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Why All Social Media Marketing Programs Should Be Agile (and How to Get Started)

Those who work in social media are all too aware of how this field is constantly evolving. Such fluidity can be challenging, but can also create many opportunities for brands that want to grow audiences and build equity.

2016 Instagram Strategy Kit

How to recognize and seize these opportunities is something I’ve written about before, but creating an agile system to allow for the identification and maximization of these opportunities is arguably even more important.

What Is Agile Marketing?

Agile marketing is an outgrowth of agile software development that gained popularity after the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was introduced in 2001.

At its core, an agile system is one that is predicated on using small, calculated experiments to solve problems and then applying the lessons learned from the experiments to rapidly iterate and innovate at both tactical and strategic levels.

Agile marketing also embraces failure as long as a practical lesson can be pulled from it, which translates into a “fail-fast” mentality.

There are seven principles that further define agile marketing and set its foundation:

  1. Validated learning over opinions and conventions
  2. Customer-focused collaboration over silos and hierarchy
  3. Adaptive and iterative campaigns over “big-bang” campaigns
  4. The process of customer discovery over static prediction
  5. Flexible planning over rigid planning
  6. Responding to change over following a plan
  7. Many small experiments over a few large bets

When considering an agile structure for social media, there are two principles to keep in mind.

First: Always take an audience-first approach. Think of what the audience seeks to gain and what value can be added through testing; don’t just trying to improve numbers for numbers’ sake.

Second: Plans are guides and aren’t set in stone. Use your strategy to guide tests and use tests to inform strategy. Constantly look to improve your plans and strategies the same way developers do with apps by updating the versions.

appsRemember, the principle of agile isn’t about working harder or faster, but instead learning quickly and having the structure to take advantage of new information and innovations.

Why Agile Works for Social Media

In order for agile to work, certain conditions must be available, most of which exist in social media. For instance, you will need continual change, the capacity for segmented analysis, the ability to experiment, and the availability of consistent feedback on experiments to achieve success.

A quick rundown from Bain & Company and Harvard Business Review further expands upon the favorable conditions for agile, all of which align with the current state of social media.

Embracing Agile

The constantly evolving conditions, instantaneous feedback loop, and quantifiable nature of social data all make social media a rich ecosystem for the agile methodology.

How to Incorporate Agile into Your Social Strategy

In this system, social teams use sprints to complete projects (or tests, or experiments) cooperatively and rapidly. After each sprint, the impact of the project is measured and lessons are applied with the intention of continuously and incrementally improving a brand’s social media marketing.

Here are some basic steps to get started:

Align Under a Common Goal

First, set the goal of your social strategy and channel-specific strategies and align your team under these goals to ensure that everyone is working together and in the same direction.


Social Media On-Boarding

Empower Individuals and Encourage Innovation

Social projects should be driven by motivated individuals who want to institute change and improvements. It is important to give individuals the freedom to solve problems, the ability to develop a personal stake in the outcomes of projects, and, most importantly, earn your trust.

An agile program should encourage individuals to utilize creative, out-of-the-box solutions which will eventually lead to a competitive advantage in the social marketplace. These strategies can come in many forms, including best practices adapted from other industries, or using proven tactics in novel ways.

Start Small

Chop your larger social goal(s) into smaller objectives, and objectives into weekly key results. From these results, you can determine weekly benchmarks that should be met or increased and add up to the larger objectives and goals.

By looking to make changes at these smaller levels, you can take more low-cost and low-risk chances to understand what changes are making a difference on a micro-level before moving them forward on a larger scale.

Eventually, the lessons learned from these projects will allow you to understand which efforts to double-down on to achieve the best results, and where to begin to scale. 

Lead with Questions and Test Hypotheses

Lead with questions (as opposed to directives) to empower individuals to find answers. From these questions, apply the scientific method and test hypotheses of what you believe the answers will be when beginning a project.

When considering what to test, always try to challenge big ideas and assumptions with an eye toward improving your audience’s experience and providing more value for them. But, only test things you are willing to or are able to change.

The principle of 5 whys can also be helpful when trying to set what to test as a means to get to the root of what you’re trying to challenge and change. 

Measure Success

Measurement is absolutely essential to an agile structure. The entire premise is moot if you can’t determine whether there is a difference being made through projects and what is causing the change.

Twitter Ads Report
This chart comes from the Simply Measured Twitter Ads Report.

Each project should be implemented with the goal of improving the weekly benchmarks, and if done properly, will result in continuous improvement and growth. This is another reason why strategies should remain adaptive, so that there is space to incorporate improvements, new insights, and changes to social media channels.

Additionally, by no means should failure be rewarded, but it is important to remember that not everything is going to be a success. If a failure happens, it still serves a purpose: to show that such a project should not be repeated. Failures are only valuable if you can understand the root of why they happened (another use for the 5 whys).

Iterate and Scale

When you begin experimenting, you will be looking into broad ideas and constructs. However, these constructs will become further narrowed as more projects take place, which will start to build foundations to build upon.

Iteration and scale are by-products of this natural progression. Both come into shape from exploiting successful tests, standardizing processes and successful practices, and harnessing precision.

scalabilityHowever, the process of constant questioning, testing, and reviewing takes a considerable amount of energy — especially as successful experiments grow in size.

You must be mindful of scale and look for opportunities to integrate automation and efficiency to maintain growth with mature experiments.

One Final Reminder

Don’t test for testing’s sake and don’t get bogged down in trying just to improve numbers without context. Keep in mind that numbers are representations of real-life actions, experiences, and feelings. The end-goal is — and always will be — creating more value for your audiences.

Consequently, if you’re creating a better experience for your audiences, your numbers will improve. Think about what value you want to offer your audiences first, and then set numeric goals and your definition of success.

Ultimately, the point of agile is to continually improve your social media marketing so you can provide more value and superior brand experiences for your audiences, which will result in your content being naturally sought-after by your audience.

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Jay Shemenski

Jay Shemenski is a Senior Digital Strategist at Hill Holliday. He is a digital strategist with 6+ years of experience at brands like AARP and Harvard Medical School. His expertise is in developing comprehensive brand experiences and digital marketing strategies to successfully engage audiences and establish long-term growth.

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