Tuesday, May 19, 2009

social media: Gumby is my role model

You work with people who do this when you propose adapting one of your current communications approaches using social media tools: They bring out the "buts," are quick to cite the latest story that Twitter's a flash in the pan, or they just don't get around to acting on your proposal. They're nostalgic about the [manual typewriter/corded phone/quill pen] they used to wield so deftly, and they have the war stories to prove it. They know all too well that the communications ground is shifting underfoot--because they hover over coverage of the demise of this and that newspaper. They don't want to have to use [Facebook, Twitter, blogs, RSS] themselves, but they don't trust you to use it strategically.

Or is that you I'm talking about?

We talk a lot about how your approach to social media needs to cede control and be transparent, conversational, crowd-sourced, and responsive in real-time. But we don't talk much about how to approach your own responses to the process of that adaptation, and it's a big change to make. I've seen speaker after speaker at social media sessions essentially tell the audience "Just do it! Trust me! You don't have a choice!" -- none of which makes the recalcitrant, reluctant or rigid traditionalist feel much like trying.

So let me reframe it for you: I want you to approach social media like Gumby. You know, that 1950s green claymation character with the slanty head and the pony sidekick. And before you laugh too hard about that, know that Gumby's television show has been on YouTube since 2007. The next time you (or someone else) starts resisting social media too strenuously, humor me and model your approach after Gumby, making it:
  • Fun. You can't help but laugh at Gumby, and the same's true with social media. So have some fun. Before you start to earnestly sweat the details of how this will work, find out about the fun features in social media--and use them. A sense of humor goes a long way, not only in creating a deft corporate touch on social media, but in helping you adapt.
  • Flexible. The ultimate Gumby trait, you need to display this in abundance--not just in trying social media in the first place, but later, when new applications pop up and replace the ones you just learned. Think of your resistance like the law: You don't need to break it...just bend it a little. Flex, stretch and wrap your arms around a new approach.
  • Imperfect. Between his mishaps and his slanted head, you might want to run from the Gumby role model for your social media forays. But, if fear of making mistakes is holding you back, take a deep breath and know that virtually no one avoids them. It's how you recover and learn from those mistakes that counts. (And the social media community's pretty helpful and forgiving on that score.)
How to move this discussion forward in your office? If you're too young to remember Gumby, trust me on this one and forward this post to your friendly office recalcitrant. If you remember Gumby just fine, understand that there are plenty who don't share your deep retro knowledge--but do, when you're trying to be more flexible about social media, feel free to mutter "I'm Gumby, dammit" under your breath. (Photo "Gumby and Pokey" from Flickr by horizontal.integration)

1 comment:

fletcherprince said...

I loved this post. I love the Gumby metaphor. Since the social media space is evolving so rapidly, one good thing about it is that it is very forgiving. We are all learning as we go.

I was a foreign language student and when you are learning something new and intimidating -- whether it's Italian or Twitter -- the people I see sticking with it are those that let go a bit and have fun with it. The people who could not forgive themselves for looking foolish or making mistakes dropped the class. I think it takes a lot of people back to their childhood, learning new things -- and that can make them feel vulnerable. But if you remember that everyone feels this way a bit, that should make one feel better :)