What IS Digital Strategy?

Since I started spreading the word a few weeks back that I was launching a digital strategy business, plenty of people have come to me with a single question: just what IS digital strategy?

A simple question, for sure, but one with an answer that’s straightforward at one level and complex at others. I’d argue that digital strategy is — at heart — the fine art of figuring out the best way (or ways) to get there from here. I.e., it’s the process of sifting through the huge array of available tools, tactics, techniques and channels to find the ones that are the most likely to help an organization, company or campaign reach its goals, both short- and long-term. But strategy is just the start: the success is in the execution…and in adapting to a constantly changing landscape.

Let’s look at a few of the many factors that play into a digital strategy:

1. Goals

Just what is your organization, company or campaign trying to DO? Pass a bill? Stop a pipeline? Sell a product? Elect a candidate? The strategies that make sense for you will likely differ in each case and may change over time as well. Know your goals before you start your strategy — it’s a simple rule, but one too-often ignored.

2. Resources

Once you’ve clearly identified your goals, you know where you want to go. The next step? Knowing where you’re starting from.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? Are you a big organization with deep pockets, or a scrappy start-up? Do you have nerdy issue experts who can put out the best analyses in the business, or a charismatic spokesperson who does well on camera? Can you rely on a legion of fired-up volunteers, or are you building support one contact at a time? You’ll rely on different approaches in each case…and choosing the wrong one(s) can lead to quick failure.

Weaknesses matter too. Are you big and unwieldy? Small and cash-poor? Rich in enthusiasm but short on expertise? In the electoral world, are you a scandal-wracked incumbent, or an unknown challenger? Strengths and weaknesses both play into the strategic equation, since you’ll need to choose a path that leverages the former and works around the latter.

3. The Landscape

The ground you’re crossing matters, too. Do you have a base of support just waiting to be mobilized? Or, are you starting from scratch and trying to get the public (and the appropriate decision-makers) to notice you at all? What about your opposition? Is it strong and organized or confused and chaotic? Or, is public apathy your biggest enemy?

Next, the big picture. Are large external events driving the discussion around your issue or product, or are you trying to spark a conversation that doesn’t yet exist? Are there resources out there waiting for you to claim them, or are you stuck with what you have for the foreseeable future? Are you able to leverage coalitions or corporate partners, or are you out there on your own? In a grand sense, are you rolling a rock up a big hill, or are you being pushed by the breath of angels straight to your goal?

4. Time

Time matters plenty, particularly in online organizing: many strategies take months or years to implement, while others hold the potential for quick results. For instance, if you’re trying to elect a Senator two years from now, you have time to build an email list and a social media following and to convert those people into real-world donors and door-knockers. If you’re an outside group dumping money into that Senate race two weeks before the primary, advertising — online and off — is one of the few things that that will be able to have an effect.

Devising a Strategy

Once you know where you are, where you’re going and the ground you need to cross, you can start devising a real communications strategy, digital or otherwise. Along the way, you’ll need to identify the tools, tactics and techniques that you need to use, along with the interim goals that will help advance your ultimate ends. And, you’ll need measures of success to help you see how well you’re doing.

Turning Strategy into Action

Here’s where where the rubber meets the road, where strategy gets specific: strategy’s important, but unless it translates into concrete steps to get you where you’re going, it’s not doing you much good. Depending your specific strategy, you may be building your email list, converting social media followers into donors and volunteers, reaching the journalists, bloggers and other opinion-leaders who set the public debate, hiring a good lobbyist, creating a destination website, advertising to the right audience, meeting with the right Congressmembers, building the right partnerships…or any of approximately a zillion potential steps to help you to reach your goals.

As we alluded to earlier, online communications strategy may be easy in concept (let’s get there from here!) but it’s far trickier in the application. And as the old military aphorism says, no plan — no matter how good — survives contact with the enemy, and you’ll need to adjust your strategy to match circumstances that will almost inevitably change.

If you have questions about your OWN strategy, let’s talk. I might just be able to help you get there from here.

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