Are you missing the social forest? 2

Are you missing the forest?The internet is awash these days in social media specifics. It’s a little bit like someone telling you about a new city by describing the cracks in the sidewalk outside his door–you just don’t get the whole picture. To use a well-worn but apt metaphor–are you missing the forest for the trees?

As leaders in business (and really, if you’re not striving to be that, what are you striving for?), what we really want is to understand the principles at work so that we can manage effectively and anticipate change. That means not getting too bogged down in the details. They matter…but not that much. If you’ve been around the block a few times, you know that widely accepted best practices quickly become antiquated cliches or worse.

So what are some of the principles that guide the smartest in social media and help them transcend the everyday? Here are a few. Please add yours in the comments–would love to hear!

  1. Particular tools are ephemera. If history is a guide, Facebook will not endure, at least not in its current form. Where is Friendster today (once among the most popular)? Nominal costs of switching networks and technologies mean that today’s Facebook is likely to be tomorrow’s forgotten memory. (The change also has to do with the “fashionization” of networks—we seem to get a new one every couple of seasons.) Once upon a time, the opportunity to put a computer on our own desktop was a remarkable development. Today, we are in the midst of a mobile revolution that is sweeping the globe. Twenty years from now (if we’re lucky and we have that long), something new is certain to change the equation yet again. As a result, we must seek out insights and approaches that will hold true independent of the particular tools available to us. Adaptability and the ability to learn quickly are the strengths of the future. Whenever you get heavily invested in a platform or “industry,” it’s time to start thinking about how that commitment makes you vulnerable (see the strategy item below).
  2. “Business,” “personal,” “profit,” “organization,” “independent” and many other terms we have known to this point are increasingly meaningless. We’ve spent a lot of time in recent years bandying about terms. We could talk about “social business,” for instance, but where would that leave today’s nonprofit or NGO, which is increasingly operating as a business? And it makes less sense to speak of “employment” in an age in which movement between organizations is the norm and individuals are increasingly in charge of determining their own fates. We’re in the midst of a rewiring of global culture. Let’s quit worrying about calling it “social media” and worry about getting on with using it. We also encourage you not to read the term as limiting, for, in fact, media have always been “social” to some extent. You could write a letter to the editor that the newspaper might respond to, and you could call into your favorite radio talk show. And “media” aren’t all we’re talking about, either. Is Google Docs “media”? It’s definitely social; the broadcast may be to a more limited circle, but where does one draw the line? Rather than draw an artificial delineation, I encourage you to think in the broadest possible terms. What is “profit” when friendships matter as much as finances? What if there were a market for reputation? Reject definitions and axioms. Don’t take anyone’s word for it.
  3. Strategy wins. Strategy is a paradox, prone to black swans and VUCA, but wisdom, experience, and the ability to execute are ultimately what triumphs. That’s why business leaders focus on principles and ideas–to ensure that resources are aligned on emerging challenges and opportunities. You must always be learning, foraging, gathering, guessing. You will constantly be performing just beyond the limits of your comfort zone, kind of like a race-car driver. You’ll have to be vigilant constantly, on guard for changes on the social media horizon. Your strategic plan will evolve by the day. Social media accelerate network change, meaning your chops in strategy will have to be first-rate.
  4. Social is social, whether it’s online or “IRL.” We are cultural animals. Individuals may be able to accomplish amazing things, but the basic platform of our lives—our technology, our food—everything—requires others working in concert to achieve. Understanding group dynamics in light of these new technologies will only increase in value. We’re learning that humans are hardwired to be social, and it’s time to build on our strengths. This is a counterintuitive point, and we’re starting to see half-joking “snob” movements among the digerati telling us that we should limit our connectedness. Here, I take the Dalai Lama’s position—I always want more friends. Yes, many may not be “strong” connections, but every friendship begins as a weak connection. Moreover, the most social player wins. You may be more social by developing deeper connections, or you may take a more expansive view of social networks than your competitor. And yet as tools facilitate deeper connections, faster rewiring of networks, and the ability to maintain conversations with larger numbers of people, “outsocializing” the competition will matter more and more. 
  5. The medium is the message. Social media necessitate a social message. This is one of the hardest points for all of us to get, as it’s 180 degrees from the way most of us learned to market, which used the communications equivalent of shotguns to snag the largest possible number of people. As Seth Godin says, “The question of the internet is who, not how many” (Seth’s forte, incidentally, is precisely principles of the kind we’re talking about here). We are all intertwined now. Say that to yourself a few dozen times and really think about it. The days of push are truly gone forever–even when people choose push, it will be predicated on pull.
  6. You must be you. The first rule, your prime directive, is: Be interesting. There are, and always will be, no formulas for being authentic. To be social means to wade into the mess, to make mistakes, to learn, and to be genuine in the process.  It means not copying, not accepting “rules” as gospel, not ever feeling you’ve “figured it out.” Being authentic means not going for the biggest audience–it means aiming for your audience.

What would you add to the list? How do you keep your head out of the grass? Thanks as always for reading.

[Flickr photo by]


Will Reichard

Will Reichard has an MBA from the University of Mexico and is CEO of CrossCut Communications, LLC, a full-service marketing and communications company with a digital edge. His forte is messaging. From working as an editor at a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper to articulating the selling points of an innovative customer focused nonprofit fundraising organization, he consistently helps to give voice to challenging but mission-critical ideas. He writes a blog on social media, public relations, marketing and technology and was recently invited to be a panelist on personal branding at the prestigious Crittenden National Conference. He is also an award-winning writer who has been published in outlets including Innovation: America’s Journal of Technology Commercialization and National Mortgage Professional Magazine.

About William Reichard

Will Reichard, MBA, President, has a broad background in social media, strategic communications and marketing, public relations, development, fundraising and business management. His forte is messaging. From working as an editor with a Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper to helping establish capacity in an early-phase public relations company aimed at middle-market businesses to articulating the selling points of an innovative customer-focused nonprofit fundraising organization (United Way of Central New Mexico), Reichard consistently helps to give shape to challenging but mission-critical ideas. He is an award-winning writer who has been published in outlets including Innovation: America’s Journal of Technology Commercialization. Most recently, he has consulted for a wide range of clients through his company, CrossCut Communications, and has become a sought-after speaker and adviser on the field of social media and business, a role in which he enjoys applying his bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology. He writes a blog on social media, public relations, marketing and technology and was recently invited to be a panelist on personal branding at the prestigious Crittenden National Conference. He has additional interests in change management, social theory, issues of diversity, and management of technology. He graduated magna cum laude in anthropology and recently completed an executive-level master’s of business administration with a 4.0 gpa, both through the University of New Mexico. He is a member of Beta Gamma Sigma. Reichard belongs to Social Media Club and the New Mexico Tech Council, is a member of the Albuquerque Independent Business Alliance, and belongs to the Business New Mexico network. He is involved in a variety of community efforts, including serving as president of Albuquerque Net Impact Professional and the board of the YMCA of Central New Mexico. He is particularly proud of his membership in the Rotary Club of Albuquerque del Sol. Available for speaking opportunities.