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Creating a social media plan is dumb and why you shouldn’t make one

“What’s your plan for this?”
“I don’t have one.”

I have this conversation about every three times a year with a client. Usually it’s about someone’s Facebook page, sometimes about a website itself. But I rarely have the answer people are probably hoping to hear. Or at least expecting.

The reason is that creating a “social media plan” or creating a communications plan is a thing big brands do so lots of people can review everything. In small businesses and nonprofits, such a plan is likely more trouble than its worth for a few reasons.

First, no one talks to other people like this. You don’t go out on a date and have a 6-month date timeline and “date content strategy” in your pocket. “But Justin, we’re not going on a date here.” Really? What is the difference, really? You want customers to buy your thing or donate to your cause. How do you do that? You answer questions, show some personality and opinions, and try to present yourself attractively. How is that any different than going on a date?

Second and along with that, who wants to read nothing but prepared statements? When most organizations start talking about communications plans, they’re really asking, “What should we post on Facebook on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday?” If you’re in this bucket, you need to think bigger. You’re going to have to write reports, white papers, blog posts, and maybe record videos. You’re going to have to source good promotional images for these things and it’s all going to have be extremely valuable to people, either by way of entertaining them or informing them of things. Otherwise you’re just wasting time.

Third, think about how you grow your network? Did you sit down one day and decide to create a 6-month message calendar? No, you decided to talk to more people and maybe you had a plan for how to join more groups, clubs, etc. But beyond an elevator pitch, you didn’t create a word-for-word strategy to meet a new best friend or spouse. That would be weird, creepy, inhuman, and downright psychopathic. So why think it’s any different for organizations or businesses? If you want to grow your Twitter account and you’re not being heavily retweeted because of some news or breakthrough product, you’re going to have to read other people’s tweets. You’ll need to reply to them, make jokes, send gifs, answer questions, and genuinely be an interesting person. Scheduling your tweets three times a week at 8 am isn’t going to endear you to anyone.

When people ask me what my plan is, I have nothing to say except, “I don’t have one.” Usually I tell people it’s because things change so fast it’s hard to bother. How many people’s March communication calendars would have been torn up this year? And April’s? And June’s? Anything beyond two weeks is just fantasy and wishful thinking.

My strategy is to ask: “What’s up? What new or interesting things are people working on right now?” If it’s good, the following will come after significant time invested over many months and years.

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Photo of Justin Harter


Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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