The next frontier – part I

A new frontier in social marketingI’m biased and I admit it. In the past year or two, something wonderful (or terrible, depending on your point of view) has happened: lots of people are jumping on the “social” bandwagon. As someone who’s been in the trenches pioneering the work to shift a big company to approaching all aspects of our work in a way that incorporates help from our customers, I respect other pioneers more than newcomers. I just do. I suspect the other “first movers” from big companies feel the same way, although no one actually comes right out and says so.

Here’s why: people who were on the boat from the beginning have a shared experience. Without saying so, I know we’ve all faced the same skepticism, rolling eyes, and outright sneers from co-workers we respect and admire. We’ve all experienced the joy that comes with seeing new people understand and adopt new practices that embrace customers. We understand that the wins you have as an innovator may not be the ones you expected, but you celebrate them nonetheless.

A few personal stories on why relationships between pioneers matter so deeply:

When I first met Seth Greenberg four years ago, I suspect we both felt like two guppies in a pond full of goldfish. Both recent hires from internet backgrounds, we found ourselves surrounded by some of the smartest people we’d ever met. And they all thought in a really different way than we did – the consumer packaged goods way. (for those unfamiliar with that approach it’s traditional, disciplined, and steeped in decades of research and data) Our first meeting was at our then VP of Marketing’s staff meeting – he had asked me to present our work with the Inner Circle.  As I walked through the site, explaining how we partnered with customers to create our product, most of the room listened with varying degrees of interest. But not Seth. He lit up immediately, offering ideas of what we could do on the site to make it even more interactive. “Finally!” I remember thinking, “finally, someone I can talk to about this stuff.”

Around this same time two product managers whose opinions I still deeply respect to this day were telling me to, in effect, get a real job because nothing was ever going to come of this social stuff. But not Seth. And when it was time to leave product management for my next career move, our shared experience helped pave the way to a brand new opportunity working for Seth. (Which was transforming for both of us, I think)

Just as surely I knew “social” was the direction to go four years ago, I know the “early majority” jumping on board now is a necessary thing – the next frontier. How can we scale our efforts without their help? We can’t. And like Charlene Li states in her new book Open Leadership I need to find a way to enable even more adoption and still be a leader.

Next up: embracing the challenge of the unknown.

5 things that matter in a social lead

There’s a lot of chatter among folks in social media about where in an organization the “control center” for social should live. Perhaps not too surprisingly, the answer each person gives to that question typically reflects where they live in the organization. Here’s the thing: if you believe that social is about partnering with customers to solve business problems, is there some area of the business where that won’t apply? (I’m guessing the answer is mostly no, Legal aside) So in the end, since social should be an end-to-end “how” that can solve many “whats,” does it matter where it lives in the organization? In my mind, the answer is no.

In my experience, here’s what does matter for the social strategy lead:

  1. Understanding the medium and how it applies to your business – does the person understand the importance of listening and understanding what your customer base really thinks and wants? Do they already know how your customers talk about you and want to be talked to? Do they already have experience “doing” social?
  2. Strategic thinking – can the person match up strategic assets and emerging technologies? As a former boss of mine used to say, you need to be able to “skate where the puck is going.”
  3. Communication skills – chances are, this person is going to be up against some pretty tall odds in your organization as they try and change the corporate culture to be more open. Can they present to large groups effectively? Can they establish relationships with people in the organization who will be future partners in social solutions they create together?
  4. Advocacy – can the person advocate for customers, even at the thought of short-term career costs? Can they balance what the customer needs are and the business needs are when they need to? Can they identify when to advocate and when to back off?
  5. Leadership – Does the leader in this area of the organization think social is a priority worth fighting for? If they don’t, it’s not the right place for it, regardless of how great the person leading social may be.

If you want to be brave, get people to do something new

Make natural behaviors happen more frequently …But if you want to be smart, figure out what they do naturally and see if you can get more people to do it, or get people to do it more often.

From an operant conditioning standpoint, it’s a lot easier to train established behaviors to happen on cue, a lot harder to shape an entirely new behavior. How do I know? I used to teach a Marine Mammal Behavior and Training class at SDSU Extended Studies during my many years of working in Education at SeaWorld.

Some of the “easier” training at SeaWorld happens when trainers see the animal doing a behavior they’d like to repeat on cue. They reinforce the behavior immediately, which increases the likelihood of the behavior happening again. (Kind of like kindergarten teachers give “caught you being good” awards)

So there you go: license to be a little lazy/smart: to increase your success rate, focus your marketing efforts on doing something you know happens organically.