Strategy and the Social Media Pyramid

Last week I introduced the concept of the SMUG Social Media Pyramid as a helpful framework for considering how much is “enough” in social media. It was an attempt to answer the question, “Should we spread our efforts over lots of platforms, of just focus on one or two?”

I followed that post with a couple of more, on portions and serving sizes, as well as the need to serve through your servings, and I appreciate all the supportive comments and re-tweets, as having an analogy to the balanced physical diet seemed to resonate with many people. Just as you have different “food groups” that contribute to overall health, various categories of social media tools meet different needs in communications.

But I wanted to spend a little time discussing one of the comments that, while supportive of the concept, raised an interesting issue:

I have to say, however, that from my perspective, none of what you describe constitutes strategy. It comes across like a hardware salesperson from the Snap-On Tool Company laying out tools, and telling us what tools are most important…WITHOUT KNOWING WHAT THE TOOLS WILL BE USED FOR!

In other words, the tools will be ranked very differently in order of importance if I’m working on a car engine than if I’m working on a water main. In the networked world, the operations we perform, the needs we express, vary immensely. From breaking a new music act to the bonding of parents with hydrocephalic children, to (as one of the commentors above mentions, connecting with old classmates.)

Not being negative here, Lee, just constructively critical. Here’s another thing to consider in ranking the relevance of the various social media platforms:

Existing content.

If, for example you’ve got a vault of video related to your subject, or if there’s some incredibly emotional and compelling content available on video, then You Tube (or Vimeo or Hulu or Veoh– each has its own strengths, and merits its own ranking-within-ranking) can become the foundational platform, and the other platforms will be implemented to drive awareness and patronage.

I don’t really disagree with much of what Bonifer had to say, except that what I’m presenting in the Social Media Pyramid is a “well-balanced diet” — or since it’s about production instead of consumption — a well-balanced menu. I’m not ranking the tools any more than the USDA is saying Breads, Cereal, Pasta and Rice are more important than Fruits or Vegetables.

I would say, however, that in most cases your program won’t reach its peak potential without a blog. Most of the content can be embedded video, or you may want to use primarily text-based posts. But a blog, like the one Bonifer mentioned, can be the hub to tie various tools together. And the blog he cited is actually a really good example of text, photos, a Twitter widget and embedded video. A blog gives you the potential for depth that you don’t have with other platforms.

The other good point Bonifer makes is that within each category of the pyramid, there are various options. In social networks, for example, you probably don’t need to have a major presence in Facebook and MySpace and LinkedIn and Orkut. You’ll probably pick just one, based on where members of the community you’re gathering spend their time. Or you may try to create your own special-purpose network with Ning or some other service.

And that relates back to the question that originally prompted me to publish the pyramid paradigm (I just can’t avoid alliteration), as to whether organizations should focus on one or two platforms or spread themselves over several. I suggest picking a primary platform in each level of the pyramid, and that in most cases the popular, general-purpose platforms are going to be the best places to start.

Take advantage of the critical mass that is already building instead of trying to start from nothing and getting people to sign onto your special-purpose, standalone network. If you have passionate fans or community members who define themselves significantly by their association with your organization, maybe a standalone network would be useful. And there could be some cases in which a more exclusive, members-only networking site would make sense.

But if a big part of your goal is outreach, or spreading word-of-mouth, it’s important to be in places where that can happen. That’s why general-purpose networks make sense: your fans’ enthusiasm can infect others. In a standalone social network, you’re interacting with the proverbial choir (not “preaching” to them!), but you’re not recruiting new members. In a general-purpose network like Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn, your community members’ friends and contacts can discover you.

So certainly, there’s a place for strategy, and you should give thought to what particular platforms make the most sense for you and for your organization.

But I would argue (in fact, I already have), that social media tools are the postmodern equivalents of the telephone and the fax. No one asks (unless you’re a telemarketing firm) what your telephone strategy is, at least in the sense of whether you should use the telephone. It’s just a basic way of communicating.

You may have strategic decisions to make, such as whether you will use automated voice mail or have a real human answer every call, but almost every company will have a phone number. Some may, as strategy to cut costs, emphasize online service options and make the phone number hard to find, but in a way that just proves my point. They are likely using digital tools, such as online communities, to provide product support more cost-effectively than even a call center in Bangalore.

If you’re not taking advantage of social media tools to help you accomplish your organization’s work more efficiently and cost-effectively, you’re missing a significant opportunity.

