My Japanese Approach to Social Media Strategy

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When I recently presented in Japan on how the agricultural industry could best utilize social media in a country where Twitter usage is more widespread than the United States yet Facebook was only beginning to grow, I was reminded by my Japanese friend Katsuyo Nakao of something very important that affected my view on how businesses can create and leverage a social media strategy: PDCA.  Although I did not use that terminology per se in my speech, she correctly interpreted my advice as aligning social media activities with the PDCA cycle.  Let me explain further.

I started my career in Japan and ended up working at a Japanese company in Japan (in Kyoto, the ancient capital, to boot) for the first nine years after I left college.  My approach to business, work ethic, and understanding of branding have all been deeply effected by my work not only at that Japanese company but also representing foreign firms in Japan for six years after that.

Japanese companies are big on internal education and training, and since I worked at a manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry, they were naturally big on quality control.  It is at that company where I learned about William Deming, who some claim is the Father of Japanese Quality Control.  William was an American but ended up teaching and becoming much more famous in Japan than he ever was in the United States.

One of the things that Deming taught, which became standard in business practice in Japan, was the so-called Deming Cycle about PDCA.  Rather than myself explaining it, here’s how it is described in Wikipedia:

The Deming Cycle (or Shewhart Cycle): As a repetitive process to determine the next action, the Deming Cycle describes a simple method to test information before making a major decision. The 4 steps in the Deming Cycle are: Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), also known as Plan-Do-Study-Act or PDSA. Dr. Deming called the cycle the Shewhart Cycle, after Walter A. Shewhart. The cycle can be used in various ways, such as running an experiment: PLAN (design) the experiment; DO the experiment by performing the steps; CHECK the results by testing information; and ACT on the decisions based on those results.

I have slightly modified the above approach using the same terminology resulting in the following which I teach my social media strategy consulting clients:

PLAN = Creating a social media strategy.

DO = Implementing tactics and campaigns aligned with the social media strategy.

CHECK = Regular (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.) review of metrics created as part of the strategy to determine if business ROI in social media has been sufficiently achieved or not.

ACTION = Fine-tuning the social media strategy, tactics, plans for campaigns, and even potentially refining or changing metrics or how measurements are performed.

It is a never-ending cycle because of the changing nature of social media websites, how we use them, and companies always wanting to maximize their investment.  That’s why I also sometimes refer to campaigns as social media experiments to confirm the effectiveness of their strategy.

Although it sounds rather simplistic, PDCA is the framework for how I believe businesses should be strategizing on, implementing, confirming their ROI, and fine-tuning their social media activities over time.  It provides them confirmation of their objective and a roadmap for how they can be successful or at least a plan from which they can measure and ascertain the business ROI of their activities.

Does your company or yourself practice PDCA in your social media activities?

Video explaining this blog post in Japanese appears below.

[vsw id=”Q6NDEbL6vNk” source=”youtube” width=”425″ height=”344″ autoplay=”no”]

Neal Schaffer
The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professionals strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer
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  1. says

    I like the concept of “social media experiments.”  It reminds us that there is no one magic bullet to SM success.  Campaigns…the concept of the PR/marketing “campaign” seems to have lost favor with folks like Brian Solis, et al.  A campaign suggests a war, with a single outcome.  IMO, businesses struggle with the idea that there is no war or campaign to win a brass ring.  Instead we have many battles (i.e. engagements) which lead to the accumulation of market(ing) wealth and brand recognition.

    • says

      Thanks Joel. I have a radically different view of social media campaigns. I consider them experiments to test the waters to help refine the strategy. If you read my Twitter B2B case studies blog post ( I brought up the example of Microsoft Japan who test the waters of their Twitter following and now have a better idea of what interests them. You use the data from campaigns to fine-tune your strategy. Sounds counter-intuitive but I believe it is an integral part of a strategic approach to social media.

      • says

        Do you believe that the typical small business would spend the time and money to replicate the Microsoft example?  Whenever I see large company examples, I wonder whether this scales to small business.  How can small biz avoid the “smash & grab” approach, which rarely leads to results but *looks* like something was done.

        • says

          No – in my book, social media campaigns are to be started only well after you have a robust presence. Assuming your strategy was created correctly and began to be implemented, I would give small businesses 3 months to see activity that was generated and proceed from there.

  2. Jerry Stuesser says

    In this Wiki world we live in, is there a forum, or should there be a forum, to share the results of such Social Media experiments? It’s great if one person or one company’s knowledge is increased through trial and error experiments, but wouldn’t it be great if all of the individual successes and failures are shared to advance the “organizational learning” of the community of SM users.

  3. says

    Jerry, that is an excellent point. There are social media mastermind groups that are springing up, but in order to do that on a global scale, someone would have to create a social media wiki and everyone would have to feel comfortable in contributing to it. There are also NDA etc. considerations that companies have to deal with.

    From my end, I will continue to blog and share as much as I could, and I also have plans to blog more about collective wisdom and share the experiences and points of view of other social media strategists. Check out the latest discussion in my LinkedIn Group “The Social Media Strategies for Business” for more details:

  4. Brian Honey says

    I actually follow this PDCA strategy both at work and for a number of other clients… Without ever really reading about it before now. 

    • says

      Brian, I was the same, although for me it was ingrained into my subconscious from working in Japan… Don’t see how you could approach social media, or lots of other business issues, any other way!

  5. Dean Fujii says

    Posted this comment as I shared this link on my Facebook Profile:

    Keeping the cycle moving is critical. Ironically, in Japan, things often begin and die in the “P” step – literally Planned to Death to avoid risk and “failure” that can only be seen and verified by doing step “D.” Chicken and egg dilemma? (Note this & c/o Neal Schaffer)

    The longest journey begins with the first step…NOT a Japanese proverb (Chinese, in fact) 😉

  6. says

    As an entrepreneur it seems like I’m doing much more planning and doing than anything else although, I do check and retweak my approach if my gut’s telling me something is wrong.

    It’s interesting to hear you worked in Japan straight out of college.  Very cool.

    • says

      Thanks Chase. Yes, that’s usually common these days for companies that are active in social media. So long as you feel you’re reaching your objectives and getting positive “ROI,” keep doing what you’re doing!

  7. says

    Hi Neal, 

    I try to focus on what works and avoid shiny new objects (GPlus) until they’re more mature. Saying that a plan gives you a baseline. Without that it’s hard to tell what’s working and what’s hit/miss. 

    PS – where’d you go in Japan? We were in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto last year. Love to live there :)

    • says

      Thanks for the comment Ivan – and, although I normally would agree with you, I think that Google+ has enough steam, and is Google, that every social media marketer should be getting familiar with it.

      I lived in Kyoto and Kobe for 15 years – was in Osaka and Kumamoto last month!

    • says

      Thanks for the comment Ivan – and, although I normally would agree with you, I think that Google+ has enough steam, and is Google, that every social media marketer should be getting familiar with it.

      I lived in Kyoto and Kobe for 15 years – was in Osaka and Kumamoto last month!

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