Can you adapt to radical social media marketing change?

The other day I was enjoying a warm spring and decided to eat my lunch outside on one of the many public plazas in New York City.  Pigeons strutted around me waiting for a speck of food to drop.  As I was balancing my plate of chicken and rice, a pigeon dive-bombed my plate, sending half my lunch to the sidewalk … and into the beaks of his swarming cousins.

After my initial pissed-offed-ness, I marveled that this stupid little bird had learned a highly effective new behavior to gather food. It had adopted to its urban environment and surely was setting itself up to be the founding father of a race of hawk-like super pigeons.

It was a lesson that in any environment, those with the ability to adapt to changing conditions will win. I think with the frenzied rate of change we are now seeing on the social web, this will be an important lesson — and life skill — for marketers.

A hypothesis:  Personal “technological networking and adaptability” is going to be an increasingly important characteristic valued by corporate recruiters.  The ability to use the web to network, improve productivity, and find answers will be a highly-prized part of a personal skill portfolio.  In fact, there is some research to back it up

A few years ago, I was in a graduate leadership program at Carnegie Mellon University and took a class from a talented educator and author named Robert E. Kelly.  Dr. Kelly had just written a book called How to Be a Star at Work: 9 Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed.   Honestly, I thought it was going to be one of those kick-your-feet-up, blow-off kind of classes, but it ended up being one of the most interesting sessions of the program.

We all know that certain people tend to rise to superstar level at work. They may not be smarter or harder working than others, but they have a certain “something” that seems to push them up the corporate ladder.

Dr. Kelly had a research grant to determine the factors that these high-fliers had in common. After all, if you could actually test for these factors, wouldn’t that have a powerful impact on corporate recruiting and training?  Turns out it wasn’t that simple, but after years of investigation he eventually found the magic formula.

According to Dr. Kelly’s research, one of those key characteristics of a corporate rock star is an ability to effectively network and find information quickly.  Let’s say you had two employees — Tom and Tammy — equally well-educated, enthusiastic and nattily-attired.  But Tammy had just one advantage — she knew how to use technology to rapidly find the people and resources she needed to accomplish a task while Tom picked up a phone and started calling people in the company directory. The research showed that Tom had no hope of ever catching up and the more complex the task, the further Tammy would outshine him.

It makes a lot of sense.

Dr. Kelly’s research seems to indicate that expert networking skills like an ability to navigate the social web can also be a crucial differentiator in your career.

So there.  Now you can explain to your spouse that all that time you’re wasting on Twitter is actually a career-advancement opportunity! You may be just 140 characters away from the tweet smell of success.

I would be interested to know … how are you seeing this play out in your own workplace and your own life?  And if you agree that this ability to adapt to technological change is important, how would you measure something like that?

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  • Great post Mark. Although I agree with the overall idea here from my experience I’ve seen some of this not play out as easy.

    Some people in companies are afraid of technological change. They may see someone who actively tweets and blogs (and preaches the importance of them) as an intimidating and disruptive force in a typical command and control style environment. When I worked in two marketing/technology companies, both environments refused to embrace Twitter or Blogging (while at the same time offering digital/social consulting). If I saw so much resistance to change within these companies I can’t imagine what it might be like in other industries.

    Just wanted to add a little bit of a different flavor!

  • Adapting to changing environments is a great way to improve business success.
    Here in Germany some 10 years ago, direct banks did begin to establish new services to compete with the traditional branch banks. It was not exactly like the pigeons bombing on the other banks, but nearly as successful.
    Nevertheless, change and innovation is still missing at the traditional banking players so there is still room for more pigeon-strategies.
    Besides: “Pigeon-strategies for Business” is a great title for a book…
    Kind Regards from Germany

  • Oh, that’s a great title for a book!  Can’t wait to see it in print:)  Cheers!  Kaarina

  • Mark, I think the critical skill to accelerated success is a thirst for knowledge, coupled with action.  People who see possibilities rather than just probabilities, find the tools most applicable to their “search” and then DO something ongoing…always upgrading…always finding that Kaizen way.  And since the “social web” is a vast, comprehensive and ever-changing tool, those people who “feel the fear and do it anyway”, who aren’t paralyzed by constant change (no Luddites here:) are the ones who will continue to make a difference.

