In the great Cameron Crowe Movie, Almost Famous, Russel Hammond the band’s frontman states with disgust to young William Miller, “We play for fans, not critics.” That blunt remark stems from William’s timid attempt at getting an interview from Russel’s band, Stillwater. While Russel’s comment was terse and harsh, it was completely spot on. Magazines, news papers, talk shows all exist to critique. But, if you create music that appeals to the only the critics, the pundits and the editors and you stop creating music for your fans… you’ll soon find yourself without an audience to create music for.
Pivoting into a different direction, but with a similar theme, I’ve gotten more than a little caught up the Tebow mania. A few months ago, on ESPN 1000, a sports commentator (I forget which) said something very profound with regards to what John Elway, the General Manager of the Denver Broncos, should do about the fans demanding Tim Tebow become the starting the quarterback. He said, if you make decisions based on what the fans want, you’ll soon find yourself sitting along side those fans…watching the games. I think the real point was that the fans aren’t well informed enough or qualified to be managing a team. They live for what they see on the field, not what’s happening behind the scenes.
With both situations, in both stories, there’s a simple and clear lesson – you have to know who to listen to and you need to make your decisions because they’re the right decisions, not because they’ll appeal to the critics.
One of the wonderful and sometimes maddening things about social media, is that it’s all on display for the world to see…for the world to pick apart…for the world to heap praise…and of course for the critics to play arm-chair expert. As I wrote last week in my post, Fortune Favors The Brave:
I knew when I recommended this program and when we launched it, that the social pseudo-experts would jump all over it. I knew we’d hear that you shouldn’t “sling mud.” I knew social meda “purists” would argue you shouldn’t pay for “social media.”
Sure enough, the social media critics came out in full force. Now, I’ll be the first person to admit that over the years I’ve critiqued commercials, websites, campaigns, hires, fires and just about everything else in between. I’ve always characterized these opinions as such. They weren’t facts. They were my opinion as an outsider. I can’t underscore enough the concept of being an outsider. As an outsider you lack an understanding of the goals, objectives, metrics for success, the strategy and of course the actual results. It’s easy to poke holes in something, especially when it’s controversial, without having any of that information.
David Berkowitz, a VP at 360i, who also happens to be a guy I’ve followed on twitter and respected for his thinking, was one of the dissenters. The meat of his blog post wasn’t really what I had issue with though. Again, we’re all entitled to our opinions. We’re all entitled to say, well, that’s not how I would have approached it…if you will, the end doesn’t always justify the means. No, the part I took umbrage with was actually a remark he left in the comments, in response to my feedback on his post. In his original post, David wrote, “The problem for Walgreens is that it’s bringing a lot of extra negative attention to the issue.” I questioned it, because by every evaluative tool we’re using, it’s just not factual. But, during our back and forth, he responded with regards to where all this negative feedback was coming from and his answer was:
“Oh, and the coverage from Ad Age, Social Commerce Today, my blog and others seem to be bringing added negative attention. Maybe it’s not a lot compared to other controversies Walgreens has faced, but it’s also potentially just starting. Even the tweets themselves include what – anecdotally from the dozens I’ve read in this unscientific sample size – I’d consider negative attention.”
On a lot of levels it’s comical. As an industry we demand analytics, results and ROI. We laud those who claim we can’t truly measure our impact in social media. We point to the tools that are available, the models that can be created and the case studies that exist, as proof that we can in fact measure social media. Yet, when we measure social media, when we scrutinize it, when we evaluate it, when we have the proof points staring us in the face…we still poke holes if the data doesn’t substantiate our own opinions.
That said, let’s break this down, because this is an important concept for any person in a leadership capacity to understand:
- Don’t make decisions on what AdAge, the New York Times, Seth Godin or any person/company/publication will think, unless your strategy is focused on making sure you earn their praise, support, etc. Their job is to cover the story and your job is to trust your insights and gut.
- Never use anecdotal feedback as a proxy for real data. It’s not a good substitute and can lead you astray.
- Remember insights lead to strategy and strategy leads to the plan. If your insights are solid and strategy grounded in those insights, the plan rarely fails.
- Understand your audience. Similar to #1, you need to know who you’re trying to reach and what message you’re trying to deliver. In this case, the people were trying to reach don’t read Ad Age, Social Commerce Today or David’s blog. Heck, they don’t read my blog.
So long as there are means to have a voice, like blogs, there will always be opinion makers. There will always be people who will sing your praises and those who will question. Don’t get too excited by the praise and don’t get too disappointed by the criticism. Rarely, is either group, close enough to the situation to make their feedback justified.
Trust your insights and play for the fans, not the critics.