Digital strategies are different. They cannot conform to the definition of strategy: ‘a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim’.
The idea behind planned strategies are to direct a team, company or individual towards a final goal. This is achieved through setting targets in order to arrive at an eventual goal.
Setting out a digital strategy cannot work in this same way, regardless of how good the person who came up with the strategy was.
There should be no such thing as a set pathway for digital strategies, having a set pathway damages the chances of eventual success. By limiting what can be done and how to react to certain situations, the breadth of what should be achieved can be narrowed. It can even put companies further back than where they initially started. Having the wrong digital strategy creates a view of a company that makes it look further behind the times than if they had done nothing. Look at Apple as a prime example of this, in terms of digital communications, little is said, there is little social media output, but it is successful. It is not necessarily about setting out a path of sending a certain number of tweets or Facebook posts, sometimes it can be about doing little to achieve a lot.
With static initiatives and directives in place, a long term strategy cannot be implemented effectively.
Staying on the path analogy for digital strategies, the best way is to set a destination but work through feedback to actually get there.
Core to this idea is measurability. In order to gain feedback, people are unlikely to want to fill in online surveys or tick boxes and if the feedback being worked on is simply based on this, then it will not be effective. The ideal feedback comes when people are unaware of giving it.
The use of analytics has been widely adopted in business for years, but it is more than seeing the numbers of people visiting a site, it moves into the core values of why people are visiting your site and what they do whilst they are there. Seeing what content people are reacting to will allow you to create content to fulfil the same needs and branch into similar areas. It will also show you which areas it’s worth investing in, meaning that it has a wider context than a basic marketing role.
Heatmapping allows for companies to see what people like or don’t like about the UX of a site, something that is vital today. Are your call to actions working? If so, are they worth changing or sticking to the same formula? Are people finding the navigation easy or difficult? These can all be explored and changed through this use of tracking. It allows not only for an indication of what works, but also what can be done better.
Analytics are now about more than simply websites, the majority of interactions online now take place through social media. The reality is that there are a vast array of analytics that can be used for social media monitoring. This goes from basic numbers of tweets being sent and mentions of a company through to complex sentiment analysis where you can see who is discussing you or a campaign in a positive or negative way. It allows you to adjust your voice, after all, the majority of people will now hear your company not through the voices of press releases, but through the people in charge of your social media accounts. The knowledge of this can allow you to change your voice and even your message to have maximum impact.
The use of analytics alone is not going to make a great digital strategy, though. The need to have a team of creative people who are not only willing but actively encouraged to experiment will herald the best results. A prime example is one of Sainbury’s (a UK supermarket) twitter account users who had a conversation with a customer using fish puns. It received universal acclaim, and this simple exercise changed the perception that many had, as it being an old and traditional company.
This kind of exercise would never have been implemented within a strictly controlled strategy and it is only through flexibility and the confidence to experiment that it occurred. That a culture existed to allow somebody to try this is what made it a success, if they had strict guidelines for the use of this then it may well have never happened.
Should this have gone the other way and not been successful, the company could have changed their tactics to reflect that. The idea is not to get everything right straight away, but to make adjustments and have the confidence and flexibility to make these consistent in order to reach an end goal.
One of the important aspects of digital strategies is also counter-intuitive by nature. The end goal should be an organic and changing goal, one that can be met, but one that can always be improved. This is due to the nature of a digital arena, it is fast paced and if a company manages to succeed on Twitter it would not be transferrable to the next social platform, a platform that probably does not even exist yet.
Therefore, to be successful in the digital arena it is important to remember three key messages: Experiment, Measure and Adjust.