Thursday, September 24, 2009

Is Social Media "Thinking Outside the Box?"

Everywhere we look these days, we see the phrase "Thinking Outside the Box." Like it's linguistic brethren, "Innovation" and "Creative," poor "Outside the Box" is being horribly overused and misrepresented by most people.

Especially in the context of Social Media.

Let's break down the concepts behind "the box" first. There are two types of cognitive boxes:

External Regulation

External regulation affects whole industries, such as Healthcare, Financial Services, Pharmaceuticals, Technology. External regulation may come from Government oversight, Industry Standards or Organizational Best Practices. In a nutshell, External regulation draws a box around what kinds of things can be said, to whom and in what way. Violating external regulations may lead to legal proceedings, and is always a very, very bad idea.

Internal Obstacles

Internal obstacles are harder to identify and sometimes hard to even define. An organization may have accreted an operating procedure over the years with steps that are relics of earlier processes. (For instance, having to keep a paper copy of digital documents, "just in case.") Internal obstacles can be found at every level of an organization. Company procedures, managerial foibles and even your own way of doing things can box you in without you even realizing it.

Your own experience creates a box around your thinking. As Scott Adams says, experience gives us ESP - we can predict all the ways a project will fail.

The Box is a combination of what external regulations and internal process will allow.

Social Media is not "thinking outside the box."

A chat customer service line is still a customer service line. A Social Media profile that offers a stream of press releases is still a corporate mouthpiece. Sure, 10,000 people will see a press release if you have 10,000 people friending/following you. But there's nothing outside the box about it. It's a perfectly understandable use of new technology, but one that is well within the box's confines.

Social Media is "thinking outside the box."

A promotion that encourages your friends/followers/connections to try, buy and promote your product for you - not for a reward, but because they feel rewarded by *doing it* that's out of the box.

When people feel part of the team, when you make them a hero, they respond by becoming engaged in your business. Apple hasn't cornered the market on this. Check out my other blog, Okazu, for an example. I literally have a Hero's Roll on the sidebar where I list individuals who sponsor reviews, contribute reviews and news and talk the blog up - because it makes them happy to be a part of the team as a Guest Reviewer, a Hero or a Correspondent.

So, what does that mean to you?

First, identify the box(es) around your business. Once you do, Social Media can give you any number of options - some of them will even be outside that box.

You'll know when your ideas are truly outside the box. They will make people uncomfortable; they will seem off-beat, risky, or plain crazy. If the people who share your box object with vaguely defined objections, it's probably out of the box. If your idea challenges the status quo - even your own status quo, it's likely to be out of the box.

It's not easy to be original, because nearly anything you can do has probably been done by someone else, but it's not that hard to think outside the box - start by pretending the box doesn't exist at all, then go forward from there.
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