Courage Under Fire

It’s a shame Mel Gibson turned out to be such a douchebag. A few obvious train wrecks aside, he’s had a hell of a career and played some interesting characters. One of my favourites was his portrayal of Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, in We Were Soldiers.

Hal Moore is something of a legend in the US military, both as a hardened combat veteran and an inspirational leader of men. I’ve read a number of pieces by and about him over the years, and recently came across an audio clip of his – Four Principles for a Leader’s Conduct in Battle.

When I first heard this clip I was reminded of some of the many excuses I’ve heard over the years from clients who understood and appreciated the importance of social media but weren’t ready to take the plunge – it’s too risky, too complex, too expensive, not a priority right now, we don’t have the time, the comms team won’t allow it, my dog ate it… Sound familiar?

It’s hardly an original idea to suggest that the wisdom of military leaders has relevance in the business world – business sections of bookstores are packed with analyses of Musashi, Sun Tzu and Machiavelli, and that’s just for starters. But for what it’s worth, here are a few thoughts I’d offer the keen but reluctant, would-be social media marketer, based on Moore’s observations.

1. Three strikes and you’re not out: No matter how well you plan and prepare, there will always be unpleasant surprises. A great idea will miss the mark and flop. Someone on your team will say or do something stupid. You will encounter haters, trolls, and the genuinely unimpressed. This is all normal. It’s something we all face. Don’t let it get to you.

2. There is always one more thing you can do to influence any situation in your favour: You don’t have to jump in with both feet and do everything at once. In fact, doing too much at once is pretty dumb. It’s better to do something than nothing, so start out by doing one thing and doing it well. And when you get the hang of that try something else, and so on and so on. I’ve long been a fan of agile approaches to strategy and planning, and I still can’t fault the logic: The easiest way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, starting with the tasty bits and leaving the asshole till last.

3. When nothing’s wrong, the only thing that’s wrong is that nothing’s wrong: Per #1, above, things invariably go wrong at times. Problems that sneak up on you are harder to deal with, so you’d better be on the lookout. Listening and analytics tools like Radian6 and Omniture may seem expensive, but will save you a whole lot of hurt (provided you actually do something with the insight you gain from them). Trust me on this.

4. Trust your instincts: Much of this stuff we call social media is ephemeral. When the opportunity to say or do something arises, it won’t be there for long, so it’s important to develop the ability to act quickly and appropriately – a quality I sometimes refer to as ‘digital wit’. This requires training and resourcing (human, financial and infrastructural), and more than a little trust. By trust we’re not just talking about providing a little latitude from corporate communication protocols. We also need to willingly accept that some of the things we try will fail, and that’s ok. Rather than retrenching when things don’t go according to plan, we face up to the facts, deal with them, and move on.

And I guess if that doesn’t work you can always show ’em your war face.


1 Response to “Courage Under Fire”

  1. 1 Lauren Fernandez August 3, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Interesting post – and you’re right about courage!

    It’s always going to be scary to take the plunge into social – whether you’re ready to listen, want to engage or even want to start measuring. The key is to tell clients that they can’t “control the conversation, but can control the effect of it” by making it a two-way street.

    Social Media Monitoring tools are great if used correctly and mesh with measurable objectives. It’s all about what the brand has as their wants and needs – and it will vary by brand. There is no one specific monitoring approach.

    Thanks for mentioning us as a tool to use.


    Lauren Fernandez
    Community Manager, Radian6

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