Most weekday mornings, while walking my dog and my toddler to daycare, I listen to news and social media marketing podcasts because I'm a nerd.
So it was this morning, when an interview with Danny Strong, the creator of Empire, was the next podcast queued up. Here's how the interview started:
"When I sat down to write the pilot, I remember staring at the blank screen thinking, 'I have no idea what I'm doing.' There's this moment of fear before I ever write anything."
The blank screen intimidated me so much in college, that rather than tackling a 20-page paper by writing an outline first, or even beginning with the thesis paragraph, I would begin by fleshing out an essential idea that I knew needed to end up somewhere in the middle of the essay. Starting this way helped me get over the intimidating feeling of starting on Page 1, Sentence 1 of a 20-page paper.
Here's what I realized years later: not only did starting in the middle intimidate me less, but starting this way also helped me form my thesis statement.
Fleshing out a single aspect of the thesis allowed me to identify how that supporting idea fit into the overall structure of the essay. Which forced me to decide on an overall structure for the essay.
So, starting in the middle helped me clarify the objective of my essay and the structure for how I would get there.
As I've worked to build the online and social media presences of several online and brick-and-mortar companies, I've seen that same knee-jerk tendency to "start in the middle" when it comes to PR and marketing campaigns.
"We need to be on Twitter!" "Everyone's on SnapChat!" "Why aren't we blogging? "Why aren't we blogging more????"
This is the marketing campaign equivalent of writing out a random idea before coming up with your thesis statement.
And just like with essay writing, it can work, but only if you, as a marketing strategist, take the time to create a structure around it.
Blogging, creating a contest on Facebook, joining a group board on Pinterest and the like are tactics.*
Just like the body of a 20-page paper, tactics are essential. But they don't mean anything without an objective and the structure that an objective provides. In essay-writing, a thesis states the objective and provides the structure.
When it comes to social media marketing, deciding on the objective(s) provides a guide for everything you do next. What do you want to accomplish?
Having a website, moderating a Facebook group, gaining 1,000 e-mail subscribers--those are not accomplishments. Those are a means to an accomplishment.
Deciding on an objective (or 2 or 3) allows you to give a purpose to every tactic you employ.
So, if your objective is, say, to establish your authority as a social media strategist by helping people learn more about how to use social media effectively, then a blog where you share ideas, tips and tricks about how to use social media might be a very effective tactic. Sharing that content on social media, so that people see it is another effective tactic.
So the next time you feel pressure to start a new marketing campaign, or a new social media profile, or to develop a new product for your business, understand that if you start there, you are starting in the middle. When you recognize that, the next step is to ask, "What do I want to accomplish with this new venture?"
Allow the answer to guide your work and motivate you as you build out your campaign and your business.
*— Thanks to Eric Chandler for sharing his social media campaign steps, which inform my explanation of the difference between objectives, strategy, tactics and results.