I just finished reading a great business book called “Rules of Thumb” by Alan Webber. Webber founded Fast Company magazine and was also managing editor at Havard Business Review, among other things. In “Rules of Thumb” he compiles 52 bite-sized pieces of wisdom he has collected over the past 40+ years in his distinguished career. They’re all excellent. I want to dive into some of them here – in part to share with you, in part to cement them into my mental firmament. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did and I encourage you to pick up Rules of Thumb when you get a chance.
Speed as a Strategy
This is one of my favorite rules of thumb in the book. Speed as a strategy. Whether you’re talking about the first-mover advantage or simply being able to react and evolve in an ever-changing business environment, speed is a strategy all on its own. Too often you hear “we’re moving too fast” or “we need to make sure we’re not moving too fast,” from the planners and the folks in accounting and those who are uncomfortable with speed. They want to slow things down, plod through detailed analyses and make the “perfect” decision. Webber refutes this line of thinking as an evolutionary outmoded approach that is sure to leave your business in the dust and your team far from the leading edge of your industry.
The solution of course, is to become comfortable with speed and to use it as a competitive advantage and strategy.
Becoming comfortable with speed
If the answer is to become comfortable with speed, then how do you do it? I believe you become comfortable with speed by developing a framework for evaluating situations and options and then a process of constant iteration and refinement of decisions through rapid and ongoing evaluation of the choices made. Something like this:
- Evaluate current situation
- Determine course of action
- Implement change quickly
- Measure inputs/outputs of change
- Evaluate results
- Refine and adjust strategy on the fly
If you are able to implement this cycle then you have the tools and processes in place to manage rapid change then making quick decisions is not a short-sighted exercise that leaves you open to threats and missed opportunities; but rather is an ongoing, renewable business process that always ensures that you’re attuned to the environment and challenges your organization faces. All while staying out ahead of the pack through nimble, smart decisions.
Once you’ve developed this process to provide opportunities for constantly refining your strategy then you are able to embrace speed. No longer is a decision all-or-nothing, but rather a series of incremental adjustments based on the results of the previous choice. It makes everything much easier to manage in my opinion.
So, if that’s the high-level look at how speed can help an organization, what about in marketing? Where this best comes into play is in online marketing. Because print is built around big bets – long lead times, big RFPs, big campaigns, etc., it isn’t able to leverage the benefits of speed. Print and other old media need the plodding decision-making because for the most part, once you’re in, you’re in. So you need to make that big bet count. Online media, for the most part, behaves in a way that makes speed and incremental changes an essential part of success.
Speed as a strategy in social media marketing
More than any other online marketing effort, social media marketing demands speed. In fact, it is organizations that can’t or won’t embrace speed who are the ones most damaged by the conversations in social media. Those that wait to put together a pain-staking strategy, require lengthy legal involvement and rely on the old world media paradigm of creating perfect before shipping are all hurt by real-time conversations that wait for no one. There are plenty of case studies about this phenomenon, and we don’t need to dive into them all here, but suffice to say that speed is the only strategy that works in social media.
Why is speed so important in social media?
Because people aren’t hierarchical organizations with command and control reporting. They speak their mind, share their opinions freely, and don’t need legal sign-off to present an argument or make a statement. That makes them infinitely faster than any organization. But people also expect to deal with people, not brands, not organizations, not entities when engaging in a conversation online. If a company wants to participate they need to let their people act like, well, people, and not corporate mouthpieces or brand ambassadors or any other non-human corporate cog. This requires giving those people on the front lines of your organization engaging in social media the gift of speed. And your organization needs to be aligned to respond quickly to inputs that come through this new conversation channel.
Without speed your social media marketing strategy is dead on arrival. It has a higher likelihood of doing harm rather than good, as the attention-spans, and patience online is reduced to near-zero by the customers and people you’re trying to engage. If your team is unable to answer a simple question in a timely fashion you’re hurting your brand. If you can’t get a customer service request routed and addressed quickly, you’re hurting your brand. The list goes on. Without speed you’re brand will not thrive in the social space.
A few guidelines for speed in social media
Here are just a few (not comprehensive, please add more in the comments) thoughts on how to make sure you’re organization has the speed it needs to be successful in social media:
- Have a corporate social media policy that encourages employees to embrace social media and clearly outlines the company’s guidelines and beliefs for using social media
- Ensure that business division owners are ready to handle requests that come in through the social channel. Is your customer service team ready to handle a complaint via Twitter?
- For companies of any size over 30, implement some form of tracking of open issues and resolutions. Can you track outstanding issues that have been posted to message boards about your product? Can you communicate with those people and get back to them when things are resolved?
- Give your front-line folks answers to questions ahead of time. Do they have an extensive corporate knowledge? Do they have access to policies, warranties, press materials and other company facts that they can go straight to without needing to track down someone in product or PR to address?
- Give your front-line folks freedom to talk like people. Can you set guidelines about what will and won’t be answered immediately? If you have an intense legal component to your business what can you do to provide as much leeway to front-line folks while ensuring proper guidance and discretion on sensitive items?
- Give your front-line folks the proper training in investor relations, media relations, customer service, public relations, etc. so that they understand the different types of inquiries they’ll receive and a framework with which to deal with them.
- Make sure your front-line people are friendly, personable and genuinely interested in helping people. That spirit will shine as they interact with your customers and potential customers in the social sphere.
Speed wins – how fast are you?
To me it is clear that speed wins. Especially in social media. So how fast are you? How fast is your organization? And what can you do to make it or your department faster? What am I missing? I’d love your feedback in the comments.