the social media marketing triangle for food and beverage brands

Time, Quality, Cost – you can have any two

The project management triangle as it is sometimes known is a valuable tool for prioritizing and decision making. It is often used as a throw away tool in training courses. But it is a powerful tool in the hands of a competent leader or professional.

You can pick any two, but you can’t have all three!


[GRAPHIC: An undervalued management tool]

Most people that have been in a business or project management course at some time have heard of the “Project Management Triangle”. This is sometimes known alternatively as the “Triple Constraint” or the “Iron Triangle”. Today we're going to apply it to social media marketing and rename it The Social Media Marketing Triangle so I can have a nice click-baity title.

Just to add some confusion, there are some variants of this model

We're going to be chatting about Time, Quality, and Cost.


[GRAPHIC: Time – Cost – Scope = quality]

The basic premise is this: there are three main factors in all decisions. You can have only two of them.

Let's explore the triple constraints, shall we?

You can build a marketing campaign that is FAST & CHEAP but it won’t be good quality.

You can build a marketing campaign CHEAP & of GOOD QUALITY, but it won’t be quick.

You can build a marketing campaign that is executed quickly and is of high quality but it won't be CHEAP.


[GRAPHIC: Underlying values or scope]

When defining a project or series of work tasks there are boundaries and values that we need to work within. For me at the beginning of any major project I need to understand what are the key priorities. Given a situation, what does the stakeholder or project champion value most? Is it time, quality or cost.

Problems will occur. Compromises will need to be made. Under such situations what comes first? Time, quality or cost? What comes last? say it with me: time, quality or cost?

[GRAPHIC: Tools of Change Management]


It can NEVER be “it depends” or a smirky little "yes". For the record - if the person leading the project tries to claim that all three are possible, they are a terrible person.

For a given project, deliverable, or campaign strategy, there must always be a 1st priority and last priority set. Without this: confusion, indecision, and ultimately failure will rule the day.


[GRAPHIC: The boss wants it all]

Of course, the person paying the bill will want all three. But they cannot have it. A confident project manager knows this and helps the stakeholder to understand that you can have 2 but not all three.

This really manifests itself when it comes to problems and big barriers in the development of the campaign. Things go wrong. The plan gets delayed. Things need to be done. People need to sleep. Life happens. So team members need to understand before things go wrong what the priority really is.


[GRAPHIC: Fixed price projects – pick two]

Any campaign where the price or cost is fixed before the campaign planning starts is a disaster in the making. No matter how well you plan, things will change. When costs are fixed before scope and goals are determined, you are with left one of two outcomes. The campaign timing will be affected, OR the messaging, creative or other elements will not be of the quality that was required. In these situations, low quality could mean less engagement, reach, or sales.

When these problems occur before a campaign scope is determined, there is always a cost or penalty. In this scenario, that cost will be a new time constraint, expending money which wasn't in the budget, or the quality of the messaging, creative or results of the campaign.


[GRAPHIC: Time – the triple constraint]

Time is the factor of speed. When something needs to be done by a certain date. We can always make things faster by throwing more resources at the problem. But that costs money. Equally we can do it for the given time at the given cost, but then the quality slips.


[GRAPHIC: Cost – the triple constraint]

Money and resources are the bedrock of all business decisions. Everything costs something. Sometimes we have extra budget to spend. Other times we do not.


[GRAPHIC: Quality – the triple constraint]

Quality is often difficult to measure. What is “good” quality? What is poor quality? Often quality is in the eye of the beholder. The bottom line for me regarding quality is “fitness for purpose”.

For example is a cheap cup of coffee “quality”? If our need is to get a quick buzz to help us get through the afternoon lulls, then a terrible, caffeine fueled cuppa joe in a styrofoam cup will probably do the trick. If our goal is to impress our flannel-wearing hipster friends with aroma, sourcing, body, acidity, texture, and other characteristics which make up an amazing coffee experience, then we need a much higher specification to meet this definition.

Quality could be said to be a distinctive attribute or characteristic possessed by something. If that attribute is missing, then we will tend to say that quality is lacking.

In marketing, especially in creative fields, quality is extremely subjective and must be trusted to a brand advocate on the team who will push for business decisions to always be made with the protection of the brand image, culture, and other characteristics in mind. I have a belief that when you find that you are saying "no" more often than you are saying "yes" to decisions around marketing and advertising, you are on the correct path do doing it right.


[GRAPHIC: Scope]

All of these factors contribute to the scope of a campaign, the boundaries of your overall digital strategy and the stated goals or outcomes.

Time, quality, and cost – what they don’t tell you is that you can have any two. Not three... two.



So, this model is taught in many courses. It’s name sometimes changes. The dimensions on the triangle sometimes vary. But all of the documentation and literature I have seen all neglect to say that the keys to making this work is discipline, focus, and consistency. Once a priority order for a project has been set, you cannot pick and choose which two you apply as priority throughout the project process. The methodology works best when used as a set of underlying principles behind the campaign as a whole.



The Social Media Marketing Triangle or triple constraint tool is a useful framework for all marketers and business leaders to use as part of the planning when it comes to campaign strategy and problem solving. With everyone involved knowing the constraints and priorities before problems happen, it can make problem solving faster and more aligned to the needs of the organization.

One last thing, if you think you can ignore this, and barrel ahead with what you've been doing in the past, guess what, two will be chosen for you by the very nature of the process. You're better off being in the driver's seat.

How many can you pick? You can pick any two…