The difference between a social media vision and plan is quite simple. The vision is the goal, where you want to get to. The plan is composed of the tactical pieces that will help you get there.
I'm a huge proponent of "launching and learning," or starting with a general idea of the plan and refining it along the way. At the same time, that doesn't mean just doing something for the sake of doing it.
If your boss came to you and asked why you were spending time posting photos on Flickr and your response was, "Because everyone else is doing it," you might be looking for a new job. Yet, that is what many people are doing when it comes to social media. While that's better than doing nothing at all, it can easily result in not achieving your goals, or worse, giving up on social media altogether because a poor plan was confused for a poor vision.
That's not to say that you need to strategize for weeks on your vision. A simple vision is better. Examples: "Our social media vision is to increase brand awareness," or "Our social media vision is to be better connected with our customer needs and adjust our products based on this dialogue."
The key is being flexible. TripAdvisor is one of the most successful companies in the social media world, yet they adjust their plan all the time. Specifically, they have one of the most-used Facebook Travel Applications in "Cities I've Visited" with 3,221,189 monthly active users, which is shocking because I thought they'd reached their plateau with 1.8 million a few weeks back.
However, their savvy CEO Steve Kaufer readily admits: "For every success you see, we've had plenty of items that we tested and didn't work out. You really never know what the next big thing will be."
If your vision is to complete a marathon next year, and you start running 20 miles per day tomorrow, there isn't a problem with the vision -- there's a problem with the plan. Being flexible with the plan, you can adjust your training to a few miles at the beginning and build from there. Also, every runner, just like every company, has different tactics that will work better for them.
The social media vision is "to be better connected with our customer needs and adjust our products based on the feedback." This is also consistent with your company's overall mission to become number one in the industry for customer satisfaction.
Step one is launching a Facebook Fan Page, and to your pleasant surprise, thousands of people become "fans" of your brand. This is great. However, nobody seems to be commenting, and you really want their insight.
Being flexible, you send out a notification to all your Facebook fans asking for their feedback. You receive a minimal response to this and your fan count actually takes a dip immediately after the notification is sent.
Now you decide to send out a similar notification, but with a prize incentive attached to it. The response is even smaller as people misconstrue it as spam and even more fans drop off.
Remaining flexible, you hear about http://search.twitter.com and you perform a # search query around your brand name (#examplebrand), and, lo and behold, you find tons of positive and negative feedback here to work with. Even better, customers are willing to engage in an active dialogue.
Your vision is to build brand awareness for your dance studio via social media. You've been hearing a lot about Twitter in the news. When you poll most of your dance students, they indicate they use Twitter.
So, you forge ahead and start sending out several promotional messages per day "New Salsa lessons start Friday" "World renowned French Instructor to teach ballroom dancing this Winter." To your chagrin not much is happening, there are no re-tweets and very limited followers.
As a quick editors note, simply blasting promotional messages on Twitter is analogous to walking up to a stranger at a cocktail party and stating, "I'm Erik Qualman, author of the book 'Socialnomics' due out in August, there is currently a 20 percent discount on Amazon for pre-orders, would you like to use my iPhone to pre-order it right now?" That doesn't go over well at the cocktail party and it doesn't go over well in Twitter.
So, while you try to figure out your issues on Twitter, you decide to start a YouTube channel. You're very excited about your new television commercial for you dance studio and you post that front and center on your new channel. To your dismay, this only receives 13 views.
Being flexible, you adjust your plan again. This time, you post a series of videos for salsa beginners using your current students as demonstrators. Lo and behold, you receive on average 15,000 views per video and the students in the video are actively self-promoting on Twitter, Orkut, etc., telling their friends to check out their dance moves in the video. Your brand awareness skyrockets.
The key to social media success is often being stubborn with your vision, but flexible with your plan. Remember the marathon analogy and be sure to smile when you cross the finish line.