for centuries. People have always sought out mates to travel with for company or safety or simply to provide additional advice and counsel along the way. As the saying goes, two heads are better than one.

The social media journey also generates a need for travelling companions. This is ironic in a way because by definition social media connects us to many people, possibly in many different parts of the world. Aren’t these people our travelling companions? Well, maybe not.

In this context, I am referring to travelling companions as a few people close to us who can help with navigating our way through the do’s and don’ts of social media. This could be family members or friends who have been involved in social media for some time. In a business context, this might be a consultant or subject matter expert who can offer specific advice relevant to the business. This is not a one-size-fits-all situation, but in my social media experience I have found the need for these mates along the way for two reasons.

The level of support can be crucial

In the first instance, it is good to have a sounding board, especially if you are new to social media. The mate or the buddy can play a key role in easing you into the understanding and use of social media and can also help you avoid some of the pitfalls. Much of social media is fairly intuitive and can be picked up easily. Indeed, social media is so popular partly because it is easy to use. But there are some aspects of social media that need to be understood right up front, and having a sounding board for this is important.

One area where this is really important is in the setup. How you set up your profile on social media is crucial, especially the security and access settings. Most social media platforms have varying levels of access and security, and you need to understand how these work. Do you want your material or your participation to be more public or more confined? We have all heard people lament that they did not know their material was “going public”. A simple check of the setup right at the start might have saved them the anguish.

Secondly, social media is changing so rapidly that it is almost impossible to keep up with all the new features and sites. In fact, the dynamics here are quite complex. We often think about all the changes in social media but sometimes forget that we are also changing. The way we use social media changes over time and what we want out of it will also change. Our expectations can also change depending on family or work circumstances. For example, if a son or daughter moves out of country for work, the parents will probably form a different view of social media even if they were previously non-believers.

Some simple ground rules

 Whoever is your social media buddy, it is important to agree some basic rules for how the buddy arrangement should work. In fact, I suggest three key principles that should be agreed with the buddy:

Principle #1 – There is no such thing as a silly question

Principle #2 – There is no issue with repeating questions and explanations

Principle #3 – There will be some frustration or challenge along the way

In other words, the notion of the buddy is not just about meeting or having discussions. Rather it is about having a positive and learning dialogue over time to get the most out of social media, and to de-mystify some of the aspects of social media that may appear challenging.

Consider these points regarding your social media buddy….

  • Who have you used as your buddy (or buddies) on your social media journey?
  • How has the buddy helped build your presence and confidence in social media? 

The above is drawn from material contained in Matt English’s book Grasping Social Media available online at

Social media is a journey – not a destination

For travellers visiting Europe in years gone by, one of the great means of moving around was by train using a Eurail train pass. This pass entitled the user to unlimited travel by train and was a popular way of travel for baby boomers (just like me!) visiting Europe in the 1970s and 1980s, especially before the advent of heavily discounted airfares between European cities. This fixed price pass continues today and is generally bought in the traveller’s home country prior to arrival in Europe.

The Eurail pass opened up many options and opportunities for seeing different countries and cities. Moreover, it provided the opportunity to experience a journey of exploration. Some journeys were a straight point-to-point experience, such as travelling direct from, say, Paris to Frankfurt. But the Eurail pass enabled travellers to truly explore and see places in a different sequence, or indeed to come back and visit a place multiple times. The Paris to Frankfurt trip could well meander via Strasbourg, Stuttgart, and Koblenz, and could also involve faster or slower regional trains along the way. This was very much about the journey. Yes, there was always a sense of destination, but the excitement was as much about the experience of the journey, the places visited, and the friends made along the way.

It brings to mind that quote from Robert Louis Stevenson “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”

Social media as a journey

Similarly, I look at my experience with social media through the lens of a journey that has taken many twists and turns along the way and also involved some backtracking. It has been far from a straight-line experience. It has embraced major social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as broader activities, including blogs and chat rooms.

But social media is not just about the use of some neat technology. It is about real social change. In fifty years’ time, when writers are casting the spotlight on the period from, say, 2005 to 2014, I suspect they will highlight social media as one of the great social phenomena of the time. I expect they will draw attention to the social impact it made across the globe, across different languages, and across different social divides. This social change is about both the personal and business aspects of social media and how these are blending together in ways never thought possible just a few years ago.

Yet social media is still an evolving experience and is shaping and reshaping itself for both personal and business application. It has some way to go to come of age, although many believe that it will never come of age in the traditional sense. Rather, it will reach further levels of sophistication and use.

