Stop Looking for the Next Twitter

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From my latest contribution to Harvard Business

If you are a pundit, or get paid to watch trends, then this message doesn’t apply to you. It’s your job to go out and find the next shiny object that could influence how we live and do business.

But if you’re in the trenches of an organization, my advice is to stop acting like or listening to pundits. Stop looking for the next Twitter. Why? It’s simple—because the odds are you already have plenty of projects and ideas with proven potential that you need to improve on without worrying about the next thing you’ll start. Here are a few thought-starters based on observations I’ve made about all of "yesterday’s Twitters" that need some care and feeding before you start looking for the next Twitter. Perhaps some may hit close to home for you.

Your Website(s): Websites haven’t been bright and shiny for years now; they’re more de rigeur. But is yours really as good as it could be? Do search engines find it effortlessly? Is it usable? Does it even serve a purpose (is it useful)? Can you rapidly re-design it without it causing major upheaval within the departments of your organization? After reading how American Airlines struggles with the all too common problem of "design by committee" (which exists within many large organizations), I have to conclude that getting your website to completely satisfy business, brand and user goals is still elusive for many companies.

Your Blog(s): Your company is blogging. Congratulations. Is anyone listening? Blogging was the bright and shiny object of 2006-2008 and many companies found out just how hard it is to do well. Good blogging provides value. It is interesting and generates a healthy amount of comments and conversation which in turn generates a good dose of Google juice. It’s also terribly difficult to sustain. It requires cultural shifts within an organization, and has to be prioritized (read: made part of someone’s job). Frankly, I rarely see outstanding examples of a good company blog. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing (if it makes sense strategically), but doing it well is another story.

Your Intranet(s): Wow. Where do I begin? Intranets were bright and shiny several years ago, now they’re more often the butt of water cooler jokes. How old is your intranet? When was the last time it was updated? Do your employees use it or have they, like many, engaged in IT mutiny, instead, basically sidestepping your internal system for Web 2.0 cloud based systems that allow them to work and collaborate the way they want to? If employees don’t use the systems you’ve put in place, why? Fixing this system will do a lot more good than expending energy on finding the next Twitter. After all, if your company isn’t functioning well internally, it’s probably exhibiting problems externally, too.

Your Facebook, Twitter, Community Initiatives etc.: I’m lumping these ecosystems together because what’s really important about them is that they all require high levels of engagement and participation from company representatives (unless the company is fortunate enough to be a "badge brand"). But the reality for many organizations is that they just aren’t ready to directly engage with customers on the customers’ turf. Tweeting requires a certain confidence that it’s okay for your conversations to be public and companies who are customer centric such as Jet Blue tend to do well here. There’s a good deal of interaction that happens on the Whole Foods Facebook page in addition to the expected promotions. Communities are delicate ecosystems and companies that want to be relevant there have to have representatives who are comfortable, at ease, who can deftly work these ecosystems. This has proven to be easier said than done for many.

By no means is this a complete list. But in whatever previously shiny object you own, the common thread is that a lack of vision, strategy, and ability to execute well limits the potential of an organization to be truly valuable to all of their constituents (customers, employees and business partners). So my advice for the non trend-watcher? Forget finding the next Twitter and start buffing up those previously shiny objects, the ones where your constituents need you today.

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