Why do we value strategy so much?

We have a strategic plan, it's called Doing ThingsMy job, technically, is developing social media strategy on behalf of our clients.  I write a lot of ‘this is why social media is important for your business’-type documents.  I work with some brilliant strategic thinkers.

Sometimes, though, I wonder: why are we, as digitally focused communicators all so obsessed with strategy? Why are we all so impressed with ourselves when we come up with a cool strategy for a campaign, for a candidate, for a cause.  Why do we have conferences, organizations, entire channels dedicated to strategic thought?

All I can come up with at this very moment is the following: Strategy is easy. Execution is not.

Talk is cheap, actions are not.

I had two very different experiences at conferences these last two weeks.  I was fortunate enough to be invited to go to the Clinton Foundation’s “Clinton Global Initiative University” conference in Miami.  CGIU is an organization where college-age folks can make ‘commitments’ to amke a difference in the world in one of several different areas, and are empowered by the Clinton name, and get together once a year to network, build resources,  and present.  A coworker and I went around with a Flip Camera and interviewed students about what they’re doing.   The answers were truly inspiring.

These 20-22 year olds were working to get schools built in starving nations, developing bike-share programs to cut down on greenhouse gasses, to getting legislation passed to address homeless needs.  These millennials, who we are so quick to dismiss or try to box into our own limited ideals, are out there doing something that has a tangible positive affect on the health of the world. They aren’t spending their precious resources talking about engagement strategies, which video site to use to share the story, or ‘what facebook’s open platform means for oauth’. They’re just out there, looking at things that need fixing and fixing them.

In contrast (and I will keep the abuse to a minimum here), I went to the first day of Jeff Pulver‘s #140conf this past week. Now, Jeff has done a lot for the development of the web, and certainly has his heart in the right place with this conference, but the sheer amount of self-congratulatory “isn’t Twitter great, folks?” nonsense that permeated the tone of the panels and discussions was overwhelming enough that I could not bring myself to go back for day 2. Of course there were some great, inspiring conversations, but they were just that. Conversations.

The difference between these two experiences? One focused on strategy, and strategic discussions of tactics, and one was a demonstration of people doing the work.

In the end, all the ‘social media is important’ decks in the world won’t fix the problems in our society, even the ones we’re so intent on saying that communication and open dialogue will address.

So with all our hours of conversations about conversation, all our debates about where online communities are going, all our Tweets and Facebook status updates and blog posts, all our strategy and strategizing our action, what have we really done but talk.  What have you done to change the world? Who would you place your bets on making a real sustainable difference in the health of the world?

Personally, my money’s on the doers.

The difference between a message and a story

In communications, there are those who think strategically and those who think tactically.  At my job, we’ve even named our blog Thinkers and Doers to reflect both sides of the coin.  Ideally, both sides inform the other.  No tactic lives out there on its own (“We need to have a Twitter account because people are talking about twitter!”) without some kind of strategy (or valuable reason for existing behind it).  In the same way, having a clever strategy without any specific toolsets identified can languish in ‘thought leadership land’.

Historically, many companies have focused on a ‘message’ as the core unit of visibility.  “Just Do It” is a message. “Made From The Best Stuff On Earth” is a message.

Nike Project
Image by Jellymon via Flickr

Those are all well and good (and have had their time), but these days the opportunities for telling a story are vast.  “Just Do It” may not have any meaning on its own (aside from “I know that, thats the Nike tagline”), but pair it with images of Michael Jordan dunking from the free throw line with room to spare, or Tiger Woods—well, maybe that’s a bad example. I would argue that its the story behind the message that has caused “Just Do It” to remain in the cultural lexicon.

The great thing for business is that the internet has opened up an almost infinite opportunity to tell stories to deepen the experience that a person has with a brand. Through the use of video, podcasts, blogs, conversations, and especially by empowering and encouraging those who are already on board to be a part of the storytelling process on behalf of your brand, you have the opportunity to build a story ecosystem for very little cost beyond earning the trust of your customers online through real interactions.

Just imagine the possibilities, of what you could do with that kind of evangelical content, coming from people with no financial stake, just out of love for some aspect of what you do. Just imagine what message that would send to people who could potentially be interested in your product, service, campaign, charity, country.

Just do it.