The Four Magic Questions (4MQ): Preparing For A Social Media Program

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Raw Customer Volunteered Information

ArCompany works with enterprise clients to help them leverage the intelligence that can be extracted from social media services and networks.  But why is social media so important?  ArCompany believes that the social media universe is the untapped conduit for raw, customer-volunteered information.  It is high quality and often unseen by many companies.  

And Social Media is not just for managing the company’s brand or for HR acquisition.  Social Media, when properly leveraged can improve your product development, your sales approach, and even your customer service.

It is also ArCompany’s view that information and intelligence technologies are moving at a faster pace than many organizations can keep up with.

For example, we typically find that most people are very surprised to learn that there are hundreds of social media services from the well known (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) to the lesser know but all important forums, blogs, news services, and RSS feeds for delivering a wide variety of information including things like coupons / discounts, and so on (RSS is short for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication).

Social Lumascape - Courtesy Dan Oullette Luma Partners

Courtesy of Dan Oullette of Luma Partners via Flickr


Getting Started With Social Media

So, like with any large project, an organization should not just jump into the “snake pit” by setting up social media accounts with a number of services, and begin collecting data without first formulating a strategic plan (e.g. Why are we here?, What results are we trying to accomplish? Who is our target audience?  What is the best way to reach them? … and so on.

Quite often when an organization is planning their future, like the rollut of a Social Media Program, they miss the all important step of taking stock of where they are today.  This issue of knowing where you are today is crucial not just for embarking on a social media program, but applicable when starting any project, opportunity, event, new organization or simply analyzing and solving a problem or failure when it occurs.

I have a favourite facilitated exercise to determine your current situation.  I call it the 4MQ Process or Four Magic Questions.  It takes about a half day with the appropriate group of stakeholders pursuing a common objective.  This exercise of answering the four magic questions (referred to as 4MQ) is a fast and effective way to identify the current situation.  It is useful in strategic planning, establishing communications programs or simply conducting a “post mortem” to address a problem or crisis.  Most importantly, it provides guidance for an organization to get into effective action.  So let me describe the process and I encourage you to try it!

The 4MQ Process

Typically these questions are answered by a group of stakeholders related to the event or problem.  It is important to have as many of the stakeholders present at the session as practical, because the output will be richer with more points of view.  Often people do not think that meetings are productive (especially large groups) and therefore elect not to attend.  A properly facilitated 4MQ session can accommodate up to 10 – 15 people and may produce some of the most valuable guidance for an organization, and enable a rapid resolution to a problem.  The time investment is a trivial concern for the resulting value.  The group should also not be limited to one function (e.g. executives, a single functional group, etc.), because the power is not just in the questions, it’s also in the diversity of viewpoints.

The 4MQ process involves a “greenlighting” approach, where the members of the group answer the four magic questions noted below, addressing one question at a time, in a prescribed order.  It is best done with 3M “yellow stickies” and a whiteboard – the reason for this “hi tech” approach is that it provides the most flexibility to record, display and re-organize the responses in a group facilitation.

So, what are the Four Magic Questions (4MQ)?

  1.  What is Working and making a difference to the desired outcome / result of the situation?
  2.  What is Not Working, and if fixed would make a difference to the desired outcome / result of the situation?
  3.  What is Missing, and if provided would make a difference to the desired outcome / result of the situation?
  4.  What is Working and making NO difference to the desired outcome / result of the situation?

Explanation of The Four Magic Questions (4MQ) and Their Order

So, why do these questions have to be addressed in this order?  The following is a brief explanation for each of the 4MQs.

What is Working and making a difference?

  • This question is first, so that the group can establish some positives out of the event or problem.  These positives cause the remainder of the exercise to be framed in a constructive / problem solving manner, rather than looking to lay blame for the outcomes of the event or problem.
  • These items that are Working can also be the base of a communications program to be distributed beyond the participants of the session to a larger group of stakeholders

What is Not Working, and if fixed would make a difference?