That’s not a good strategy.

Social Media Pyramid “Servings” need to Serve

In my post on the SMUG Social Media Pyramid and the follow-up on servings and portion sizes, I recommended a basic level of each of the four basic social media “food groups” which are represented in this graphic submitted by Valeri Gungor (click to enlarge):


This led to some interesting discussion in the comments, which deserves fuller attention. Here were some of the themes:

  • Isn’t this just a “maintenance” plan? If you really want your social media influence to grow, shouldn’t you be beefing up with a lot more than what’s recommended here? Or on the other extreme…
  • Doesn’t 6-11 servings a day of Twitter encourage the kind of inane celebrity updates on personal minute-by-minute activities that give Twitter a bad name?
  • This seems like a tool-centric tactical approach, not a strategic tailoring of the tools to the particular objectives of the organization’s social media program.

So here’s some amplification of what a “serving” means.

To qualify as a serving your tweet, status update, video or blog post needs to…serve. Others, not just you. Any “servings” that don’t serve are actually subtracted from your total…they’re the social media equivalent of what Mom used to call “empty calories.” No nutritional value whatsoever.

In the food pyramid a serving is something you consume. In the Social Media Pyramid a serving is something you produce. It has to be of value to others to qualify. Otherwise it’s a negative. Five good tweets plus two pointless, self-promotional or “spammy” ones gives you a net of three servings, not seven. And some might even say a bad tweet is worth -2.

So in answer to the first two questions, I would say that the more real, valuable servings you provide, the more your influence will grow. And the more garbage you post, the more likely your Twitter followers leave, your Facebook friends and fans bail on you and you lose subscribers to your YouTube videos or your blog posts.

The third point, about strategy vs. tool-time tactics, I’ll tackle in the next post. And maybe I’ll expand on the serving scoring system.

Does this “net servings” guide make sense to you? How would you change it?

Portions, Servings and the SMUG Social Media Pyramid

I appreciate all the positive feedback and re-tweets for yesterday’s post on the SMUG Social Media Pyramid. We even have our first graphical representation (click image to enlarge), submitted by Jason Melancon from the Louisiana Public Health Institute (LPHI).


One point that Jason mentioned in his email deserves further amplification. He said “I think the servings on social networks (in my own opinion) should be per week as opposed to per day.” And this leads me to the discussion of portion size and servings.

Have you ever noticed after drinking a 20 oz. bottle of Coke, when you turn it around and read the label, that you’ve just swallowed 2.5 servings? Or when you nuke a bag of microwave popcorn, do you always share it with two other people, as the label would indicate you should?

Welcome to the world of unrealistic portion sizes, at least in America. It likely helps to explain our obesity epidemic, but it also has application when we’re looking at our SMUG Social Media Pyramid and what a “serving” is.

On the SMUG Pyramid, essentially any activity qualifies as a “serving.” The tweet I will do about this post is a serving. A reply to those who re-tweet is a serving. And tweeting a link to another interesting article is, too. Relatively easy to get your 6-11 servings per day.

In the social networking sites, the reason I have 4-5 servings per day instead of per week is because posting a link is a serving. So is interacting with someone who writes on your wall, or uploading a photo, or creating an event, or uploading a video.

At the higher levels, Web Video and Blogs, the criterion for what constitutes a serving is a little higher. You can’t do half a video, and you either publish a new blog post or your don’t. But the interacting you do on YouTube, for instance, actually falls more within the social networking servings. So your 4-5 daily social networking “servings” may include comment activity both on Facebook and YouTube.

The other point to remember is that a pyramid like this is just a general guide, and your situation may call for different portions. I’m 6’6″ and weigh (…well, let’s not get into that!) My food portions are going to naturally be bigger than a 5’2″ female. At least it’s how I rationalize eating the whole bag of microwave popcorn. And despite that, I know I don’t always get the five servings per day of fruits and vegetables that USDA suggests.

The SMUG Social Media Pyramid is just a guide; a framework for thinking about social media involvement. Unlike the USDA, I can’t say it’s based on scientific research. I also have to confess that sometimes I get out of balance with it, both in my personal accounts and at work. Sometimes I overload on Twitter, for instance, and don’t get enough servings of the others.

But just as you’re not going to drop dead tomorrow for failing to eat enough fruits today, there’s flexibility with your social media diet too. You’re looking for balance over time for maximum health.

