Paul Armstrong, Kindred - Put strategy before tactics

Social media are not the only way to execute strategy. Choose the right tool for the job at hand.

In front of me is an A4 sheet bearing the legend 'Tradition is not a business model'.

Ironic, then, that this statement, interpreted as a warning by bloggers to the dwindling traditional media industry, is on a piece of paper taped to my desk. It's a bit old-school beside my iPhone, two monitors and a TV screen blaring ad-free 24-hour news.

So is it a paradox for me, Mr Digital, to turn to paper as the medium for my motivational message? Why wasn't it my wallpaper or displayed on another digital gizmo? Well, as my dad always says, 'Choose the right tool for the job'. It does the job best: reaching me and those around me in the right way and at the right time. There's a strategy behind my tactic. It's a guiding principle that's increasingly lost to PR these days, specifically in social media.

After six years working in the US - most recently in MySpace HQ's corporate comms department - it is a shock to find the UK so behind in social media. Considering the strides made in the US, our lack of regulation (compared with the blogging rules recently introduced by the US Federal Trade Commission) and the creative acumen in Europe, why is this the case? I think I have an idea.

Social media without strategy are useless. PROs are reaching for the 'whizzy' and 'new' before demographics are consulted, the technology has matured or actual usage patterns emerge. They are rushing for the finish without knowing where the start is. Rather than losing our heads in the 'can we?', the question is 'should we?'

Newspapers (and other print media) are fast becoming considered by some to be 24 hours out of date, stagnant objects desperately seeking to regain a foothold in a constantly evolving new world where real-time is not only preferred but demanded. Whether it is dwindling budgets, the fragmenting media system or having no real idea where to begin, remember most social media are far younger than the average age of an X Factor twin. It is easy to go for the quick, big flashy wins and not think about the long term - or even if you should be in the space at all. It takes time and effort to make good use of social media. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

The future is integrated communications: strategy, then tactics. Kindred's fully integrated offering means social media are applied sensibly and clients' money is treated like our own and spent wisely. This is not to say we don't regularly make fantastic apps, fan pages and embeddable goodies. We do, but we're not dazzled by it and won't recommend it without it being part of the larger strategy that solves a client's business or communications problem.

Never before have we, as individuals and professionals, had the chance to influence so many people, so accurately and directly. Yet, in the absence of strategy and understanding, all you have is a shotgun approach that invariably yields little ROI, poor results and no solution to the original problem. PROs are right to use the entire spectrum of tools, but strategy must drive usage. Online does not live without the offline: the balance is changing, but right now both are needed to yield results.

Unplug once in a while, sit back and breathe. Go to platforms, review recent work and ask yourself: 'Did I recommend something because it would get results or because it was new and shiny? Do I know who is using these platforms to make a strategic choice to be in front of my intended audience, or am I just buying into the media hype?'

PR is founded on fundamental skills: educating, building awareness, storytelling and distribution. Social media are just new tools, albeit powerful ones, not a replacement toolbox. Matched with strategy, social media have the potential to become laser-focused scalpels.

- Paul Armstrong is social media director at Kindred.

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