by Jo Bromilow
October 2nd, 2014

Yep, you read that right. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you label anyone who claims to be a ‘social media consultant, expert, or (cringe) guru’ a charlatan and throw them off your approved roster, let’s take a closer look at what this bold claim really means.

Some of the industry’s ‘maverick’ thinkers (the ones who usually end up as ‘creative strategists’ at creative agencies) have been throwing this statement about freely. And while they’re presumably paid in spades to say the bold things, the rest of us need to take a more measured approach to how we get the same message out in a client-friendly way.

So say it with me – digital strategy has evolved.

See what I did there? Not particularly subtle, I grant you. Not exactly something that many of you didn’t already know. But a lot safer to go touting around when you’ve got the word ‘digital’ in your job title. As part of a broader comms package, social media has been embraced on a basic level by pretty much everyone, in varying degrees from the Buzzfeed-worthy (‘get the intern to Twitter!’) to the brand manager-savvy (‘we need to support our PR content with unique digital content’). But this isn’t going to go far enough for much longer, and this isn’t going to keep digital agencies alive for more than a few years. As the idea of digital strategy evolves, so must we. So how is the digital model evolving, and what can you do about it?

It’s going mobile.
Shout this one from the rooftops, everyone – the laptop isn’t dead, but from a social point of view it’s no longer at the head of the pack. Countries’ use of mobiles is increasing by the day, and in developing countries the mobile phone is now connecting up millions of people with the developed world (via initiatives such as Internet.org). Don’t be naïve to the reach of the simple mobile phone, whether your client is a global software retainer or a car parts dealer in Basingstoke.

It’s gone beyond social media.
Can’t hammer this one home hard enough – digital is a term that confuses many of us and will continue to confuse us as it’s constantly changing. Two years ago, wearables were a comedic pipe dream from sci-fi films. Now they can be seen on London streets. What might come next? It’s time to do some informed future-gazing, which is something that we comms professionals are well-equipped to do – from the new crop of graduates who practically grew up on the internet to the seasoned professionals who have learned to adapt to the speed of the market.

It’s getting faster and more agile.
As the internet, digital, social media, and comms itself gathers momentum and gets crowded by noise, we’ll no longer be able to afford the luxury of spending months planning a single week’s worth of content. Hell, we barely have that now! In a recent talk by a rep from Twitter, said rep referred to training brand teams’ ‘muscle memory’ to think at the speed of the market and allow them to sign off content faster, to make sure you capitalise on relevant events when they happen. And from single tweets expanding to full campaigns, the more training you give this muscle the stronger it comes. Faster muscle memory equals faster team.

It’s learning from its mistakes.
We gleefully share around our favourite daily social media fails and the more techy of us share our worst website, DM or campaign crimes, but it’s time to start consciously bolting a learning onto why we think these campaigns are bad or good, and what key element of this failure or success we can draw out and implement as part of our new and improved communications effort. As the market and the industry evolves around us, we can afford a few short minutes to stop and learn.

Its purpose is changing.
The best social media content strategies focus on an even balance of communicating messages and engaging with customers, but behind the scenes all of a brand’s online assets should be quietly working for the same goal. Brands are slowly waking up to the fact that data collection isn’t just a token requirement.

It’s got to work harder.
The age of the brand as king of social media (if it even existed in the first place) is dying. As social networks become rapidly oversaturated with brands and, as page reach starts to die, with branded ads, and even Twitter tentatively tests new ways to expose branded accounts to users and gets shot down faster than you can say ‘RT and follow’, it’s high time you thought beyond just eyeballs as a metric for how you succeed. Your customers are smarter than you are, and you need to look closer at how they’re behaving in relation to your content and service in order to offer them something they really need, or at least really value, online. Earn those eyeballs, and they’ll be far more valuable to you.

Far from being the time to go it alone, now is the point at which the whole marketing mix – clients, PRs, digital specialists, creatives, project managers – all need to work together more closely than ever to earn the aforementioned audience eyeballs. It’s going to be a challenge and it’s going to be all hands on deck, but it’s going to be an exciting time.

Jo Bromilow is senior digital consultant at Weber Shandwick London 

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