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The Latest From “Bear In The Woods”

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From my favorite anonymous ad exex:


It was a really long March, filled with client projects, new business pitches, interactive seminars, and several speaking engagements. I’m just now getting back to a somewhat normal routine. While my mind was on mainstream marketing the whole month, it was completely impossible to ignore the chaos that completely characterizes American political discourse these days. It’s getting wacky out there.

The Obama administration continues to re-define the idea of “rookie missteps,” and the GOP continues to swing weakly and wildly in all directions without landing a single punch. As a result, the missteps aren’t resonating individually with the public (although, it seems they may be beginning to resonate, collectively, to some). And there is no clear alternative being offered in a timely fashion by our side. Hmm. From my experience, this is what happens when you pit a nimble and fluid communications organization against one that is slow and deliberate. In today’s climate, with today’s technology, nimble wins — even with missteps.[# More #]

After one of my speaking gigs, a talk on social media I give to various groups, I was approached by a 20-something communicator who was frustrated because the management of her organization wanted to use the tools of social media, but didn’t grasp the principles of the space. I could tell she knew what she was doing — but they didn’t listen much to her, because she wasn’t a part of senior management. It’s a familiar story: Management has heard of the new tools, isn’t really sure what they do or how to use them — but, well, because it seems the whole world has this Twitter thing, and we need one, too. Those young people know about this stuff, but we’re not completely comfortable letting them run with it. We’ll get them to set it up, and then we’ll control it from there.

Management that is new to the social media space is almost universally flabbergasted by the notion that to use the space effectively, they cannot attempt to throttle the message. I believe this comes from the long-standing misguided notion that advertisers have ever controlled the message. In fact, they haven’t.

I remember a few years back getting an email from someone in a European ad agency who wanted to upload her clients’ TV commercials to the web. She wanted to know if I knew of some sort of fail-safe way that could prevent people from downloading the commercials, and making fun of them (what we now call a mashup.) I wrote her back to assure her that not only was there no way to prevent that from happening if she uploaded, in fact, there was no way to prevent it at all. They were TV commercials. What’s to keep people from taping them off the air, and doing a mashup? The point is, new media isn’t suddenly allowing people to publicly disagree with you. They’ve always been able to do that. It just makes it more visible, and much faster. So you have two choices: You can clam up and say nothing; or you can voice your opinion in a way that appeals to more people, so fewer thinking people will be tempted to mashup what you say. Note here that controlling people so they don’t publicly disagree with you is not an available option.

The second big stumbling block for management unaccustomed to social media is the labor-intensive nature of the space. This is not a “set it and forget it” world. It’s an ongoing conversation, 27/7, and anyone can, and does, play. If you want to be a part of the conversation, not only must your content be relevant, it must also be fresh. And frequently “fresh,” in this space, means minutes. Which is a far cry from the months most organizations are used to having to respond to a shift in the market, or in opinion. Because there’s so much to keep up with, and so much to respond to, social media is a difficult place for the top-down, micro-management inclined. There’s no time for a committee to debate and tweak every Tweet — because by the time that’s done, the Tweet is irrelevant. The world has moved on.

An understanding of the space is necessary before any organization can effectively employ the tools of the space. Buying a new set of golf clubs doesn’t make you Tiger Woods. The tools are just tools — but the space is made up of people, all of whom have opinions you hope to sway. They’ve created the space, and they have rules for it. If you’re not willing to play by the prevailing, and constantly changing, rules of the space, you’re going to lose very quickly. The people who know the rules of the space best are the people who live in the space. In most long-estalished organizations, those people are the youngest people in the place. They’re almost never in upper management.

Social media favors nimble organizations that are not afraid to share opinions that brew from the bottom of the organization up. Which isn’t the picture of a typical old-school advertiser, and certainly isn’t the picture of the GOP. When I asked the 20-something what her organization did, she told me she worked for a conservative interest group. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised.

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