Monthly Archives: April 2011

Social Media Agnostic

by Dan Woychick

My faith is being tested. As someone who believes in the value of solid marketing strategy and good design, I find myself skeptical about the relatively new kid on the block – social media.

While I believe it merits a place at the marketing altar, when the prophecies of the true believers grow insistent and I’m asked to enthusiastically embrace that which I cannot see (or measure), I begin to wonder if I’m being sold snake oil rather than salvation.

Faith-based marketing
Most non-profit organizations I’ve worked with are mildly to severely short on staff and budget to tackle their day-to-day marketing. But the conversation with social media mavens often sounds something like this:

Non-profit: “Our social media efforts seem to be falling flat. What’s wrong?”
Maven: “For success, you need to commit more time to social media.”
Non-profit: “I don’t have more time.”
Maven: “Then you need more sophisticated analytics to track your efforts.”
Non-profit: “Where’s the return on that investment?”
Maven: “Oh, you can’t really measure success like that. It’s all about engagement.”
Non-profit: “What’s that?”
Maven: “You’ll know it when you see it.”
Non-profit: “What if I don’t see it?”
Maven: “Then you’re not spending enough time and money on it.”

Setting expectations
Compare the commitment for social media success to other time-intensive activities like gardening. Similar to social media, gardening takes planning, strategy (picking the right plants for your available plot of land and conditions), monitoring, feeding and weeding. Even then, factors beyond your control – like a hailstorm – can sabotage your efforts.

You may enjoy gardening and find value in its tangible and intangible benefits, but it’s wise to set realistic expectations. If you just want to grow a couple potted tomato plants, chances are you’ll have enough time to maintain your commitment and enjoy the fruits of your labor. If your goal is to feed the whole neighborhood, you may need some help, not to mention more land and a tractor.

Same old story
What seems to get lost in the hype is that social media is just like all other marketing efforts – success requires planning, meaningful goals and solid strategy. Without it, the only measurable growth will be in the number of marketers who’ve lost their faith.

Related content:
Looking past friend-counting
Social Media’s Massive Failure

Powers of Observation

by Dan Woychick

When our family goes to a restaurant, occasionally we will play a game called “Powers of Observation.” Everyone at the table gets a couple minutes to look around them, soaking in the details of their surroundings. The trick is, you don’t know what you’re looking for, or what may potentially be important to know.

After the time is up, each person in turn asks questions of the group: How many people in the restaurant are wearing hats? What color is the menu on the wall behind the counter? What is the name of the store across the street? It’s a good way to keep occupied while waiting for the food to arrive. It also points out the importance of paying attention.

Children offer parents the luxury of a distinctly different point of view. Whether it’s colored by a fertile imagination or a relative proximity to the ground, kids open our eyes to new ways of seeing and thinking. Similarly, when traveling, we see things with a fresh perspective.

As I’m currently into the second week of a long-planned and lengthy sabbatical, it’s occurred to me how valuable that fresh perspective can be for any person or organization. What are we missing simply because we’ve become accustomed to our surroundings?

Is it possible to simulate the sensation of being a newcomer – to look at old things with new eyes? When I’m not traveling, these are a few of the techniques I use:

Look in new places
When you’re immersed in a problem, it’s easy to develop tunnel vision. As a designer, I don’t seek ideas by looking at other designs. I let my eyes and my subconscious go to work for me – either by physically changing locations or paging through an unrelated book or magazine. With some preparation, the human brain is remarkably good at making new connections.

Word association
In any business, it’s important to be asking the right questions. But what happens if the same old answers are no longer working? For years I’ve broken down that pesky question into a few key words, then done a simple word association exercise with each one. The key is to quiet the self-editor – that little voice inside your head that delights in telling you an answer doesn’t fit or it’s silly or wrong.

With practice, each word leads to another and another in rapid succession – the faster the better. When your page is full, circle a few of the most promising words. Additionally, circle the ones that seem to make no sense at all. Upon deeper reflection, it’s often these words that lead to the freshest ideas.

Just ask
Has our customer changed? Is our website intuitive? Do these pants make me look fat? Often, we either don’t know (or don’t want to know) answers that can have a major impact on our decisions. Research seems like such an imposing, time-consuming and expensive word, but heading blindly down the same old path has its own costs.

Cultivate a personal advisory board. Friends and colleagues can provide invaluable perspective. Launching quick online surveys is another way to expand your knowledge. Or, you can always hire a consultant to lead your team to new insights.

Details matter in any business pursuit, but it’s easy to let our attention wander. That’s when it’s time to recapture the powers of observation that lead to discovery. As the Japanese poet Bashō once noted: Nothing is worth noting that is not seen with fresh eyes.