Kids, there *are* bad ideas

I am tired, ever-so-tired of hearing people say “there is no such thing as a bad idea.” Believe me, there are plenty of bad ideas out there. Plenty. I have no idea how we got to this “I’m okay, you’re okay” place regarding the equal goodness of all ideas but I’m guessing the answer has something to do with New Math. (Thank you, 7o’s)

What’s more interesting to me is what principles can I adhere to ensure the ideas that come out of my mouth don’t suck. Here’s what I’ve got so far… I’d be interested to know what I’m missing here:

  1. Have a strategy. Your strategy should ladder up to the businesses’ strategy. If you do nothing else but refer back to this principle, it would be almost enough.
  2. Stay up on what’s current. If you have a grasp on what’s actually innovative in the here and now,  it’s hard to want to do things that are older just because three years later you finally figured out what you should have done three years ago.
  3. It’s not about you. If social is the “how” you’re using to get business results, it comes with its own set of rules. One of the most important rules is that you are not solving for the application you wish people would like if they all worked at your company, you’re solving for what they actually like. Based on actual behavior you can see and measure in the real world, not what you want it to be.
  4. Know how to build most things yourself. This is my personal opinion based on experience: if you can build even simple applications you will know more intimately how the internet works and what is most important. And you more than likely won’t make an ass of yourself when the time comes to work with real engineers.

What did I miss?

Psyching out

You know what my big soap box of 2010 appears to be? There is nothing new in the world of the psychology of learning. Just a few days ago I wrote a post about it. Today Ellen Reynolds from Dachis group wrote a post describing Kate Niederhoffer’s presentation about the psychology of teaching people new behaviors. The takeaway: People adopt a new way of doing things (like participating in social media) over time more easily when they are rewarded rather than punished.

If you’ve ever learned about animal training, you already know that’s true: the most effective way to create a new behavior long-term is to ignore undesired behaviors and react immediately and visibly to desired behaviors. From an operant conditioning standpoint, that’s positive reinforcement. Once you establish the new behavior and you want to see it happen more often, you change how often you reward the behavior. So once you’ve got people participating, your start varying the rate at which you reward them. In other words, surprise them with rewards if you want to encourage long-term change. Positive reinforcement changes behaviors and keeps people (and animals) motivated.

And that’s why Kate is so impressive (and rare): science has its place in business. It just takes someone both practical and “on their toes” like her to see it and call it out.

Summarizing what you’ve learned

When you’re moving fast (like is required in social media) it goes without saying that you’re learning from your mistakes as you go, right? Not necessarily. Even for people who don’t love “process” (like me) there is value in taking a few hours every year and writing down your learnings and what the implications are. The process of committing learnings to paper is not unlike the subtly transformative process of writing in a journal:  unspoken assumptions bubble to the surface and implications are questioned and openly re-analyzed.

If you’ve never taken the time to do this process before, do it now. It doesn’t have to be complicated: Make an excel doc with three columns: learning, data, and strategy implications. Keep it to no more than 5 learnings. Commit to doing this process at least once a year. Your ongoing strategies will be better for it.

Real social marketing strategy

Every time I see an article about the “Top 5 Twitter strategies” I roll my eyes a little. And my stomach turns a little Why? Because it perpetuates the notion that people who “get” the notion of “social” believe that strategy=tactics. And *that* hurts my long-term mobility. And frankly, it cheapens the last 5 years of my work life.

So when I see a story about strategy that includes social media as a meaningful “how,” to achieve the stategic “what,” I feel validation and even a little excitement. The New York Times published an article like that today – and I bet it won’t be plastered all over Twitter the way those top-5 lists are.

The story in question? ‘Blind Side’ Finds a Path to the Oscars by Running Up the Middle Have you seen the movie? I did. And frankly its Oscar nominations surprised me. Which makes me wonder how this movie got to this level of acknowlegement. The answer? Great marketing strategy: fishing where the fish are. Plot spoiler: a lot of “fish” are schooling on social media these days.

The producers identified their target audience: “sports fans, families, churchgoers and do-gooders” and figured out how to bring pieces that resonate with them (real college football coaches, a country music singer, and sermon content) to the movie. (Marketing as part of the product process – sound familiar? ) Next, they figured out how to connect that content with the target audience: blogs, online/downloadable video clips, and effectively motivated their base.

Nice work, producers. I admire your strategic thinking and execution. Social pundits, take note.