There are many skills you need to be a successful social media manager. One of those is knowing how to think strategically. Early in my career it used to really frustrate me when I heard the phrase “you need to think more strategically”, but the people telling me this couldn’t (or wouldn’t) clearly explain what they meant or how I could do that!
I’m sure my frustration isn’t unique!
To me, strategic thinking is an ongoing process that connects what has happened in the past with the information you have today and your expectations for tomorrow. It happens when you think about opportunities and challenge assumptions. Non-strategic thinkers are likely to say things like “why would we change when we have always done things this way” or “let’s not rock the boat” in response to questions such as “why don’t we try [insert new way of doing things]” or “could we do things differently”.
Strategic thinking isn’t only a skill held by senior managers and leaders – everyone in your organisation can, and should, learn to think strategically, and be encouraged to do so. Including your communication and social media team.
3 ways to improve your strategic thinking skills
I’ve thought a lot about how to be a better strategic thinker over the years, and these are the three activities I focus on to improve:
1. Be aware of current trends
You need to be aware of current trends within your industry, within the association and/or not for profit sector, and within the broader environment, and consider these in terms of your organisation.
In terms of the broader environment, look at what’s happening in terms of economic, social, environmental, legal, political, technological and demographic trends, and how they might impact your role and your organisation.
From a technology perspective, in 2018 we need to look out for an increase in the use of augmented reality, the still-increasing popularity of video and (in particular Instagram Stories and live streaming), and we need to have an increased focus on the buying power of Gen Z (those born 1995-2012). Looking at Gen Z for a moment, the Sensis Social Media Report 2017 indicates that 81% of Australians aged 18-29 use Instagram and 77% are using Snapchat. If you’re targeting this age group but not using either of these channels, you might need to think again.
2. Take time out to think and reflect
The benefits of taking time to think and reflect are immeasurable. I know when I personally take time out to look around me and to look forward, my practice benefits, as I get greater clarity around the work I am focusing on, and new ideas are stimulated.
The best place for me to do some strategic thinking and reflecting is when I’m away from my office. I try and allocate time to read every day, often in the morning over breakfast or while having lunch. Some days all I have the time to read is a couple of blog posts I see via twitter or a LinkedIn, other days I might take an hour and speed-read the better part of a book. Personally, I have my best ideas when I’m travelling (either on holiday or for work), relaxing at our family holiday house, in the shower, lying in bed trying to sleep at 3am (yep, peri-menopause is good for that!), or when going for my daily walk (sans device!).
Dan Norris, in his excellent book Create or Hate, says “Most of our creative effort happens when we’re not working. Relaxation is the key to unleashing the power of creativity.” This is because our ideas tend to flow when we are relaxed.
3. Ask questions
Not only do strategic thinkers ask questions, but we ask hard questions! You know the ones: Do we all know what we are working to achieve? Can we really get away with not using social media? How can we be better? What will our organisation look like in five years? In ten years? Will we still be around if we continue doing what we have always done?
Start to think about how you can be a better and more effective strategic thinker. What can you do differently? Can you shape your day/week/month to allow time to think and reflect? What are some of the questions you need to be asking within your organisation?
Love to know your thoughts.