Social media, Mayor Bloomberg, and short-term thinking–and how your organization should respond

"Mayor Michael Bloomberg" by International Women's Health Coalition on Flickr.

As reported in the New York Times, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg said this last week during a speech in Singapore:

Social media is going to make it even more difficult to make long-term investments…We are basically having a referendum on every single thing that we do every day. And it’s very hard for people to stand up to that and say, ‘No, no, this is what we’re going to do,’ when there’s constant criticism.

Bloomberg’s statement itself got a lot of criticism, but he actually raises a point worth considering. Social media can lead to daily “referenda,” and that in turn can make short-term thinking a higher priority than long-term considerations. And this doesn’t just apply to government entities–it’s equally as likely to affect your organization.

The truth is, having a social media presence means that there will be a customer-driven referendum about your product or service every single day. The key is knowing when you should respond to their comments and when you can give something a little less attention. Here are a few guidelines to consider that will allow you to be responsive without short-circuiting long-term thinking.

  1. Have things written down that articulate your organization’s long-term thinking. The thing most likely to hinder long-term thinking is no written record of your long-term priorities. Does your organization have a written mission statement, vision, and values? Do you have a written marketing plan? Do you have  a written social media strategy that articulates why you’re using it in the first place? If not, it’s much more likely that you will have no clear priorities–which means that everything will become a priority and therefore seem worthy of time and attention.
  2. Respond to every question or concern, but let your priorities guide where you spend significant time. You certainly want to be responsive to your audience, and I’m a big advocate for using social media as a listening tool (especially in an environment where most organizations are so bad at listening). However, it’s easy to lose hours, and perhaps even days, fixing problems raised by your audience. Doing so can be a good use of time when it’s aligned with an organizational priority, but when it’s not, it can eat up more resources than it deserves. The key is knowing which problems deserve an “all hands on deck” response, and which don’t.
  3. Look for trends. One critical comment or question from an audience member may very well be the first indication that something is seriously wrong. But sometimes, one critical comment or question may be just one critical comment or question. Social media has often been described as an “ongoing focus group”–and it can be an excellent way to get feedback. However, just as a single focus group comment rarely should incite the organization to action, a single comment to your social media presence should be carefully considered before changes are made. The goal is to look for trends and to make changes only when a trend reveals an opportunity for improvement.

Bloomberg’s comment is worth discussion in your organization. Is the “daily referendum” distracting your organization from thinking long-term? If so, it may be better to elect to wait before investing serious resources into short-term problems. There’s a risk your audience may vote with their feet and gravitate toward one of your competitors. But if your priorities are in the right place, long-term thinking will serve you better than taking a knee-jerk reaction to every short-term “crisis.”

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