Setting the social media agenda where one doesn’t exist

Last week, I was having dinner with some friends who were discussing their frustration with being in organizations where it felt as though there was no true agenda in regards to their web presence. While these folks are quite good at what they do, neither of them felt particularly strategic in their thinking and it wasn’t part of the job they felt they were taking. I told them they needed to reconsider that the thought that their only job was execution, but rather, being an asset required taking a more strategic view of things.

The conversation fired me up enough, that I had to put on my teaching strategist hat in-between bites of gluten free pizza.

Here were some of the takeaways:

1. You need to be the subject matter expert: Maybe you feel as though you’re good at specific things and feel out of your realm when it comes to trying to provide a senior leader direction on a topic. That’s understandable. But the reason you’re there is often to be the “young, fresh mind” offering up key insights and information that will help the organization move forward in its marketing digitally. In the case of these two folks, they’re working for non-profits with limited budgets, but that’s not a unique thing. Which leads me to…

2. See what others are doing well: There are so many resources online that you can spend entire days — to your peril — researching discovering and voraciously reading the pros, cons and so forth of what other people on doing online. The bottom line here is you can find people in your field and around it, doing things that can be of benefit to your organization. It doesn’t mean doing the same things, it means figuring out what’s working and what doesn’t, so you can provide a value-added benefit to the organization.

3. Assess your goals by listening and asking questions: For my shy friends who flourish designing, this one seemed the hardest. “What if I say something stupid? I mean, what if they ignore what I have to say?” Understandable fears, but you never know until you try. And the tactics involved in converting people to a new way of thinking often require showing rather than telling. It can be tempting to want to inundate folks with the bevy of new things that may or may not help. (And don’t get me started on the calls from consultants offering to change your life with this product or that one…) But it’s your responsibility to curate the best ideas, implement what you can within your responsibility and be able to show how it’s helping.

4. What’s the punchline?: Often times, it just boils down to giving someone the punchline. In organizations where people are wearing lots of hats, with leadership who might be set in a different way of doing things (read: older), it might be challenging to convince them to really propel forward with bold new innovations for fear they won’t work as well as conventional methods. That’s where it’s your responsibility to track, measure and evaluate what’s working and what doesn’t. Make sure that everything you’re doing can be tied by to goals that you established, so there’s no confusion about what time is being spent on.

Time will tell whether this recommendations from this spirited discussion — ok, spirited from my end — will necessarily help, but they’re both reported feeling more confident since our little impromptu lesson.

Intentional Walks In The Workplace

This post is going to talk about baseball to make a broader point (I hope) so if you’re initially turned off, you should just go with me for a minute.

Joe Posnanski is probably the best writer about baseball in the business right now. His blog posts are quite long, but he writes yesterday about the World Series in Game 6. In case you weren’t watching, the long story short is basically that the Texas Rangers were just a strike away from winning the World Series twice in Game 6. They eventually lost that game and Game 7 the following night to go home runners-up from the World Series for the second straight year.

I’ll let Joe’s article set the backdrop to what I want to talk about here:

Then came Game 6, 10th inning, the Texas Rangers up a run. The Cardinals had the tying run on second base. And Albert Pujols stepped to the plate.

Baseball fans watch for a million reasons. It’s silly to try to reduce the game to a simple, “This is what the game’s all about” cliché, because the game is all about many, many things. But, Game 6 of the World Series, 10th inning, two outs, runner in scoring position, Albert Pujols at the plate, the whole city of St. Louis going bonkers — yeah, that’s a pretty good moment for the game. That’s a time when you wake up your kids to watch. That’s one you think about for the rest of your life.

And Ron Washington had his pitcher Scott Feldman intentionally walk Albert Pujols.

Now, you can question the strategy of the move, and you would be right. Washington was putting the winning run on base. The next batter, Lance Berkman, is one of the best hitters of the last generation, and he would have the platoon advantage being a switch-hitter, and in 2011, anyway, Berkman was actually BETTER against right-handed pitchers than Pujols.

