Too many businesses get caught in the objective trap. The process of creating short and long term objectives begins innocently enough. A management team is assigned to define the best direction for the company in the coming years. The initial brainstorming session identifies some strengths and challenges along with ideas for capitalizing on the good things and overcoming the bad things. Everything is going well until someone mentions SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis or some other technique created in academia.

The introduction of these techniques shifts the focus from creating objectives to grow a sustainable business to creating objectives to impress the board of directors, bankers, and anyone else who might happen to read them. The techniques have merit if they are used to assist the thought process but they often have a negative effect. Providing direction for the company is forgotten in the quest to impress. When the project is complete, the documentation includes objectives like this: “Create a sustainable business model that leads the industry in innovative marketing and product development while providing exceptional customer service and aggressively growing the company with above average profits.”

The objective sounds good. It looks good in a presentation. And, most importantly, it is safe. No one can say that it wasn’t met because there are so many factors subject to interpretation within it. Sustainable could be three months or 300 years. Innovative can be anything that is different from the norm. Exceptional can be good or bad. Aggressive growth can be an expanded marketing reach which may or may not increase sales. Above average is dependent on the comparative data. There are always companies doing better or worse for comparative purposes. The bottom line is that the success of the objective can and will be debated using valuable resources with no realistic expectation of return.

Social media offers even more opportunities to create impressive yet ineffective objectives. Having them may provide short-term gains in recognition, but you deserve better. Skip the theory and go straight for the win. Create objectives that are realistic, measurable, and understandable. The planning process is more challenging but it makes the implementation much easier and significantly improves the success rate.

Questions to ask during the planning process:

What service issues are affecting our customers? Service and social are intertwined. If your customer service isn’t stellar, fix the problems before investing in social. If you don’t, you will get bitten and it will be hard to rebound. Guaranteed.

Are our customers and prospects actively participating on social platforms? If they aren’t there, your social strategy will be very different because your primary focus is improving search results. You’ll still want to participate because social search will send people in your target market to your website but your content will focus more on keywords than engagement.

Where are our customers and prospects the most active if they are participating? There are too many social platforms to cover all of them well. Even if your company is large enough to have a dedicated social marketing team, there is a point of diminishing returns that make extended coverage a poor business decision.

What resources will be allocated to social marketing research and development? Social marketing isn’t free. The channel is rapidly evolving. What works today may not work tomorrow. Accept these facts and plan accordingly by allocating resources to testing and adapting to the changing environment.

How will success be measured? Much of social marketing is intangible but it is possible to measure the unknown if you have a good benchmarking program. Figure this out before launching. If you have already launched, figure this out now.

The process of answering these questions will create more questions. Keep going until you find the answers you need to create the best objectives for your business. Throughout it all, remember that the best objectives are realistic, measurable, and understandable. If everyone involved in the execution of your social media strategy doesn’t understand the objectives, it significantly reduces the chances for success. When you create an objective, apply the what, why, and how test to it:

  • What will it accomplish?
  • Why is it needed?
  • How will it work?

If you can answer those questions, you can explain it to anyone who doesn’t understand. Now, go create some objectives.