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December 11, 2007

The POST Method: A systematic approach to social strategy

by Josh Bernoff

What do most companies do wrong when they enter the social world? No, it's not that they're being fake, or don't "get it." It's that they don't really know their objectives.

Is your company doing its social strategy backwards?

If you started by saying "we should do a blog" or "we should create a page on a social network" or "we should create a community" the answer is probably yes.

In any other business endeavor we start by figuring out what we want to accomplish. Social technologies are not magic. They accomplish things, too. It's time to stop doing social because it's cool. It's time to start doing it because it's effective.

To help clients with this fundamental idea, we invented a little acronym called POST. It's been one of the most popular ideas we've ever created, even though it's so simple and commonsensical. If you were at our consumer forum in October you saw it (and many of you who were there contacted us afterwards for help with your strategies). It's at the heart of our book Groundswell. Now I'm sharing it with all of you.

Post_method_2 P is People. Don't start a social strategy until you know the capabilities of your audience. If you're targeting college students, use social networks. If you're reaching out business travelers, consider ratings and reviews. Forrester has great  data to help with this, but you can make some estimates on your own. Just don't start without thinking about it.

O is objectives. Pick one. Are you starting an application to listen to your customers, or to talk with them? To support them, or to energize your best customers to evangelize others? Or are you trying to collaborate with them? Decide on your objective before you decide on a technology. Then figure out how you will measure it.

S is Strategy. Strategy here means figuring out what will be different after you're done. Do you want a closer, two-way relationship with your best customers? Do you want to get people talking about your products? Do you want a permanent focus group for testing product ideas and generating new ones? Imagine you succeed. How will things be different afterwards? Imagine the endpoint and you'll know where to begin.

T is Technology. A community. A wiki. A blog or a hundred blogs. Once you know your people, objectives, and strategy, then you can decide with confidence.

This may sound simple to the sophisticated readers of this blog. But it works. Try it. Think your strategy through. Even if you're just clarifying your own strategy, this should help you explain it to your boss.

Or, feel free to ask us for help. it's what we do.

Thanks to all the bloggers who've posted after our presentations and encouraged us to get this out there.

UPDATE: Free review copy of the report to the first 100 bloggers who email me at groundswell@forrester.com with your blog's URL.


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Tom O'Brien

Hi Josh:

Thanks for posting this - I can't tell you how many prospects I meet with who do not have a strategy on social media - and don't know where to start.

A map is a good place to start!


Jonathan Crow


I have been trying my own social experiment with a lot of the new social networking tools out there (Facebook, Twitter, Pownce just to name a few).

Your advice is really right on. I would add that don't expect a social strategy to work until you put significant time into your first step - people. Build your network, add people, give them time to get to know you before expecting your work in the SN space to pay off.

The main problem I have had is in the measurement phase. How do you measure and even what do you measure are hard questions to answer. We got a few SN experts to take a stab at some of these questions. That will be the subject of Friday's post.

Thanks for the input.



Great post and acronym (I love acronyms). You are absolutely right when you talk about making sure you set the right objectives and have the right people behind it. You might be interested in a post I just did yesterday commenting on Scott Adam's blog and why he has decided to blog less ... it relates well to your point about making sure you have the right voice and go in with the right expectations. I'm going to email you now about that report!


Des Walsh

Just starting today on setting up a new podcast show. Two steps backward after reading this: an articulated, documented strategy makes a lot more sense than "I think I'll start a podcast show". Thank you - and thanks to your colleague Jeremiah for his Twitter heads up about this post.

Walter Schwabe

Josh and Charlene, great blog and i'm looking forward to the report, (if you send it to me.) and talking more about results. After all, generating results is what is most important to me and my clients...creating a sound strategy is always a great place to start.


This is extremely interesting. Especially as I have the feeling that many companies just follow the masses. Based on my experience, the P and the O are most important (if companies would here make the right analysis we would not see so many corporate blogs out there...). These were also the steps that took us longest at Daimler. Developing the platform and the technical characteristics of the Daimler Blog at http://blog.daimler.de was then only a matter of time. And it works great!

Graeme Thickins


simple, common sense, but brilliant

save us from the "technology first" movement!

Small Business Marketing

It always comes back to understanding how your customers think so you can figure out their pain and establish a strategy to salve that pain point. I look forward to getting my hands on a copy of the report.

John Mallen

Josh, Just now catching up on your post via. Max Kalehoff's referral from Media Post of Friday. (http://blogs.mediapost.com/spin/?p=1198)

Your post is sound strategy. Thanks.

Robin Seidner


We talk to customers about this all the time. It really helps to understand the landscape of your People and to build Objectives off of that.

Thanks for putting it down in an easily digestible form.

Nancy Richards


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Business Partner

Phil Darby

Its good to find someone who is talking about commercial objectives and strategy instead of "hits" or "cool stuff".

Its only cool if it adds to your bottom line and hits are nothing if they are all spotty kids sitting in their bedroom with no intention of buying from you.

All the social media are useful and exciting in the right context, like any other media, but I'm seeing corporate burn-out as a result of too many miss-sells and inflated expectations.

The social media world is going to have to get real in the face of the recession and this post is definately a starting point.

Keep it up.

Olivier D. alias ze kat

Yeah, nice resume of good practice :o)

In french, you would say:


Yes, same acronyme ;o)


Hi Josh !

It's good idea to improve the social science with systemic approach.
Be aware to be reductionist

I have an experiemce too in rural development, so be cautious

Radison Celestin
5712, 20th Ave South
Minneapolis, 55417 Mn
Minnesota USA

Beth Kanter

I'm facilitating a project with nonprofits to develop training materials to help them embrace social media. It's purely community driven and we're working wikly. Someone on the wiki suggested a learning task based on your POST method ..

If we make this available to nonprofits for free, would this get us in trouble with your legal department?

Web designing compnay india

Yeah, It is so interesting idea.I like it and keeping read regularly to know abount new things..



Also I would add the need to measure your success using a tool like http://www.streamwall.com or similar - they all provide excellent data

Daniel Chege

Wow! John Bernoff has put it so simple and to the point!

I love the acronym (POST ) and it si so relative to the topic. As a SEO and web designer I have been doing it reverse because my aim was using the best TECHNOLOGY AND STRATEGY to reach the PEOPLE but my OBJECTIVE was shortsighted.

The real key is to focus on your OBJECTIVE and the PEOPLE will come by any STRATEGY NECESSARY.

Best regards ,

Mr.Daniel Chege

Tom Hood

Great POST (pun inteneded). I loved the book Groundswell and we are using social media in a big way to engage our community (non-profit State CPA association). We also created an on-line self-guided learning program for CPAs (and others) at www.cpalearning2.com.

Henk Jelt Hoving

Groundswell is great, and POST is the way to go.
I've been in interactive marketing since 1998, first with e-commerce, then with one2one interactioin.
Groundswell is the next step in interaction markteting.
Great work!
I'm looking forward adding this to the experience basket!


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