2011 vs. righties:

Pujols: .300/.372/.525

Berkman: 307/.427/.571

But, I’m not talking strategy here. I’m talking about competition. I’m talking about conviction. I’m talking about guts. Ron Washington, in the biggest moment, didn’t trust his pitcher to get the final out. Ron Washington, in the biggest moment, tried to win the World Series by means of evasion, tried to win the World Series with an out-of-court settlement. And it was grotesque.

This whole sequence didn’t bother me because it was questionable baseball strategy — I’m a web guy with some tennis background, I might love baseball as a spectator, but I can only second guess — but rather because it was so clearly a questionable leadership decision. At the most critical moment at the most critical time. At a time when the boss could only watch, he inserted himself into the situation and made the best call that he thought he could make at the time.

There’s no shame in that. But the choice was essentially to concede defeat at a point when the stakes were high, but not so high that if there was a problem (worst case: pitcher gives up a 2-run home run to tie the game) that it couldn’t be fixed in some myriad of ways after the at-bat. But to step in and raise the stakes (now we’ve got 2 guys on base and are sending the winning run to the plate to face the music) and expect optimal performance — even if it’s just a situation that happens routinely in the sport — given the magnitude of the circumstances, it seemed extremely shortsighted.

I don’t have to live with the choice. Sure it might have cost that franchise millions of dollars in lost revenues associated with the prestige of winning a World Series title. But he won’t get fired, because somebody has to lose the World Series and it’s a rare occasion to even be there. A real life example? You’ve got to pitch a big project to a particular client and your ace comes down with some rare non-fatal, highly contagious Antarctic flu and can’t deliver. You need to rely on someone else and you’re not able to do it yourself. Rescheduling is not an option. So what do you do? In our baseball example, you’d just say “there will be other people who want to work with us. We’ll just wait for him, because if we can’t pitch him with our best guy, we won’t pitch him at all. They’re good for us to give our B game.”

I’m being over the top here. I just think there’s a real lesson embedded in this sports metaphor and it prompted me to jot all of this down. You draw your own conclusions and if you’re so inclined, leave a comment. (Especially if you’re one of those sixthousand Cardinals fans on my Twitter feed who surely supported Ron Washington’s decision. Hehe.)

Things to ask before you redo your web site (for higher ed)

Now I’m piggybacking pretty heavily here on a post by Seth Godin today, but I felt it was a timely post and one I’ve touched on before. As you might not, the real reason I started this blog in the first place, was as a place to log my thoughts in the process of the various web redesigns I’ve been a part over the past few years.

So much the redesign process in higher education is about pleasing a ton of people who often times don’t understand what really goes into getting a new site up and running. Other times, the process involves a metric ton of folks who all have their own ideas of what the site ought to look like, do and how it should work. It can be exhausting for the people charged with figuring it all out and making it work, especially if they’re working alone or don’t have the best support system.

Seth’s suggestions were useful for business, but for higher ed I think the things to ask might be a bit different, so I put together my own list of questions you ought to ask before lifting a finger to start your web site redesign: (in no specific order)

  • Who are we trying to reach?
  • Who are we reaching effectively right now through our other campaigns?
  • Can we save money by melding print content onto the web? Will this help us reach a wider audience?
  • What about auxiliary, constituent and other organizations attached to the school who have separate sites? Will they be folded into a new site, if at all?
  • Does athletics need a separate web presence? Have we included them in the process?
  • Will a new site help us communicate who we are better to our intended audiences?
  • What are we doing right online right now? How can we improve on that with our existing web presence?

I’m just scratching the surface here, but it really depends on the college or university. Ultimately, redesigning your web site is akin to erecting a new building on campus. It’s not just a piece of marketing material, for the time it exists it’s part of your physical plant. People will see it more than they see obscure buildings on your beautiful campus. If it’s an eyesore, if it’s difficult to use and fails to provide information about your school that people are looking for; every visit will be like getting lost in a huge building with no one to guide you.

What are your suggestions? What should people ask before embarking on a web site redesign?

Goal setting

Every year, I start the year by setting three goals that I need to accomplish. It something I do to give focus to the year, to keep things simple and yet to constantly challenge myself with things that I need/want to do each year.

