When I first started at our family’s agency, it was July, which is about the time that we start revving up for something called planning season. I took a pretty steep crash course in what that meant. It meant contacting publications, looking back over what had happened in the last year, and creating a cohesive campaign that would carry the client through to the next year. It’s a lot of work, and it can be very intimidating when you are new to a client or new to the marketing world. After all, this isn’t just a task you are doing. This is your client’s welfare in your hands.
All of this might sound kind of crazy if you have been learning about marketing via the Social Media prism. For some reason, in the online world, the idea of planning has joined the ranks of Santa Claus and the unicorn. You hear about it on occasion but you don’t really see it much, and in fact quite a few people suggest that it doesn’t really exist. Planning is time-consuming. By the time you create a plan, someone else might have already beat you to the punch. You’ve probably heard all of this before.
The main argument against planning that you see in the online world, of course, is that social media is free. Experimenting with something like Quora or Google Plus or Pinterest or whatever the next big thing will be is a no-lose proposition because you aren’t at risk for losing anything big. As we have already discussed, this is a dangerous thought process to carry with you into the online world.
Why planning matters
Let’s use Pinterest as an example. Let’s say your boss (or you if you run your own company) want to start “doing things” on Pinterest. It’s hot, it’s driving traffic, and it just seems like it would be silly to NOT try it out. So, you decide, without a plan, to dump a few product pictures onto a board with your company name as the title. Fine. Easy enough to do.
Then you start noticing that some of your images are getting repinned all over the place and there seems to be a lot of interest in them. You think, “Wow, this is great!” But then another thought crosses your mind.
Without a plan in hand, how can you make sure that those repins and comments are going to translate into something really good for your company? It’s pretty hard to catch all of the fish if your net is up on the boat for half the trip, right?
Now let’s take a different example. Let’s say you decide to take the initiative and throw up a Facebook page for your company. You have learned all about the shiny new Timeline features, everything looks great, and you’re even getting some conversation on the page.
Then one day, a person starts trolling the page because they had a bad experience with your product. How are you going to react? Not only do you need to react to this online scenario, but you probably also need to wonder if your product is really having issues. Since you acted of your own volition with no plan, you’re going to have to inform other folks of what all is going on. That’s not gonna be too comfortable.
Finally, consider this example. One part of your marketing team has put together an ad campaign saying that your new product is ideal for ant collecting. No real plan was put together surrounding these ad placements, and no other kind of plan was put together either. Later in the year, you start some social media marketing, and you note on your various platforms that your new product is great for collecting ladybugs but not so much ants. That’s something silly the other companies do.
Well, you’ve got yourself a bit of a problem, don’t you? If your left hand isn’t talking to your right hand, they might both be signing completely different things. Without a plan, there is no way to even double check that everyone is on the same page.
While the idea that social media is free can seem like a compelling argument against planning, these sorts of problems are definitely not free of charge.
Finding a middle ground
The thing about planning is that it doesn’t have to be written in stone. Plans can be flexible. Plans can even change. But working out a general idea, even, of what you want to accomplish and how you are going to get there is essential for businesses today. Perhaps it is even more important now because there are so many different tactics that can be used.
Planning can seem like it is too time-consuming, too this, too that. It’s definitely not something that seems romantic, right? But it is a preventative measure. Planning can stave off true marketing and PR problems. That seems worth the time, does it not? That seems worth the energy.
So what do you think? Is planning lame, or is it worthwhile? What are your thoughts on this whole issue?
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/judybaxter/266826979/ via Creative Commons