  • Once a positive environment is established from the first question, the focus needs to shift to things that are Not Working or broken.  Broken means that the item is present, but not working as it was intended and therefore needs to be fixed.  Typically these items require quick attention, like putting out a fire.  However, of the several items that may be identified as broken (typically a similar number as the number of Workings), usually only a few “big fires” deserve attention.  Too much focus on too many these Not Workings (or “Fires”) could consume an organization’s entire resources, leaving nothing for future looking growth opportunities.  The importance of this resource issue will become more apparent with the next question.

What is Missing, and if provided would make a difference?

  • Different from Not Working, where the item is present but broken, Missing means that it is not present and therefore something to be provided in the future as a strategic opportunity.  There is no negative connotation for an item that is missing, because if it could have been provided, it would have.  A Missing is not a breakdown, but rather an opportunity for a breakthrough – a fresh new item that is different from the past.  This exercise should yield about three times as many Missings as there are Workings or Not Workings.  When an organization runs out of Missings, it becomes stagnant and stops to grow … Missings are a good thing and become the foundation for a future strategic plan.

What is Working, but making No Difference (and should be discontinued)?

  • The importance of identifying things that are Working, but making No Difference, is that they should be stopped and the resources used should be re-invested into working on a Missing or a Not Working issue.  An example might be the expensive “accounting report” that is created and providing correct information, but no one reads it and therefore it has no impact other than to eat up valuable resources with no positive result.

How To Facilitate a 4MQ Process Session

The process of answering these four magic questions is done in the following steps:

  1. Each participant is given a Sharpie pen and a pack of yellow 3M stickies (best size is 2.5” x 3.5” and yellow is best to allow clear visibility for all to see the answers from around the room).
  2. Each participant proceeds to answer the first question (Working?) by printing one answer per sticky.  Each participant continues to generate as many items as they can and puts them up onto the wall in any order, but grouped under that “What is Working?” question.  It is completely appropriate to have an ongoing discussion about the items as they go up on the wall, but primarily for clarification, not about deciding whether to put an item up on the wall or not … In “greenlighting” there are no bad suggestions … all are accepted and go up on the wall.
  3. Once the number of stickies being produced for the first question starts to slow down, one person should read what’s on the list to the group to promote the final push for answers to that question.  And remember, All things are permanent! … until we decide to change them! (anyone can propose change to the group)… this act of conscious decision means that anything can be changed or added at a later date, so we shouldn’t be concerned about issues or strategic direction being cast in stone!  Change, when well managed, is good!
  4. Repeat the above steps for each question in the above order, for the reasons given in the section above describing the four questions.
  5. As a group (get out of your seats) and look over all the stickies, one question at a time to look for duplicates.  If the duplicate is exact remove one of the stickies and discard.  If the duplicate is not exact, but the intent is clearly the same, select the one that best describes the item, and take the other one(s) and stick them behind the preferred item.  There should be conversation to gain alignment amongst the group on the preferences.  Be careful not to jump to conclusions on duplicates just to reduce the number of stickies … if there is any question by any member about whether there is duplication (subtle or not), it is better to leave them as separates.
  6. Repeat the above step for each question in the above order.
  7. Once the duplicates are addressed, it is now time to rank the items under each question, in order of priority based how much of a difference the issue could make.  Although it is important to continue discussing and clarifying the items, the priority setting process is based on each individual making their own choices.  The method of choosing is called N/3, meaning that if there are fifteen items under the first question, each participant gets to chose five items (N = 15, N/3 = 15/3 = 5). Each participant should put a tick mark on each of the stickies they chose (you can use a custom mark if it helps to remember which ones you have selected to arrive at your N/3 choices, but the intent is not to specifically identify each choice by each person).
  8. Repeat the above step for each question in the above order.
  9. The next step is to re-order the stickies for the first question into a priority list based on the number of N/3 votes for each.  A number of the items will not have votes.  Although these items sit below the prioritized items, they must not be discarded as they are part of the overall story, and ultimately should be actioned.
  10. Repeat the above step for each question in the above order.
  11. The final lists should then be documented by putting the items into the chart supplied below.  Record the votes for each item, so their relative importance can be seen.

The following is a sample chart that was done for a trade show event.  Each box below is a separate answer (a yellow sticky) that is prioritized based on the number of votes received.




What’s Working?