    I’ve been lucky throughout my life to be a voracious lifelong learner, sometimes to the detriment of my own business.  As I seek and search the never-ending story of progressive change, I sometimes neglect my own “house” (my blog/ my offerings), as I strive to keep my friends, associates and clients apprised of the latest, most pertinent info.  I try to make it easy for those who won’t/don’t commit the same amount of time and effort to learning, to fast-track them to results.  Now if I could just find a way to monetize more effectively that research skill and intellectual capital, I’d be a happy camper! (actually, I already am…just sayin’:)  Cheers!  Kaarina

  • The Pidgeon story is a wonderful example of evolution at work – thanks for sharing it.
    Adaptability has always been a key factor in successful strategies, especially when one is competing for resources. In today’s fast moving Internet marketing world, faster adaptability is even more important. And when you add to this the age-old adage that knowledge is power, it makes perfect sense that a person who always “knows” the answer – because she happens to be really good at finding information – is always going to shine in any endeavor. So the Tammys of the world will always win against the Tom’s, because they use their superior adaptability to find the right information more quickly, or to get the right resources more quickly.

    Just like the pidgeon.

  • There is a lot of truth to this. Back when I started my old job (which I recently quit) we ran out of 1099 forms. And the whole accounting office was in a frenzy because we needed them printed, and needed them printed quickly. Of course not any old form would do, and no one could figure out who our old supplier was (or maybe they went out of business, don’t remember now). And people were at a loss of what to do. 

    It took me about 15 minutes online to find a supplier who could produce exactly what we needed and have it shipped within 2 days. It was one of the first impressions that I made on my boss. I quickly became his go-to guy for anything that needed to be done quickly. 

    It was actually a bit surprising to me that no one else could figure it out. I think it might be a generational gap at play. I more or less grew up on the internet. And this is where adaptability comes into play. The other people working at this company didn’t want to adapt to new technologies and wanted to stick to the “we’ve always done it this way” type of thinking. 

  • Great article, Mark.

    Not sure that the pigeon is a great networker, but nothing like a NY story to get an article going.

    Companies have a delicate balancing act: they are losting a fortune in productivity as employees watch kitten videos during work hours, but their best employees are also the most networked; and they need information from those networks, while wanted to shield corporate IP. How can a balance be found?

    Thanks for keeping us thinking about the issues!

    – Gary

  • I tend to dislike words like “empower” because they feel fake to me but I think that in this case there is a use for them. Some office environments are structured so that people do not want to stick out because to do so invites blame as well as recognition.

    When people feel comfortable to take initiative they are more likely to step up and reach for the next rung.

    I would tie that into networking especially when it comes to using the net to locate information.

  • Agree Brandon.  I think in many ways small companies might have the edge in this regard. And may I say it is nice to hear from you!

  • I like that.  Books have been written with far less of a premise! : )

  • Boy that is such a key question. Making money while you’re doing it. I don;t know if that is possible, but if you figure it out let me me!  The only thin I’m sure of is what will happen if you DON’T stay ahead!

  • Well said, thanks for sharing Eric!

  • Wow what a great example Eugene. See, you represent evolution in action!

  • Key issue.  And there is no easy answer. There is no way to stop it any more with the advent of smart phones.  What’s a manager to do? Thanks!

  • This ties in well with Gary’s comment below. There has to be a balance. Thanks Jack!

  • It’s almost criminal that in today’s day and age, people still don’t accept the limitless nature of solutions. While I don’t accept the fact that social media makes us less productive, I agree that there are several solutions (creative ones) out there. It is as much about the most efficient one as it is about the fastest. So, to find an answer, I guess the first step is really to keep an open mind, and in my life at least, one of the best methods is the world wide web.

  • Thanks for sharing your wisdom today Rohan.

  • Mark I think I have written here that Social Media is a Revolution in Interpersonal Communication Technologies. It has been a great platform for my own personal networking of all kinds professionally and socially. Twitter and the Blogosphere specifically. Facebook I don’t network and it is not a ‘discovery’ platform for me as much as a way to exchange photos and say hello to personal friends. And I know LinkedIn has value I just haven’t pursued using it much.

    Definitely a powerful change agent for those that use these tools for their careers and personal lives in my opinion. I learn so much from reading all these great blogs like yours.

  • Hi Mark, this post has certainly generated some interesting comments. Two really lept off the page at me and speak to underlying issues that actually do (in a backhanded sort of way) support your thinking here.

     @ Gary Schirr – this is such a huge concern by so many companies.  Unfortunately, those employees who waste corporate resources on personal social media usage will ultimately be gone as they’ll prove themselves ineffective as employyees. And, they are probably wasting corporate resourses on other things now which are just not “trackable”. Those who make EFFECTIVE use of Social Media sources during their day to day jobs will survive and excel. It’s all about discipline, not control. Perhaps companies should think about rewarding those employees who”ve shown value from social media use with the ability to use it during working hours. Maybe allowing full use of social media during the work day would be a good way to weed out those who don’t have the disipline needed to be effective employees?????  Now there’s a scary thought!

