Inbound Marketing Strategy Is For Ants

There are several differing opinions about whether you can really strategize your inbound and social media marketing. Project managers want solid milestones and contingencies, while "creative" types want to float freely through inspiration from dandelions. At the end of the day, you just want to maximize your profits.

Here's how we advise clients about creating a social media, inbound marketing, interactive or whatever-else-you-want-to-call-it "strategy". Usually, because your business has some sort of focus, you probably want to have your online content generally pointing in that same direction. Got it. But let's see how the ants get results.

For those who are interested, this post was born out of my interest and use of "Complex Adaptive Systems". You can click on that link to learn more about it, I won't bore you with the details here.

In an ant colony, there is no executive team of ants creating plans to obtain the required food for the colony. In fact, there is no real hierarchy at all. While it is complex, it's based on simple rules, all of them at the local level of the individual ant. For finding food, certain ants walk in different directions in search of food. If they find food, then on the way back home, they leave a trace smell that says "Keep following this path for food".

As other ants follow that path and find food, they too leave the trace smell, creating a "food highway" for more ants to get more food. If the food source dries up, then over time the scent markers fade and not as many ants use that trail.

With your online marketing strategy, as with the ants, you have to choose an initial direction (platform, message content, graphics...etc) and this choice can be informed by those who have come before you.  Once you launch your plan, then another key concept from watching ants comes into play: patterns emerge from the interactions.

These patterns provide feedback to you, Supreme Leader of Strategy. But here's where two paths diverge. There's very little chance of the results being what you designed. One way to look at it is to ask "How do we get back on track with our strategy?". The other way, which would be the way of the ant, is to say "Let's listen to what the patterns are telling us."

Here are some key lessons from ants that we apply to online marketing strategy:


  1. Keep rules simple - When someone finds "food", tell others about it and put more people on it.
  2. Learn from patterns - Using tools like Google Analytics, see what feedback can tell you about your next move. Strategy then becomes a state of constant reorganization and not adherence to a plan.
  3. Trade efficiency for effectiveness - Ant hills are not as much efficient as they are effective. In your campaigns, get past large numbers of visits or email opens and look for keywords or calls-to-action that have a high conversion rate. Even if only 20 people click through a keyword with a high conversion rate, there may be something to learn from it.


As online/social media marketing makes its way up the corporate ladder, the concept of "strategy" is being applied to more and more of the online, inbound or social media tools. The problem with this is that you start to sound like everyone else and pretty soon six sigma ninjas are swooping in to downsize your Twitter handle. Creativity wanes, innovation suffers and "best practices" become the norm, whatever those are.

Be adaptive like the ants when it comes to your online marketing strategy. Tell others when you find success and follow others when they find it. Look in different directions and analyze the emerging patterns to improve your effectiveness. Write a project plan if you want, but do it in pencil. 

Share your experience with online marketing "strategy" in our comment section below, we are interested in what you have to say!