Rudyard Kipling’s Tips on Social Media Strategy

January 23, 2012

Last week a colleague of mine opened a fairly routine product development update with the following poem on a single slide:

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

This poem, from Rudyard Kipling’s tale of “The Elephant’s Child” from Just So Stories, provided a nice attention-getting opening but also perfectly teed off a report on new product development. In fact, there aren’t many projects that can begin without Kipling’s six honest serving-men.

The Five Ws — who, what, when, where, and why, along with how (an honorary ‘W’) — have long been practiced as critical guiding principles in journalism, education, as well as overall project management. As such, they are also essential in planning brand initiatives like social media. Too often organizations launch a presence on a new platform without diligently visiting the six honest serving-men. Let’s take a look at how Kipling’s colleagues can help you shape your brand’s social media marketing strategy.


While this is easily the most important ‘serving-man’ in your social media plan, it is often overlooked. Before venturing down the path, take a moment and clearly and concisely define why you are doing this. Start by answering the simple question of what business goal or goals you’re looking for social media to help you with. Improving customer service? Increasing brand awareness? Gaining better market insight? It could be any number of objectives — just make sure you clearly define them.


With your objective in place, state what it is you will do to address this. In a social media plan, this usually spells out which network or networks you’ll use to accomplish your ‘why.’ For example, maybe you’ll use Twitter for customer support or employ Google+ Hangouts for quick focus groups.


While this could seem like a simple answer, it actually has many layers. Who is responsible for your social media strategy? Who’s responsible for execution and analysis? Who should be consulted? Who has additional oversight? All of these tasks need clear owners to ensure success.


As you dig a little deeper tactically, you’ll start to answer the when. When are your channels updated? Real-time? Hourly? Daily? What does your social schedule look like? Don’t forget to nail down when you’re going to review your key performance indicators or KPI (Tip: You probably won’t want to review these more frequently than monthly if you want to observe real trends).


An extension of your ‘who,’ this encompasses where your social team sits in your organization. Is your team comprised of one department or is it made up of a cross-functional team? Is this going to be addressed internally or externally via an agency? Or perhaps some hybrid of the two?


With a plan in place, ask yourself how your team is going to accomplish all of this — what tools will they need? Are their additional resources you’ll have to bring in? And don’t forget the all-important ‘How will you measure success?’ Make sure your key performance indicators are aligned with your first serving man, why — your business goal for embarking on this journey in the first place.

Putting It All Together

As you can see, answering these six basic questions can give your social media plan a solid foundation. Can you flesh it out further? Of course, but Kipling’s passage offers an easy framework to get you started as you plan your brand’s next social media launch. Remember, they’re called the ‘six serving-men.’ That’s because having each one in place will serve you and your business well.

How will you utilize Kipling’s timeless framework for your branding and social media initiatives? Are there other constructs that you use to structure your plans? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons user Rozmi’sl
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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.