Social-first isn’t a strategy. It’s a structure.

December 18, 2023
By Quinten Rosborough

“Social-first.” It’s a term we’ve all heard before — and one that many of us probably bump into regularly. Despite its ubiquity in today’s communications landscape, it’s a term whose definition is probably due for an update. Until recently, “social-first” merely meant creating content tailored to the appetites of social media users. Simple enough, right?

Actually, the longstanding definition of “social-first” content is far too simple for today’s complex and ever-changing world. It’s no longer about just serving up content to catch a scroller’s eye. Instead, the name of the game is crafting content that encourages genuine engagement by inviting audiences to co-create and amplify your brand story or campaign message in partnership with you. 

While this probably makes sense in theory, making this happen in the wild is not exactly easy — something that many of us in the audience-engagement business know well. After all, to rope in audiences in authentic ways, we need a handful of key elements: timeliness, relevancy, and interactivity. And the thing that unlocks these elements, perhaps ironically, has nothing to do with social media; it lies in the way that we architect our organizational structures. In a word, the key to successful social-first strategy is agility. 

In most organizations, teams are structured to ensure accountability and quality. The traditional model suggests that quality output comes by running each decision and deliverable up the chain to avoid “blind spots” and ensure alignment. But this approach often generates the kinds of friction and reward structures that impede social-first marketing strategies. Why? In part because timeliness often gets lost when content gets caught in a swirl of approvals. And when timeliness is out the window, we run the risk that the story we’re telling or the message we’re sharing no longer feels as relevant as it would have in the moment. And by the time approval on a piece of content is granted, it’s often the case that the audience has already moved on or the approvals process itself has wrangled the content to a place of “safety” — both of which threaten the interactive nature of a real-time, relevant content. 

So, it’s time to deemphasize predictability and control and prioritize speed and creativity — something the Artemis Ward team put to the test recently as we partnered with a global technology company to create a social-first strategy for a major product launch. The linchpin of our social-first approach: empowering their own internal teams to create and react at the speed of an everyday social user (not at the speed of an everyday corporate approval structure). The results? Authentic, reactive content that drove target KPIs for the client — and a dynamic, creative environment that has redefined the way that the brand is able to connect with its audiences. 

We call this approach “coordinated autonomy,” in which teams are streamlined and team members are given the resources and decision-making power they need to move with speed and authority. This means that time-sensitive, synchronous conversations can take place without delay and can hit in the moments when they’ll matter most to audiences at the heart of everything we do.

The question we should be asking ourselves, then, is: How might our internal structures be holding us back from our social-first ambitions? Once we begin to answer this question, we’re on the way to building the strong, new bridges to our audiences that will connect us in the moment, as well as over time. 

Would you like to chat more about how you better architect your team to thrive in today’s — and tomorrow’s — social-first environment? Reach out

Additional thinking around this type of organizational thinking can be found in the model popularized by Retired General Stanley McCrystal and the McCrystal Group.

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