One of the things that I’ve thought about a lot — and it relates directly to this blog — is the fact that I’ve managed to truly accomplish much of what I set out to do this year and it’s already August.

That being said, new challenges always find ways to vault themselves to the top of the list and I am thinking of new ways to accomplish bigger life goals all of the time.

One of the things that I’m reflecting on lately, is trying to be more proactive about always doing something to advance myself closer to where I’d like to be in the future. Whether the future we’re talking about is tomorrow, next week or next year, I think it’s always critical to find ways to challenge yourself and not to become so mired in the ‘now’ that you lose sight of the big picture.

Action oriented living

I think sometimes being confined to institutional or corporate settings for too long can make you forget what it’s like to just conceive an idea, identify the problems as you move forward and just make something happen.

I’ve been talking a lot over the past few months in conversations with co-workers and friends about the idea of directing my own life to be more action oriented. To stop dreaming or wondering or waiting for particular things to happen or to fall into place and to actually make things happen.

To be sure, it’s not a fool-proof plan. There are lots of things that can go wrong and naturally there are times in your life when you’re just not able to be as action oriented as you’d otherwise like to be.

But I think the whole process can be boiled down to:
1. Honesty: Being honest with yourself is confronting the things about your life that you might be aware of, that others are not and coming with ways to approach, attack and solve those issues no matter how vexing or unpleasant to think about they might be.
2. Focus: Focus isn’t just a matter of pondering incessantly about what you can’t fix. It’s focusing your energy, your time and your passion on the things you can do. And then start making that progress every day. Another thing about focus is that you can’t allow yourself to get distracted, worried about externalities like other people’s thoughts about what you’re doing. Considering the impact of your choices is one thing, but letting negative perceptions or stuff you’re imagining impact you negatively just isn’t going to solve anything.
3. Dousing Your Fears: I say dousing your fears, because if fear is fire, all they really need is a firefighters hose to extinguish them. It doesn’t mean that 1) there won’t be other fires or 2) you won’t have some work to rebuild stuff after they’re gone, but knowing that fear can’t control you, is the way that you can truly free yourself towards an action oriented lifestyle.
4. Do What You Can: Like playing chess, you always have to make a move when it’s your turn.

Even if your move is just to lay the king down and concede, you still have to make a move. The match could go on for hours, you could be down to just a few pieces and yet…you still have a move to make. I played chess online once a few months back and I remember playing a guy who was clearly better than me and rated way higher than I was. We fought to this duel, where I barely had any pieces, managed to get a pawn into a queen and I think each of us had just two pieces when it was done. We ended up in a draw, but it was the most satisfying draw ever, because I literally fought back from the edge of the earth to get to that point.

Tying that back to life, you can’t get anywhere if you don’t leave the spot you’re in. You have to be moving to get anywhere.

Institutional climates can really kill the fire of people who coming in poised to make wide, vast and sweeping changes. They dream of these things not because they have some innate desire to muck things up or to destroy the status quo (ok, at least some of them don’t.)

Their desire to make an impact. To have their influence felt. And the issue isn’t even about getting the credit, but simply to be recognized as one who knows how to contribute and who does their job better, as well as feel like their impact made all of the difference. It’s increasingly apparent that the divide between the boomer generation and millennials is causing an interesting shift in the way we reward people, make them feel validated and offer them the sort of career path that gives them satisfaction they can use to fuel their lives.

Life’s work is no longer just about work and life separately, but something that you can be passionate about in the morning all the way through the night.

The peril of dreamstorming

Dreamstorming is a term I’ve coined to describe the process where brainstorming goes south. We all know what brainstorming is — whether in an individual or group environment — and it’s potential benefits.  But dreamstormers can be a deterrent to finishing a project effectively and clearly, because they spend entirely too much time with their heads in the clouds and not enough time on the ground as nimble creatures plotting out a forward-thinking project.

How so?

Well for starters, let’s define what a dreamstormer is. We’re talking about a person who goes to meetings and asks for the pie in the sky. If you’re working for a widget company, they come to the annual widget marketing meeting and say something like, Wouldn’t it be great if we could offer an online widget tutorial where we could let potential clients build a custom widget that they can then purchase?