N/3 Votes


What’s Not Working?





What’s Missing?


N/3 Votes


What’s Working –        No Difference?



N/3 Votes


  •  Attracted a good number of Visitors



  •  Loading ramp facilities (particularly at end of show)



  •  Live broadcast / recording of the event


  • Saturday night entertainment – costly and not impactful



  •  Attracted a good number of Exhibitors



  •  Exhibitors limitations getting in and out of the show



  •  Daily print exposure


  • Celebrity Speaker – for marketing value



The Importance of Vision and Desired Outcomes

Before we begin to answer the four magic questions, the organization or event or problem should have a set of measurable objectives or outcomes that are created in the context of an organizational vision.  The combination of the vision and the desired outcomes are the reference points for the “making a difference” in each of the four magic questions.  When we say what’s working and making a difference, it means what’s working to provide the desired outcomes as created under the vision for the organization / group / event or problem.

What To Do With the Answers of the 4MQ

Just because the group has completed the exercise of answering the four magic questions, this does not mean the job is done.  This information should be used as input to a more rigorous strategic design process.  It can also be used to drive immediate actions to address the solution to the problem or provide guidance for the next event.  To summarize the next steps:

  • Items from the first question, “What’s Working?”, could be packaged into a communication document and distributed to a larger group of stakeholders as appropriate.  The highest priority items should be given the most highlights.
  • The top two or three items from the second question, “What’s not Working?” should be identified as action items and assigned for resolution using the RACI model.  RACI is a model for identifying what roles stakeholders will play in the actioning and resolution of an item.  RACI stands for:

A – Accountable, a single person who is prime for the item action and resolution

R – Responsible, multiple people can volunteer (or be chosen by the A) to perform work on resolving the item under the direction of the Accountable person.

C- Consulted, multiple people may have an expertise that should be consulted to assist in resolving the item

I – Informed, a wider variety of individuals (and possibly organizations) should be informed about the resolution activity of the item, but will not play a direct role in the actual activity (e.g. senior management, a related group, etc.).

It is very important that only the top items (typically “giant fires”) be addressed (and usually in a time dependent manner), so that the organization does not sink all of its resources into a long list of “smaller fires”.  It is critical for an organization to leave some resources to address the all important Missings.  It should be noted that if an item in this “Not Working” group is absolutely critical, it must be addressed.  And we do not discard any of the items on this list, but rather try to complete all of them over time based on the team’s ongoing assessment of their importance.  They should never be taken off the list if they have not been resolved.

  • Items from the third question, “What’s Missing?” could be considered the most valuable since they represent the future strategic initiatives of the organization.  As mentioned above, the exercise should yield considerably more Missings than Workings or Not Workings.  If an organization runs out of Missings, it is running out of new ideas.  After addressing the day to day activities and the highest priority Not Working “Fires”, the organization should invest as much of its resources as possible into Missings to drive growth.  Don’t take on more than you can action and resolve, but don’t scrimp on the resources for strategic Missings.  The list should be maintained without discarding any items … simply cross off and acknowledge those that have been resolved (and celebrate these accomplishments) and keep adding to the list.
  • Items from the fourth question, “What’s Working, but making no Difference?”, are the least valuable and should have resources moved away from them and re-invested in actioning the Not Workings and the Missings.  Even when stopped they should not be removed from the list as a reminder not to do them again in the future.

Now, let’s get into action and tryout the 4MQ process!  For your desired Social Media Program outcome (or vision), use something like  “Increasing Sales through Social Media Based Selling by x%” or “Leveraging Social Media to Improve Customer Service and Reduce Churn by Y%”.  Start with a focused outcome, assemble your stakeholders and begin filling in those yellow stickies!

I hope you enjoyed this blog and it has stimulated some questions and conversation, or maybe even caused some action!

In my next blog, I will show how this the 4MQ process can be used as the groundwork for creating a more structured strategic plan.

Let me know what you think of the 4MQ Process and please share your experiences.


One thought on “The Four Magic Questions (4MQ): Preparing For A Social Media Program

  1. hessiejones says:

    lilachbullock Thanks Lilach:)) appreciate it!

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