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Social Media Hierarchy Revisted

A while back I wrote a post that outlined what I called the hierarchy of social media. In that post I compared the tools commonly employed in social media to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs. The primary notion being that certain tools were more suited to someone just getting started, meeting basic needs, than someone deeply evolved and more suited to more advanced needs.

As the actual social media tools, blogs, RSS, and social networks evolve over time (twitter is more useful when more people use it), I find myself reevaluating my thinking on this point. I still consider there to be a hierarchy in social media, but one that’s built around actual practices or activities more so than the tools.

So my new hierarchy or pyramid has evolved to this

Until you create a social media strategic plan based on marketing objectives, and find ways to use social media tools to listen and join the conversation going on in your markets, you may find it harder to engage and network and ultimately build relationships and sales through the use of social media tools.

I believe the process for meeting long-term marketing objectives through social media is universal, but the tools needed to meet them are not. Twitter may indeed be a primary social media tool for some, while the Facebook platform or a blog is what allows another to progress through these stages. A third organization may find they can strategically move through the hierarchy by integrating every tool in the toolbox with their offline initiatives.

Plan, listen, join and grow!

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  • Nick Kinports

    Add ‘Research’ below ‘Plan’. Very important step!

  • Joe Dager

    This chart is great, your other one just became outdated. Look how far we have come in one year!

    I have used your last one over and over in presentations. I always talk about listening first as an important part of moving into social media instead of jumping in and ramming your marketing message out. This one exhibits it very well.

  • JudyAnn Lorenz

    A plan helps keep the sm from becoming S&M.

  • Michael A. Stelzner


    I LOVE it. This is really most excellent!


  • Greg Rau


    Good stuff. Our clients tend to jump right into the “build” phase. It’s hard to get them to take a step back and figure out the “why” they want to get into Social Media.


  • Jared O’Toole

    Great idea. There definitely is a hierarchy. To many people only engage and build with no actual direction for their efforts.

  • Janice Cartier

    WOW! I love this. Visual person here. I use Maslow’s Pyramid all the time. Really. So big thank for this. Hm, now how can I print it out……hope that’s okay.

  • John Jantsch

    @Janice – you may use the image – just give me credit when you do.

  • Alex Murphy

    This is a really great layout.

    The point about research is critical. I think that it would important to add in test, learn, and repeat to the growth plan.

  • Janice Cartier

    Absolutely. It’s for my notebook/warroom… I could duct tape your picture right beside it…*smile* LOL (Brian tweeted me over here)

  • Kathy @ Virtual Impax


    I absolutely ADORE this graphic!!! Of course, it’s completely out of “order” from the way MOST people jump into social media (myself included). GOSH how I wish I had a PLAN before I began!

    Oh, and putting LISTENING before engaging – PRICELESS!!!

  • chris kluis

    The question is would you be willing to share the steps you took to put it into perspective for all those who may under-appreciate the size and scope of each of those steps?

  • laurent

    wow. we think alike ;-)! I have a few suggestions to offer:
    1)Graphically speaking, shouldn’t the manage piece be vertical because in my opinion it crosses all the layers.
    2) I know you wanted to use the Maslow analogy but may be the social engagement process is better represented by a wheel where plan and manage are in the center and listen/join/engage/network/build forms a circle of steps.
    3)May be manage could be replaced by ‘influence’ -> you’ve built relationship and you are now in a position to influence them.

  • Mari Smith

    This is awesome, John!! I’m a big fan of Mazlow and sequential processes too. I always say the #1 reason peeps flounder in social networking is they don’t have a strategy. It’s not about going in and getting the max friends/followers/fans… if you don’t have all the other pieces in place too.

    Good stuff!

  • John Jantsch

    @laurent – you could make a case for manage being overarching, but you could also flop and overlap most of these – I think this is the simplest way to show the point I wanted to make.

  • John Jantsch

    @chris – sure I’ll share, what did you have in mind and what’s your budget.

  • Amelia Brazell

    This graphic is terrific – And I am so glad to see you stress having a strategic plan. You post sounds like a recent talk I gave on Public Relationship Marketing.

    Great stuff…looking forward to more…

  • reactlab

    Excellent post/chart. Will come in handy when I next meet with the product managers I’m working with who just want to build a “cool” social media site without a lot of forethought.

  • Click and Inc

    I think network should be higher up there. It is quite important. I guess it does depend on what business you are in but its a good one.

  • Bruce Elkin

    Great graphic, assuming the plan is a vision-driven, reality based plan. Lots of folks have plans that are reactive, not creative. To create what matters in this or any area, it helps to be very clear about the what and why you want to create. I’m assuming that’s embraced by “Plan”. Yes! Thanks for this. Best~

  • Ryan Biddulph

    Hi, Thanks for visually representing your hierarchy, it makes it easier to understand. Great stuff!


  • Oneicity

    Fabulous visual. Makes social media so accessible when it can be overwhelming for those just coming to the “party.” Planning and listening are sort of a chicken and egg deal for us. Do we plan so we can listen or listen so we can plan? Must be both.

    Thanks for another great post.

  • Dane Disimino

    Would it be possible for the next post to include a list of tools used to manage?

  • John Jantsch
  • Julie Hood

    While we’re asking for future posts (thanks @Dane), could we get more thoughts on “Plan”? It can be a vague word for some of my clients.

    It almost seems like this could be your Social Media Pyramid — with this on one face, the prior graphic on another, and the third being the specific tools to use.

    I still really like the hierachy of social media, too, because it gives people a place to start.

    So many I’ve talked to look at all this social media stuff/sites and get overwhelmed….but starting with a blog seems doable, especially when they’ve worked through this pyramid.

  • John Jantsch

    @Julie – you are absolutely right I do think we still have to balance both of these pyramids for different reasons, including those you mention. I think they can go hand in hand as long as we can communicate the ideas contained in both.

    With regard to plan – to me this is two simple things
    1) What are our overall marketing/business objectives we are trying to achieve with social media – is is sales, expertise, connections, branding, thought leaderships, etc.

    2) How can we integrate our social media activities into our overall business/marketing strategies and tactics.

  • Anthony Riva

    Great post. Will be a good tool for explaining social media to those who don’t understand it/want to get involved but believe the process is overwhelming.

  • Adam Halpern

    Great blog! I couldn’t agree more.


  • Meeting rooms

    Having being in the SMO industry for a while now,I couldn’y agree less. There definitely is a hierarchy. To many people only engage and build with no actual direction for their efforts.Most importanly you have to listen to be listened to as well.Great post..

  • Pete Steege

    I took a stab at this a while back as well – for me, it’s Listen, Respond, Inspire, Share, Gather.

  • Joseph Manna, Infusionsoft

    Great entry on starting a social media strategy. I suggest fellow entrepreneurs and small business owners hold themselves accountable to a 4-step action plan to engage and participate in social media.

    They can read more at:
    4-Step Action Plan for Social Media Marketing


  • Jesse Kanclerz

    Great hierarchy. It’s hard to tell with you graphic, but planning is the wide base that supports everything else in the social media pyramid.

    In their excitement to jump on the social media bandwagon I could see many companies start right off with listening when they should probably hold off at first. It’s easy for voices and opinions to be amplified by social media, to the point that these people don’t represent your target customers. It’s really easy to get lost in the sea of conversation.

    That’s why your strategy of who you choose to listen to is as important as how you go about engaging.

  • JR

    The “Listen” step gets easier with a web form… I wrote quick instructions on how to create a simple web form to collect opinions from customers… seemed worth including here:
    Embedded in that post is a link to a sample form too.