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The four types of social media strategies for associations

Digital media’s impact on marketing

As part of my column here at AGBeat on association marketing, we will be discussing the game changing impact new media marketing has had on the marketing game. If you’re doing any social media work at all, you presumably have thought about why you’re going to spend time and resources and how you might achieve organizational goals using social media. The Harvard Business Review recently examined four different approaches to strategy based on researching 1,100 companies in different industries.

Approach One:

The predictive practitioner: Confines social media usage to a specific area, like customer service.

HBR example: Clorox. I’d add these examples you should be familiar with: Starbucks’ MyStarbucksIdea, Dell’s Ideastorm, Procter & Gamble on Innocentive.

Approach Two:

The creative experimenter: “Companies taking this approach embrace uncertainty, using small-scale tests to find ways to improve discrete functions and practices. They aim to learn by listening to customers and employees on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.”

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HBR example: EMC (IT services). My examples: Any company that soft launches online programs in beta. KLM’s listening program is a good one to check out.

Approach Three:

The social media champion: “This involves large initiatives designed for predictable results. It may depend on close collaboration across multiple functions and levels and include external parties.”

HBR example: Ford Fiesta Movement campaign. My examples: Pepsi Refresh and Home Depot.

Approach Four:

The social media transformer: “This approach enables large-scale interactions that extend to external stakeholders, allowing companies to use the unexpected to improve the way they do business.”

HBR example: Cisco. My examples: Freshbooks, Skittles, Zappos (of course), and Southwest Airlines.

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What about Associations?

Who cares about these examples, you may ask? What about Association examples? We want to hear from you. What kind of strategy does your organization use? Not sure? Take the HBR quiz below; you might be pleasantly surprised.

Please share your quiz results in the comments below.

Lastly, it is important to note that organizations often move from one type to another – or are using multiple strategies. This is not a “set in stone” kind of thing. The Harvard Business Review article does, however, warn against the “shotgun,” strategy-LESS approach. In my ongoing column here at AGBeat, I will help you avoid the shotgun approach.

Written By

Maddie Grant is author of Humanize and When Millennials Take Over, and is Founding Partner at WorkXO, a culture startup that helps forward thinking leaders in growth oriented organizations activate their workplace culture to attract the right talent, increase engagement, and unleash human potential through the Workplace Genome™ Project.



  1. Kate Voth

    October 5, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    According to the quiz, our association incorporates aspects from all four approaches but most closely resembles that of Social Media Champion. While our social media efforts initially began in our marketing department, we quickly realized that it takes collaboration among all departments to best listen, engage and provide meaningful communications online. For this reason, we have representatives from every department receive ongoing social media training (conducted in-house) and communicate on behalf of our association using social media. These staff members offer customer service, gather feedback, share industry news and ultimately help establish stronger relationships with our members.

    It’s true that social media is still a new space for a lot of associations to enter and engage in, and we’re all learning as we go; however, that’s no excuse to jump into the space without first creating a social media strategy and policy. Our association has clear goals and measurement metrics, but we do our best to remain flexible and open to refining our strategy and policy to reflect emerging trends and best practices.

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