Don’t wait for a crisis

March 23, 2009
The panel, with MIMA programming director Tim Brunelle lurking in the shadows

The panel, with MIMA programming director Tim Brunelle lurking in the shadows

Last week, the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association hosted a panel discussion titled, “The New Deal: Recession-Era Marketing and the Rise of Social Media.” The panel was composed of very smart, well-respected names in the world of online engagement and community management.┬áIn many ways, this evening event was the sequel to Wednesday morning’s Social Media Breakfast event, which featured many of the same folks discussing a very similar subject.

Much of the evening’s discussion, though smart and insightful, was old hat. For the most part, if you’ve been to two of these social media panel discussions, you’ve been to ’em all. That’s not intended as a knock on any particular person or group — not the moderators of these events, the participants, the question-asking audience. It just seems to be a simple fact that people want to wrap their heads around this broad topic of “doing social media right,” and that requires a lot of ideas to be reiterated and a lot of hands to be held.

One comment in particular, though, stuck with me. Gary Koelling, one of the folks who built Best Buy’s internal social network, called BlueShirt Nation, is always a treat to have on a panel like this. He’s a no-bullshit kind of guy, and despite his wealth of humbleness, I have to believe he’s slowly getting used to being one of the smartest folks in any room he’s in.

What he said was in no way uniquely applicable to the world of social media marketing or anything close, but it resonated well with a group of communicators who’ve grown accustomed to politely coercing colleagues into trying some new tricks: “A crisis is a good time to look for alternatives.” A good time to try new things. A good time to challenge the Way We’ve Always Done It.

Of course, he’s right. In the context of social media marketing and online consumer engagement, anything we can use to get people to consider new ways of doing things — new ways that can be uncomfortable and difficult and rewarding and challenging — is helpful. Sometimes, it really requires a crisis to get people to consider some alternatives.

My addendum to Gary’s point is this: Don’t wait for your crisis. Don’t wait until you’ve drained every ounce of fuel out of your current modus operandi before you start testing new sources of energy. If you’re struggling with colleagues who are comfortable what your organization is doing now, adjust your goals a bit. Make the case for smaller test projects to dip your toes into new areas rather than upheaving an entire process.

Do what it takes to breath some new life into your work. Push the envelope in comfortable times, as that’ll make it easier to absorb the punches that come with change. After all, if you wait for a crisis to make a change, you’re probably too late.