In a future post I’ll discuss the real key to portion estimation, which is serving with your servings.

The SMUG Social Media Pyramid

This post has been rolling around in my head for some time, but was triggered by a discussion Sunday night in the #hcsm chat on Twitter. One of the questions that arose related to what (and how many) social media platforms hospitals should use:

Is it better to do one or two channels well, or spread thinly across lots of platforms? Will results be different?

When I talk about a “Social Media Pyramid” I’m not talking about a Madoffian Ponzi scheme, but rather something that is a combination between the USDA’s food pyramid:


And Abraham Maslow’s famous “Hierarchy of Needs”:


Those who have spent any time at SMUG know I’m terrible at artistic representations that involve drawing, so I will just draw a word picture of the pyramid I’m envisioning, which represents both a balanced social media communications diet (analogous to the USDA pyramid) and steps toward increasing accomplishment, satisfaction and social media fulfillment (as per Maslow.)

Maybe someone would be kind enough to contribute an artistic rendering, as we saw in the SMUG seal development (which will soon come to fruition.) If so, I will update this post with that graphic.

Here are the levels of social media involvement (or four basic social media “food groups”) from an organizational perspective, as I see them:

Microblogging is the base, both because it’s easiest to start and because you should have more “servings per day” of this than any of the subsequent levels. Here I’m thinking Twitter as the main choice, but within your enterprise you may want to use something like Yammer for employee-only conversations. Like the USDA pyramid’s base, 6-11 “servings” of Twitter per day is probably a good target, particularly if you are interacting in conversations instead of just pushing out information. It’s a great tool for networking with those who may share your organization’s interests, but with whom you don’t yet have an online relationship.

Social Networking is the next level up, and here I’m using Facebook as the example. A Facebook “fan” page for your organization taps into a potential user base of more than 200 million and enables richer interactions that go beyond 140 characters. This might have a Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of 4-5 servings per day, as you could post links to news releases, or add upcoming events, or upload photos or video, for example. Balanced use even within the Facebook platform is advisable: if you send Updates several times a day, you’ll quickly turn off your “fans” unless what you have to share is extraordinarily compelling. Trust me: it’s not.

Web Video. The platform of choice here is a YouTube channel, because it’s free and it’s the world’s second-largest search engine. You need to have some source of video, which is what puts this a little higher on the pyramid, because you’ll need to spend at least $150-$200 for a video camera. But having the ability to upload video that can be found on its own on YouTube, emailed or tweeted to interested folks or embedded in Facebook or your blog greatly extends your reach. The RDA is 1-2 “servings” but with a camera like the Flip that has a built-in USB port for uploading, this is reasonable. And even if you don’t make that target, putting up even a couple per week is a good start, assuming you have something to say.

Blogs. These are at the SMUG Pyramid’s peak. They provide multimedia platforms for embedding video, slideshows and photos as well as a venue for longer, more reasoned arguments (like this post.) They’re at the peak because they require greater commitment, and because fewer organizations have taken this step. While Ed Bennett’s Hospital Social Networking List contains 253 hospitals with Twitter accounts and 174 with Facebook and YouTube, only 31 have blogs. Yet a blog is where you can have, in Paul Harvey’s phrase, “The rest of the story.” You can tweet a brief message and then include a shortened link that sends people to your blog for fuller explanation and discussion. Unlike Facebook, your blog is available to anyone with a Web browser, with no membership required for full access. You should have at least one post (or serving) per blog per week to keep it fresh, but more frequent is better.

Here is an example of a post I did on our Sharing Mayo Clinic blog, in which I embedded an interview with a patient, Tom Vanderwell, who I met via Twitter. We’re also friends on Facebook, which shows how the tools all work together.

The SMUG Social Media Pyramid answers the question that arose in the #hcsm chat by giving both a prescription for a well-balanced social media diet and a progression to get there. Don’t feel like you need to be involved in every platform, particularly at first. Start with Twitter (because it’s easy) and then probably with Facebook, if for no other reason than to keep someone else from claiming your organization’s name. The only investment is your time. As you grow in comfort and capability, and as others in your organization join you in the effort, you can then move to the higher levels of the pyramid.

In a future post, I will deal with the question, “How do I keep up with all the new platforms that are being launched?”

What do you think of the SMUG Social Media Pyramid? Does it make sense to you? Do you see other essential “food groups” for social media that I’ve omitted?