5 things Sun Tzu can teach us about social media

Whodathunk that ancient military strategy would apply to social media? Photo in the Creative Commons.

Whodathunk that ancient military strategy would apply to social media? Photo in the Creative Commons.

Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military strategist, wrote the Art of War in the 2nd century BCE. Surprisingly, his wisdom can be applied to social media strategies, especially for issues management. Let's see how. 

"The general who wins the battle makes many calculations ... before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand."

Issues management on social media needs to start from the premise that things will go wrong, and you can be prepared for them. Make plans beforehand: have policies and procedures for monitoring and responding, write and pre-approve key messages for those issues with the highest occurrence likelihood and/or highest risk to reputation, and make a list of key people in your organization you can call when things outside of the scope of those issues occur. This list should include the following: 

  • Senior managers (possibly all the way up to the CEO)
  • Your privacy expert
  • A lawyer
  • Security
  • IT or web team
  • Human Resources

You won't need everyone all the time, but knowing who to call (and having those people know they might be called) will greatly speed up response time when an issue occurs. 

"And therefore those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him."

Does your website have blogging capabilities? Can the homepage be updated easily? Do you have dark pages or sites in case of emergency? In social media, being able to post your own side of the story easily and quickly and then lead people there is a great advantage in the middle of a crisis. Don't try to manage your issue on foreign turf; bring your audience to your site.

"For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill."

It's surprising how many organizations still try old-school tactics when they're called out for bad customer service or making a mistake. If you want your issue to go away quickly, try an open, honest apology and say what you're going to do to rectify the situation. Most times, this shuts down the escalation of an online battle. 

"He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious."

Sometimes, you'll come up against trolls. Knowing how to identify trolls and when it's time to walk away needs to be part of your social strategy, too. 

"Opportunities multiply as they are seized."

In addition to planning for things to go wrong, you should also be ready for when things go right. Maybe there's an opportunity for your organization to inject itself into a rising story in the media. Maybe there's an incredibly cool thing going on internally that would make a great external story too, if only you could get a picture/make a video/blog about it. Are you ready to capitalize on opportunities as they come along? The more ready you are, the more often they'll happen. 

If you need some help being better at social media, we'd love to hear about it. Please get in touch