Answer? Of course. But does that really meet the needs of the organization? Is that going to help our target audience understand why our widgets are superior and want to purchase them? Do we really have the resources to implement and maintain something like that?

Dreamstormers want to shoot for the moon and will sometimes cite statistics as to why or quote some obscure consultant’s blog they read as more evidence for why it ought to happen. These aren’t pragmatic people who understand the needs of the institution. They are more focused on wants rather than needs. For them, it’s all about the big picture and overstating where the organization’s place in the marketplace lies.

How does one overcome dreamstormer thinking?

It’s easy. You have to know your organization. You have the clearly understand the goals of your particular project, have a plan and delegate effectively. Too often, it’s easy to plan projects the way they’ve “always been done” for fear of stepping on the toes of people who have “always had the bread in their oven” so to speak and have sliced it the way they’ve seen fit. While it might serve them best, since they are the ones who are always well fed, it might be incumbent upon those in other areas who are left to deal with this prospect to suggest that “maybe it’s time to change the way we slice bread around here.”

I recognize that there are all sorts of internal political battles that one has to negotiate in these situations. But this entire piece is focused on people who are stakeholders and in a position to say something that might make a process run better to not just complain, but to have a better idea in place of the status quo and understand why that suggestion makes sense.

How does dreamstorming start?

It starts when two people or more are talking. They something like, “Wouldn’t it be great if we…” Someone else joins into the conversation and agrees. They develop a consensus and before the end of the conversation have said the same thing in three or five different ways. They leave and one of them is uniquely frustrated with “how the process works” and “wishes things were different.”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with thinking about big ideas or trying to think outside of the box to challenge an organization in some critical ways. But dreaming about it isn’t going to anyone anywhere.

So when that person leaves the group, they start dreaming about ways to change the status quo. They might propose big ideas in meetings that require a ton of institutional buy-in at levels higher than theirs and challenge fundamental ways that the place runs.

In other words, they will never work. So while folks might smile, nod and even agree privately to what they’ve said. None of it matters a lick. They might as well be asleep, because all they’re doing is dreaming.

Organizations could avoid this more by inspiring their people to think outside of the box and to embrace this thinking. You hear about its successes and what it does to invigorate companies like Google.  But people themselves need to understand their roles and how their organizations work. If they do, it’ll become easier to avoid becoming a dreamstormer and easier to affect change in small, incremental and potentially lasting ways.

Planning the next big thing, Pt. 2

If you read this post where I discussed how I ‘officially’ plan an idea from the concept stage to the “ok, I think I’ll do it stage.” After that beginning stage, you transition to the “So What Now?” stage. It’s comprised of three fundamental questions:

  1. On the way there, I thought of this…I reserve this one for trying to delve into things that come to me after I’ve begun the development process. Sometimes, it’s a helpful tool when I’ve fleshed out a project far better than I anticipated or took it in a direction that I didn’t initially believe it would go. This gives me the chance to go further into where it’s headed and to redirect the deal if it needs to be done at that point.
  2. But this is a problem to keep in mind…Obviously problems will crop up at all times, but here is the opportunity to lay out a few of the things that you might not have envisioned and how you’ll deal with them maybe. 
  3. So what now? If you’ve redirected the project, a chance to lay out what’s next. Or to solidify plans and list action steps.

The three questions should help you along as you’re developing your idea to start to prod yourself into thinking of the things that you can come up with on your own. It’s obviously not the same as the collaborative process, which will yield other things, but it’s helpful for yourself as the project lead to be able to flesh out what’s going on moving forward.

The best thing about this is to be methodical and to keep yourself focused on the goal, because sometimes as you go through a project it barely resembles it original self as you get towards the end if you’re not careful. This is a chance to frame the idea from the start and then to constantly develop from the basic premise of what it is you’re trying to accomplish. It also forces you to constantly attack the idea.

If you’re an idea maven, coming with ideas is very easy to do. Executing them can be the difficult part and this process is focused on the execution and completion, rather than the dreamstorming (which is a whole ‘nother post completely) which can go on forever if you let it.