Many of us who have been in digital for a while have been surprised at how long it’s taken social media to mainstream into business, and how many businesses are still struggling to adapt to it.

Countless articles get written about what’s wrong with social media, and what people are doing wrong in its execution. Many of those things focus on the tactical details, or fluffy philosophies about what does and doesn’t constitute “being social” in business.

The problem is that all of those things really come second to another bigger, more pervasive problem that continues to hold social media back even today.

Far and away, the thing that prevents most social and digital strategy from getting budget, buy-in and resources is the inability of social media practitioners to tie their work to larger business goals.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: social media is not a strategy in itself. It can’t be if it has any hope of being successful and effective. Social and digital are modes. They’re just mechanisms of executing against broader strategies. In some cases that’s marketing, but increasingly it’s also things like customer service, sales, employee advocacy or even product development and innovation.

When we continue to get tangled in the weeds of thinking that “better social media” is the goal, we lose sight of the fact that we are supposed to be driving business goals: revenue, cost savings, efficiency, growth, brand reputation. And if we can’t make that connection, our programs will forever be isolated into the “nice to have” bucket because we aren’t directly connecting them to the outcomes executives care about.

The corollary to this is that the same practitioners must abandon the mindset that digital transformation is an event, or a moment in time when a switch gets flipped and suddenly an organization becomes progressive and savvy about all things social and digital.

As a marketing executive, I’ve had a number of programs pitched to me over the years by my teams or agencies that seem to have merits and sound interesting, clever, fun or exciting. But without a realistic assessment of the very real risks involved (there are always risks), the change management required, the processes and resources that will be needed to be successful, and a mechanism to evaluate that success to make future decisions about those programs, they’re not truly mature business proposals. They’re just interesting ideas.

Encouraging businesses to adopt and adapt to digital requires that we, the champions of that idea of progress, treat it as seriously as we would like it to be taken by others. That requires rigor, discipline, analysis, and careful planning so that the strategies are built as robustly as any others the company invests in.

As long as we continue to focus our conversation on accumulating followers and likes and views, berate companies who aren’t “social” enough for our tastes, and denigrate any approach that isn’t break-stuff-revolutionary as staid and shortsighted, we’ll struggle to get digital transformation strategies seen as credible and viable in business.

If we want change and progress, we have to be willing to give it the best chance to succeed. And we can only do that by raising our game to create a strong business case for social that is tied to the most important outcomes for our businesses.

Until then, none of the other “mistakes” matter. Because we’re just playing small ball.