    @ Brandon Croke – this is so typical of so many companies who are just in the game to leverage the hype factor.  Evenutually, they’ll be “outed” in the marketplace and their ineffective use of social media as part of their business will be their undoing.

    Unfortunately, all of this will be an evolutionary process where those who participate will survive (or at least do better) and those who don’t won’t.  But, it’s not something we’ll see happen overnight.

  • Can you adapt to radical social media marketing change?…

    It seems that you have highlighted two classes: those who can and those who cannot!

    In a business it would seem that a formula or working test when hiring people would be to test with a demanding situation to see who brings in the result.

    LIke the 1099 forms hunt in a post here. Ask a potential employee to find something, do something or get something. Tell them they have 30 minutes…go!

    This may well also define how a single business owner moves on or gets left behind because they don’t know how to change with how social media is actually being used.


  • I see this happening more and more at a macro-level, where companies that can quickly adapt and adopt social media (letting down the walls and actually talking with customers) are thriving, while the ones that don’t continue to have negative blog posts written about them. It’s an interesting dilemma for corporations and many people – the new normal is one where we have to speak with more and more people.

    I’m loving it.

    I’ve found that with my businesses I can ramp up a lot faster due to networking. I grew my Life Of The Freelancer site and podcasts to thousands of listeners within the space of 6 months while working out of the basement. It was all online networking using Twitter and Skype.

    It’s possible. You can do it too.

    How can you measure someone’s ability to quickly adapt to rapid technological change? I have no idea – perhaps another PhD can tell us that one. Something I do know is that those I know who can rapidly adapt are always doing three things:

    1. Reading
    2. Talking with others
    3. Trying everything they learn, measuring as they go

    The folks that continuously do those three things are ahead of the pack, and tend to stay there.

  • I think we can each adapt, we just need the right incentive. Your rice was the right incentive for the pigeon to risk her new dive bombing technique. Getting comfortable with new technology and new channels of information may come only when the cost of complacency is a job. And I think you’re instructor hit the nail on the head in that those who will reap the greatest benefits are the ones who can adapt quickly and have the innate understanding of how best to use the connections. That’s been the secret to successful relationships since the dawn of communication, whether we were banging sticks or sending smoke signals.

  • Thanks Howie. Much appreciated!

  • I like that idea about actually rewarding employees for effective social media use. That woulod make for an interesting social media policy wouldn’t it? Cool idea Steve!

  • Lots of correlations to the traditional business world, isn;t there? Thanks Billy.

  • This is an amazing and insightful comment Robert. And I agree. My network has helped me accomplish so many things!  I would be so far ahead of a “non-social” peer.  Thanks!

  • Agree completely Mimi. Thanks for sharing this insight today!

  • Hi, Mark! The bottom line is companies/brands flop when they get left behind. As long as social media gives you “an ability to effectively network and find information quickly” — and I believe it’s true for most — then you have no choice!
    P.S. Pigeons are questionable characters.

  • haha ))
     cool photos ))

  • Jenny DeWitt Kubeczko

    This is such a timely post for me right now as I find myself in a new position as one of the most tech-advanced people in the entire firm. While surrounded by paper and pencil, land-line and I struggle daily with bringing an entire company mentality into the 21st century. It’s difficult to maintain “superstar quality” when you’re justifying your every strategic move. I feel out of the loop and totally need to get my dive-bomb helmet out of storage. Thanks for this!

  • Great pigeon post Mark. While I’ve seen the painful implementation of various technology tools and paradigm shifts in corporations, it has also become essential for not only small business owners, but home business entrepreneurs to embrace technology.

    You can no longer just sell your wares or services by networking in your own back yard. The world lives on the Internet and computers, and to be successful, you have to push through your fears of change and meet your competition in the online playing field.

    I’m a Baby Boomer who has spent all my career in technology, so I am comfortable with it, but when something new comes along, I still have to get out of old habits and old ways of thinking in order to master new pursuits.

    I recently got my first smart phone, switched from a pc to a Mac computer, started my own online marketing business, and am in the process of moving to another city. Although my brain is on overload, I am excited and thankful for the technology. Although I am no where near mastering new elements, I am excited about their potential.

    Love your blog. Cheers.
    Bonnie Chomica
    Internet Entrepreneur

  • I appreciate your insight about adapting to the technology.  Having a good grasp on this does give one an advantage in certain areas of business.  I have been doing my best to immerse myself in the new technology and SM. However, after being glued to my computer like a floating brain with typing fingers for the last 3 years, what has worked is the phone. Eventually our business catastrophically failed.  I am hoping to apply what I have learned, and the new people with whom I have connected, to forge something new.  Life is interesting and I believe in myself.  I am a survivor.

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