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September 4, 2012
CALGARY, AB, Sep 4, 2012/ Troy Media/ – I have always fancied myself a bit of a contrarian. In my family you take an opposite viewpoint from everyone else at the dinner table and argue it just for fun.
My most infamous contrarian moment happened when I was a teenager. My dad had been hounding me to mow the lawn for days. I was not the least interested, but eventually capitulated to earn some peace and quiet.
I fired up the electric mower on that hot Winnipeg Sunday and started the monotonous task of going up and down the rows. Dad, undoubtedly annoyed it took him days of nagging to get me off my butt and out mowing, was barking commands from the back step. ‘You missed a spot!’ ‘Keep the rows straight!’ and so on. The neighbours were much amused, but the real fun was just about to begin.
Dad barked one last command that, in the heat of the day, put me over the edge. I turned, faced him squarely and drove the lawn mower over the extension cord. There was a great whirring sound. Bits of plastic and copper flew everywhere and the air turned blue with Dad’s ‘feedback’.
Now the neighbours were splitting a gut. In 1970s Winnipeg you couldn’t buy an extension cord on Sunday, so I was off the hook for mowing, though grounded (both figuratively and literally). It never even occurred to me I could have been electrocuted. Thank heavens for rubber grips and North Star runners.
Later in life I put my contrarian nature (much softened) to good use in corporate settings. I would delight in going against the status quo, gently and diplomatically, to force new thinking. In the way water wears down rocks, I set out to wear down barriers to good communication. Drip. Drip. Drip.
At some point, I forget when, I developed the soon-to-be-patented (thanks Apple v. Samsung!) Lacombe SoWhat? Methodologyâ„¢.
This is how it works:
Someone in a meeting cheerily says, through their mouth full of Timbits, ‘we have more Twitter followers, yay!’ Then I say SoWhat?â„¢
Usually that causes either a bunch of defensive bluster or stony silence.
Hoping to dodge the inquisition, they move on to ‘we posted a blog story last week about the big cheque we gave to that great charity.’
Eventually the point is driven home that I’m not too interested in a laundry list of tactics perpetrated on an unsuspecting public unless I see a strategic purpose where the needs of the audience meet the needs of the organization.
People are so confused by this whole ‘social media ROI (Return on Investment)’ dilemma, they forget the basics of communications apply to social media too. Respect your audience, your communications plan should be a child of the business plan, and you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
It reminds me of the fraud that is ‘ad value equivalency’, a pseudo-measurement that is, thankfully, going out of vogue in PR circles. The twisted logic there was, if a reporter writes about us, and we get six column inches, then if we had to buy that as an ad it would be worth X, so our PR efforts are worth X.
Did you move the needle on public opinion? Can’t tell. Did you enhance the organization’s reputation? Can’t tell. Did you avert a reputational crisis or manage an issue? Can’t tell.
Measuring tactics like this is like measuring electrons in a shredded power cord. There may be some in there but they aren’t doing anything to power the mower. Next time somebody pipes up with a vague, irrelevant measure of social media success, be a little contrarian.
Go ahead and gently, politely, cut that power cord, but be sure to wear your North Stars or you could get zapped.
Doug Lacombe is a social media speaker and strategist with social media agency communicatto. Find him on Twitter at @dblacombe.
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