Sun Tzu’sThe Art of War” has been quoted, studied and referenced for years.  World leaders, business leaders, soldiers, teachers and many others have been told to read, study and understand this book.  So how can we apply these essentials for victory to our social media marketing strategies?  Within his 13-chapter book, Sun Tzu describes “five essentials for victory” that should be applied to every digital marketing strategy you create.

     1. “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight”

In digital marketing, timing is everything.  Next time you are about to launch a campaign, take action on trending topic, respond to a comment or post on your social media profiles, ask yourself, “is it time to fight?”

Over and over again we see companies launch inappropriate campaigns in the wake of tragedies or trending events, we see them waste their best content by posting at the wrong time of day and encourage negative conversation on their social media profiles by responding incorrectly to customer service complaints.

Take the time to ask yourself, “is this the appropriate time to implement my strategy?  Should I be in battle now or should I wait until I have a plan?”

“It is easy to love your friend, but sometimes the hardest lesson to learn is to love your enemy.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

2.    “He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces”

Know your audience and your enemies.  Who is superior?  Who is inferior?  How will this impact my strategy?  For instance, if your company sells books online, you are probably inferior to Amazon.  In fact you will mostly likely want to work with Amazon and not against them.  Do not work against yourself by trying to compete with Amazon.  Instead, work with Amazon, find people on social media that purchase books from them and people who comment, rate and share their purchases.  Use Amazon to help find and fuel your audience.

If you are Amazon, you are superior to the average online retailer.  However, Amazon’s business is dependent on their customer service to both buyers and sellers.  If you are the superior force, do not ignore the inferior.  Instead work to make them love you.  Highlight people who sell books on Amazon on your social media profiles and inspire them to work with you.  Sharing is caring.

“Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating ourselves to the enemy’s purpose.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

3.   “He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks”

Your company’s “share voice” must be clear and every single employee must understand it well.  Our social media marketing strategies must expand beyond the company profiles, we must inspire and educate employees and customers to believe in the message.  Most people have a social profile and believe it or not, your employees’ personal profiles can and will impact your brand.  Here are some ways to help guide the brand’s message in areas that you cannot control:

  • Create an company social media policy, explain it to all of your employees and have them sign it
  • Have a clear company mission statement and make sure it coincides with your digital strategy
  • Do your best to take all customer service inquiries and comments offline
  • Set alerts for your company name
  • Take criticism seriously and ask yourself, “are we doing everything we can to inspire and educate people on our company’s mission?”

The more inspired your team, customers and audience is by your message and the community you build, the stronger your army will be.  You should want to build a community that will defend you during controversy before you have a chance to defend yourself.

“No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

4.    “He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared”

Always have a plan.  All too often digital marketing campaigns are launched with only success in mind.  In fact often times we plan for success and think that failure is when nothing happens at all.  This is false.  Before planning and launching your digital marketing campaign, think of everything good and bad that could happen and believe in the extreme case.  There is nothing worse than the unexpected.  When we are faced with the unexpected that leaves us unprepared for battle, we risk breaking all of the previously mentioned rules.

Think big, create plans and take time to think before you make your first move.

“The worst calamities that befall an army arise from hesitation” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

     5.  “He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign”

This is by far my favorite rule.  Get out of your own way.  Know your strengths and weaknesses and know who on your team can fill in the gaps.  Do not micromanage every detail of your campaigns.  If you do, you will find yourself stretched too thin, you risk breaking the sprit of the team you built and trust can be broken.  Hire the right people, know their skill set and trust your decision.

“By reinforcing every part, he weakens every part.”  -Sun Tzu, The Art of War

About Cynthia Johnson

CyCynthianthia Johnson (@CynthiaLIVE) is the Director of Social Media Marketing forRankLab, a marketing agency in Santa Monica, CA. She is the Editorial Director and on the Global Board of Directors forSocial Media Club. You can catch Cynthia’s weekly Twitter chat, #TheSMGirl, on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. PST, where she discusses social media marketing and PR.  For more information go to Cynthia Johnson uses her difference to make a difference by connecting the world through social media.