Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Breaking the Bonds of the New Commonplace

Photo by Philip Vassallo

[NOTE: This post originally appeared on AMAShift, the blog of the American Management Association.]
The eighteenth-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau began his famous book The Social Contract in 1762 with the sentence, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Oh, doesn’t that statement hold so true 250 years later! We are tethered to our smartphones and held captive by every social networking platform—all of us trying to find the next best thing that we can parlay into a new venture while drifting in an unstable economy and uncertain marketplace.
A look at recent headlines shows that digital communication and social media are changing not only the way we do business but the way we think. The last American bookstore chain is fighting for its survival. Apple is assuring us that textbooks as we know them will soon be extinct. Even cursive writing is facing its demise. Newspapers, themselves, are facing the same fate. Fighting these trends in our own organization is like trying to empty the ocean with a beach pail. Worse, to ignore them is like sticking our head in the sand.
Ours is the Age of Two Realities, with apologies to Charles Dickens. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, it is the age of communication, it is the age of miscommunication; it is the epoch of access, it is the epoch of detachment, it is the season of knowledge, it is the season of ignorance, it is the spring of upstarts, it is the winter of bankruptcies, we have everything before us, we have nothing before us, we are going direct to success, we are all going the other way—you get the point. Like it or not, these are our times.
Driven by an I-don’t-want-to-miss-the-party mindset, many people are signing up on more than a dozen social media sites to ensure their word gets out and their business keeps pace with these constant changes—all the while wondering whether they’re doing the right thing. The truth is, who really knows?
Nevertheless, we can all follow these four best practices to continually feel that we are doing social media and social media are not doing us:
Create specific objectives. That means put them in writing—in your marble notebook, iPad, or bathroom mirror, wherever. The goal might be to get your message across to new clients, or to stay in touch with associates, or to announce new business opportunities. Include a content marketing plan with content contributors, sources, and scheduling: what will you write or post, how often, and for whom?   
Set time restraints. This imperative is at the heart of any time management course you have ever taken or will take. As a small business struggling to be seen in the vast universe of information overload, I have established the rule of no more than one hour during nights following speaking engagements (which amount to 12-hour days) and three hours on off days. Set your own strict limits as they suit your business initiatives and stick to them, adjusting only after carefully reviewing your social media plan.   
Follow the rule of There-Are-No-Rules. Think of social media marketing as going to school. We’re all still learning as we do our thing—even the e-gurus. If the “experts” checked out what they said a couple of years ago—no, a couple of months ago—you can bet they’d want to retract certain statements. Need I mention floppy disks, zip drives, CDs, VHS tapes, DVDs and other dead technologies to bring this point home? This reality means that we have to guard against fixed ways of decision making and overdoing the tendency to use routine communication models as the e-commerce terrain shifts interminably.
Enjoy the journey, Here I’m borrowing from AMA President and CEO Edward T. Reilly’s parting words in his video pep talk that kicks off all of AMA’s classroom courses. Understand that website-builder and blogging tools are still loaded with kinks that have even expert IT engineers scratching their heads. Still, you will find a lot of fun out there as you research, hyperlink to other sites, and create your own art while developing content. You will make lasting valuable connections as time goes on and perhaps establish new ways of reaching out to your audience that experts haven’t thought of. Just ask Amanda Hocking, whose novels went viral and took her from obscurity to best-selling author.
And then, just get started. Try out some things and see what works—and what doesn’t. At worst, you’ll discover it isn’t for you. At best, you will have found a new way to connect with people —which can’t be a bad thing, in these disconnected times.