At the time, it was the largest potential business contract of my life — my budding marketing agency had the opportunity to provide services to one of the most significant cultural institutions in the world. The inevitable question was posed:
“Can you provide us with some case studies?”
My reply: “I’ll get back to you.”
Back at the shop, all hands were on deck as we scurried around, creating just the right case studies to send to the prospective client. We wanted studies which showed that yes, we’d worked with cultural non-profits, and that yes, we’d done projects very similar in scope.
The pain of creating case studies on the fly is great. Since that time, in our company, the creation of case studies has become a part of each and every project. It’s in our Standard Operating Procedures: write those first two parts of the case study, then create a calendar reminder to come back in six months and document the final part.
Every case study is fundamentally made up of three major parts:
- Situation or problem
- Outcome or results
Those first two parts, the problem and the (proposed) solution, are identified in the proposal writing process. Thus, creating this nascent case study shouldn’t add any real effort to a project. If the problem/situation hasn’t been clearly articulated in the proposal stage, then its absence is actually a good sign that you need to improve that part of your process. The proposal may even be about a consulting piece of work where you identify the situation/problem and solutions. If that’s the case, then that piece of work is your situation/problem.
Starting the case study has the added benefit of helping team members focus on desired outcomes. And desired outcomes, whether you’re thinking in terms of goals, objectives, or KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), are the bedrock of successful social media marketing projects.
Having clear desired outcomes is the first and foremost piece of social media marketing strategy. When you have both a clear understanding and a consensus on what would make for success, you are then free to map out potential tactics that will get you there.
Case Studies Aren’t Just For Sales
We tend to think of case studies as one- or two-sheeters used by the sales team. When you walk around most trade shows, you’ll see the ubiquitous glossy sheets in neat little bins in most of the booths. They are great for sales — they are a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate to a potential customer that you understand their business, that you’ve been there before, and hey, look, we know what we’re talking about.
To relegate the case study to sales, though, would deprive your own organization of an effective way to capture collective knowledge. You can even create case studies for small projects within an internal team. For instance, your team has decided to create a piece of content marketing — a white paper, perhaps — and then share that paper across social media, all with the hope of increasing your friend base by 5%.
Create the case study for these same small projects, just as an agency would for a particular client engagement. Likewise, back in the agency world, don’t just create case studies on a client-by-client basis — do it anytime there is a clearly articulated problem and proposed solution.
What If The Results Aren’t What You Want?
Sometimes, you don’t get what you want. The results of a particular project aren’t what you want them to be. You’ve failed.
Congratulations! You’re doing the right thing. There is a tremendous amount of wisdom around the notion that instead of failure being something to hide in shame, it’s something to celebrate.
John Boyd, the famous military strategist, had once quipped that too low of an accident rate in fighter pilot training suggested that the training wasn’t being pushed to the limits actually encountered in real combat. Philosopher Daniel C. Dennett wrote, “Mistakes are not just opportunities for learning; they are, in an important sense, the only opportunity for learning or making something truly new.”
If you accept this line of thinking, you should actually be seeking out the mistakes with great passion, perhaps the way a wire fox terrier might go after a mouse.
Mark Zuckerberg has promoted this ethos as a central tenet of Facebook: fail fast! In failing fast, it’s as though you’re that mouse in the maze trying out each of the alternatives — and quickly getting through all of the wrong passageways so that you can get to the cheese more quickly.
There are two important parts to this, though. One is that it’s a learning experience — you don’t, for instance, want to wallow in your failure or fail to learn from the experience. Again, this is where case studies can play an important role in creating a repository of institutional knowledge. The second part is fast.
If you’ve placed a reminder on the calendar six months out to document the outcome of a project, only to realize that the project was a failure, you’ve missed the boat. The project approach should have been modified well before that point. There’s nothing wrong with starting down one path, discovering it’s ineffective, and then trying another. This can all be documented in the case study, in effect, demonstrating your approach and way of thinking.
Obviously, this use of case studies isn’t limited to social media. But, if any endeavor could use the rigor of case studies, it is social media marketing. After all, social media is a relative newcomer to marketing. The ways and approaches are still being mapped out. Executives are becoming more demanding, insisting on measurable results, mapped to real-world tangible results. Case studies will be a major part of that.
They may help your department garner larger budgets or additional hires. They may help your agency get better projects and new clients. Or, as in the case of the major cultural institution I mentioned in the opening of this post — lead to the largest and most prestigious work of your career.
Illustrations courtesy of DragonSearch.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.