How to Keep that Experimental Mindset

A month or so ago, I purchased some tea at a health food store that looked pretty tasty. Rasperry-Peach. Nice picture on the box. Cute story about the history of the tea maker. I took it home with visions of a soothing warm cup on cool fall evenings. What a crock. Every painful sip of this witches brew caused involuntary facial scrunching. Then there was the oh-so-pleasant metallic aftertaste. So, naturally, I have dutifully kept on drinking cup after bitter cup. I even have a steaming cup sitting next to me as I am typing this. Two more packets to go. Just doesn’t seem right to throw it out.

For those of us raised to clean our plates (or to finish every book we start), social media can require a pretty big shift. A shift to a mindset that doesn’t come naturally to many of us. The fail, adjust, fail again, adjust again mindset. The micro-failure mindset. So here are three things to keep in mind as you tackle your social media initiatives:

- Stay flexible. When I was at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), we launched a Twitter feed mostly because it was easy and the Web team had the skill set to manage it. The first day the Wall Street Journal Health Blog started following us, and we suddenly had a clue. Done right, this was going to be a good channel to connect more directly with the media. So we made some adjustments with our editorial planning going forward and started actively seeking out health policy reporters on Twitter. Yes, you should have a strategy in mind when you get started, but you should also maintain a light grip on the steering wheel and be ready to turn when needed.

- Try small experiments. A few months in, we tried to use our Twitter feed at RWJF to recruit people to help us do user testing on our Web site. Interesting experiment. Not great results. Our Twitter audience was too geographically scattered for that kind of recruiting. When we wanted people to help us pick the most influential health policy research for the year, Twitter drove some voting, but good old targeted e-mail gave us the best results. Our health reform blog didn’t seem to help much at all. In fact, when we asked for comments on the blog from researchers, we drew a big fat zero. If you keep failing in small ways, you’ll keep learning what works and what doesn’t. If you are afraid to make mistakes, you limit your opportunity to learn.

- Keep an eye on the data. The ups and downs at RWJF were fine with us because we stayed focused on what we wanted to accomplish long range (better visibility for our research, stronger relationship with the field, more impact on the issues). Since we had clear goals in mind, we could develop clear metrics for measuring our progress toward those goals and then adjust accordingly. We knew when we had pulled off into the weeds, and simply recharted our course. Make sure you have clearly articulated goals, and ways to measure progress toward them. It will keep you heading in the right direction.

Social media is still a pilot. (Check out the growing catalog of mistakes recently listed by readers on Beth Kanter’s blog.) You are going to have good days and bad days. Some things will work and some things won’t. Some things will need some tweaking. Some will need to be tossed altogether. That’s all OK. The important thing is to keep the mindset that you are experimenting. Keep on trying new stuff, keep on checking the data, keep on adjusting. If you find yourself with the metallic aftertaste from bitter tea on your tongue, pour the rest of the cup down the drain and start on a new flavor.

What about you? Any lessons learned from experimenting with social media?

Photo credit: Prakhar Amba.  Attribution.

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  1. #1 by Nick on April 10, 2011 - 10:03 pm

    Excellent article! I really liked at the end where you went back to the tea idea because I always had that type of mindset throughout my life. I also admired the “be ready to turn when needed” concept for goals.

  2. #2 by givingetting on November 2, 2010 - 8:24 am

    I think for philanthropic and non profit organizations, when we are starting, Social Media sometimes consumes more time than the benefits but we all need to have presence to spread our message

    • #3 by Larry Blumenthal on November 2, 2010 - 8:50 am

      Great point. With social media, it’s OK, sometimes preferable, to start with baby steps. Try what you can, see where it goes from there. You just want to always keep your end goal in sight.

  3. #4 by Anna on November 1, 2010 - 10:38 pm

    Yes, don’t keep drinking bad tea just because you bought it – repurpose it instead. The last batch I bought became sachets in my drawers because while it tasted dreadful, it actually smelled pretty good…

    • #5 by Larry Blumenthal on November 2, 2010 - 8:45 am

      Thanks for your thought, Anna. One more element in being flexible.

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