Think about the social change – not just the tools

In the mid-2000s, I was well aware of social media but did not really understand it. At the time, I must admit it seemed like a bit of huff and bluster. The younger generation seemed to be obsessed with their friends via Facebook, but friendship as I knew it hinged around personal contact and real conversation. These features seemed to be slipping out the door thanks to social media, and I found this somewhat discomforting. It seemed that very personal and direct means of contact and communications were under serious challenge, but with little to replace them other than a computer screen.

But one day someone said to me that we should be careful not to focus too much on the tools and instead look at the outcomes. Sometimes when we receive gratuitous advice, we can take it personally and feel some resentment. But on this occasion, something caused me to ponder the advice further and think about the real message. I thought long and hard about it and came to the realization that I had to lever open my mind to focus on what social media was doing and, more importantly, what it could do in the future. The tools were far less important compared to the underlying social change that was happening.

  • Has your social media experience to date been a frustrating “toe in the water” or an enjoyable journey?
  • Do you look forward to your next steps in social media with trepidation or as part of an interesting and fun journey?

The above is drawn from material contained in Matt English’s book Grasping Social Media available online at




What is your game plan with social media?


Getting the most from social media does not just happen. Indeed, many people can be frustrated by the social media experience because they have not thought through what they want from social media. Of course, there is a valid place for trying different things and experimenting with different aspects of social media. However, there needs to be an overarching strategy for what you want out of social media and where you want to go with it. A strategy of some form needs to be embraced by individuals and especially by organizations.

In developing this strategy, lessons can be learned from the game of golf, a global game of great popularity that is played by people of all ages and in many diverse locations. Various surveys suggest that some fifty to sixty million people across the world play golf regularly. It is a game of great challenge, but also one of enjoyment. It is also a game that is strongly dependent on individual performance, commitment, judgment, and adaptation to prevailing conditions.

Regarding social media, four lessons from golf are very relevant.

1. Have a game plan

Golfers know that a game plan is important. Each game is different depending on a range of factors including weather conditions and the state of the fairways. A good golfer will assess how to play the game in advance and whether more aggressive club selections are needed for the game because of prevailing conditions.

 An individual seeking to embrace social media needs to have a broad game plan of what he or she is trying to achieve and how to go about it. This is not about the volume of thought but rather the clarity of thought. Be clear on where you want to head with social media, and, as stated earlier, it is important to create enough personal time and space to give it a go and get the most out of it. Is it more about using social media for business or professional activity or is its main focus going to be more on social aspects? Or is there a blend of the two?

2. Maintain a strong social media focus and commitment

Golfers often lose focus or grow overconfident about their final score. They may have had a good first half of the game, but the score can turn badly on just one or two strokes or one bad hole. Top players have all too often seen the winner’s trophy in sight, only to find it eluding them in the final few holes of the game.

Like these golfers, individuals should establish and maintain a strong commitment once they have embarked on their social media journey. Participating in social media must be done in a way to maximize the chance of success and enjoyment. A fleeting visit to social media sites from time to time will not provide a decent level of satisfaction or enjoyment and may cause disenchantment.

A friend once said to me that he had tried a social media tool for a couple of weeks and then lost interest. I suggest this person did not give anywhere near the commitment and focus that was needed to give it a go. It is a bit like fitness. A casual visit to the gym from time to time will not deliver the fitness benefits expected. It needs commitment to a regular and frequent programme.

3. Tactical choices really matter

For a golfer, the tactics on each hole need to be carefully considered. The choice of club for a particular shot is most often cited as a key decision to be made. Likewise, the approach to the green is a tactical choice. Should the player loft over a nasty bunker or perhaps play a safer shot shy of the bunker but a little farther from the pin? 

For individual social media activity, the choice of the right social media tools is of equal tactical importance. For an individual wanting to have more of a professional interaction with work colleagues and work interests, the use of LinkedIn would be a better choice than social media tools that are geared to more social commentary and the exchange of photos. It is important that the right tools are chosen to ensure individuals get what they seek from social media

4. Don’t complain about the conditions—deal with them

The final point involves the conditions in which individuals and businesses operate. Again, consider golf, a sport that is played in all conditions—the wind, the rain, the heat, and so on. The conditions cannot be changed, so golfers have to learn to deal with these variables and change their game or their gear accordingly.

Individuals using social media need to deal with whatever social media serves up to them on a daily basis. This is especially true in the early days of their social media activity. How friends respond to their various posts (or perhaps don’t respond), how many friends or connections they have, and what kind of information they find are all factors and conditions that individuals will confront.

Think about your social media strategy…….

  • What do you really want from social media?
  • What is your game plan for making the most out of social media?


The above is drawn from material contained in Matt English’s book Grasping Social Media available online at