Winning the Social Media Goal Setting Process

A recent article by John Rampton in Forbes explores how lack of goal setting is a common reason for the failure of social media efforts. He writes, “just because you’re on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Pinterest doesn’t guarantee success. Even if you have a decent amount of fans, likes, or followers, it doesn’t mean that your social media strategy is working. If you’re not generating conversations or new subscribers, or making any money, then whatever you’re doing has failed.”

Rampton names several qualities that a successful social media effort should include:

  1. Matching your social media efforts to your core values as an organization. You want to have the right goals for your core values.
  2. Making sure your social media efforts are consistent across time. You can’t take breaks from social media; if you do, you will lose your audience. When setting goals, keep in mind that you’ll need to be able to do your tasks consistently. What resources will you need to do so?
  3. Understand the differences between the social media platforms. Figuring out where your audience is, and then using your knowledge of the platform to communicate as clearly as you can with your audience. Learning will be an intrinsic part of meeting your goals.
  4. Provide something unique in your content. Figuring out how you are a little different from other organizations and how to capitalize on that difference should be a goal.
  5. Listen and converse on social media, don’t just broadcast. Listening is often overlooked. It should also be a goal.
  6. Measure your results. This is the only way you can figure out if you are meeting your goals.

When you are putting together your goals, try to address these concerns. Make sure that your goals match your core values. A goal should only be a goal if it really matters.

Goal Setting Strategies

There are many goal setting strategies, but most are based on similar ideas. In the 1960s, Drs. Edwin Locke and Gary Latham researched how goals and feedback motivate employees in businesses. Locke and Latham encouraged making goals clear and specific. According to an article by Kevan Lee at Buffer, Locke discovered that rather than telling subjects to “do your best,” telling them to “try to beat your best time” led to better results. Indeed, “specific and challenging goals led to higher performance 90 percent of the time,” according to Lee.

Locke and Latham also champion gathering feedback, or, in other words, measuring one’s progress and results. The two ideas that are novel to Locke and Latham are getting a team to commit to a goal by including them in the goal setting process and reducing complexity when possible. Just like a diet is easier to stick to when it’s simple, goals are easier to attain when they are less complex. Overly complex goals negatively impact morale, productivity, and motivation.

According to Lee, Google uses a goal setting process that breaks goals down into objectives and key results. The objectives are broad goals that are often not measurable. The key objectives break that broad goal down into specific and measurable parts. One might think of the objectives as the grand “what,” and the key results as the “how.”

There are many other goal setting systems, but they tend to share the attributes of those mentioned already. Some emphasize sharing goal setting and the results of one’s efforts with a whole team, both to keep a team focused and to provide accountability.

Carter Hostelley, CEO of Leadtail, has made a list of the categories of goals appropriate for social media campaigns:

  1. Activity-based goals: goals related to the number of blog posts per month, tweets per day and status updates per week that you and your team can do.
  2. Audience-building goals: goals related to the number of email subscribers, website visitors, and followers on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
  3. Engagement goals: goals related to the social reach of your content, retweets, mentions, likes and comments. “Also establish with which and how many industry influencers you’re engaging,” writes Hostelley.
  4. ROI goals: goals related to donations, signing up for services, tickets to fundraising galas, etc.

Whichever goal setting strategy you use, they are backed up by the same science. Lee mentions a research finding that shows a 33 percent increase in the completion of goals among people who write their goals down, create an action plan, and share their goals with a friend. “These people achieved 76 percent of their goals by having a specific goal-setting strategy,” writes Lee.

The Danger of Goal Drift

Like mission drift, when an organization’s objectives gradually change, goal drift is when goals change mid-steam in a manner that makes them harder to achieve. This is most common when a project is long and complex. Often the larger goals are kept the same, but the smaller goals are adjusted, to the detriment of the larger goal. We all know someone with an unfinished book a box in their closet. Most of us have had a gym membership that we hardly used despite our initial best intentions.

“A friend who wanted to start a web-based business originally aimed for launch six months after he began work with his website designers,” says S. Bellows, a social media marketing professional. “But two years later, the business had not yet launched despite the fact that my friend was working very long hours and putting his best effort toward the business. He’s a smart guy and capable.”

Bellows says that the problem was goal drift. As the entrepreneur worked, his goals changed; indeed, they grew more complex and ambitious. “Part of the problem was that he is a perfectionist and he wanted everything to be perfect before he launched. Also the job was big and he wasn’t able to divide it into smaller, attainable sub-goals before he started.”

We all know the aphorism, “perfect is the enemy of good.” Perfection is also unattainable. So being realistic about what can be achieved and having a good understanding of the needs of project before you start makes your chances of success much higher.

There are other reasons for goal drift. Fear of failure. Saving face. Sometimes it can be helpful to be flexible enough to allow for your goals to change when your circumstances change. Certainly, if your metrics suggest that a changed goal would serve your organizations better, listen to your metrics.

But be wary of whether goal drift is hurting or helping you. “I also think that because my friend was the sole proprietor in his business venture, he didn’t have anyone to call him on his missed deadlines. He wasn’t accountable to anyone but himself,” says Bellows. When you tell someone else your goals, or if you share common goals with a team, it will be easier to stick to them, even when the going gets tough.


This article is an excerpt from my book-in-progress called "Ignite Action: A Digital Strategy Handbook." For more about the book, check out my "why" for writing it.