Should Your Company Play Catchball?

by Jay Deragon on 05/16/2008

As more and more brands launch their own set of “social initiatives” a critical failure is not involving people in the verification of whether their plans are really “social” or not.

Today people can see through the marketing spin and hype of messages quickly. The web is filled with opinions about everything, everybody, every brand and every move a company makes. Case in point. Comcast announced the acquisition of Plaxo and within hours there were hundreds of bloggers commenting on the move and their post went viral, one to one to millions. The initial blogger responses, in the aggregate, were negative about the Comcast move. Then more and more people expressed their opinions and it appeared as though the negative spin caught on like wild fire. The bloggers with the most readers and the most respect seem to “infect” the minds of many quickly and rather than enabling objective dialog entire communities, and the Comcast brand, became subject to the negative infection. See Read Write Web’s post as an example.

When will Companies Learn?

In modern management practices there is a term and process called Catchball which originated from a planning process known as Hoshin Kanari. Catchball is defined as:

a communication process in which parties engage in a series of information exchanges about the means for achieving a particular objective. The purpose for the exchange is to build consensus around the best approach for achieving an objective. Catchball is based on the belief that the best approach will evolve from the back and forth exchange of information between the person who is responsible for achieving the objective and the persons who will be most influential in achieving it. The secondary benefit from using catchball is a higher degree of commitment to achieve the objective.

Now think of the social web has nothing more than a huge medium that enables the “catchball” process with entire markets, customers, suppliers and employees. If Comcast, or any other brand, were to take advantage of the medium they would learn more from the opinion leaders and their markets in a few hours and would avoid being caught in the negative spin. Additionally people give their opinions freely and those with loud voices of influences have gained their position because of their perspectives, understandings and thought leadership relative to the dynamics of the social web or what we have labeled as Socialutions.

The benefits to applying a “catchball mentality” is that by engaging communities leaders and influencers in the process of strategizing “social initiatives”, you begin to develop a learning organization and your brand benefits from the ideas and opinions of the community of influencers. Organizational learning allows a company to adapt to market changes and trends and grow in the process. And, in some cases, help reduce the risk of negative spin. Without the ability to learn and to be social as an organization lends itself to being criticized by the very communities of people it intends to serve.

How Could It Be Done and Protect Confidential Information?

We’re not talking about telling the world your about to acquire something and asking for their opinion. Rather we’re simply talking about the exchange of ideas on how a brand can improve its position by applying Socialutions.

However let’s just consider the recent Comcast announcement about acquiring Plaxo. Comcast could have invited and paid five of the top influencers and opinion leaders within the social web into a “Socialutions Advisory Council” Without mentioning Plaxo Comcast could ask the proposed Advisory Council what their opinions were about Comcast buying or creating and using social applications. From this exchange Comcast would quickly learn of the pitfalls and opinions from the influencers before they made the acquisition. Additionally, the council could be under an NDA and shortly before acquiring Plaxo the council could be used as a “catchball” of feedback which would have helped Comcast craft the appropriate messages that would help level set its vision with the active participants within the social web.

Much more could be done using “catchball” strategies but by now you should have the picture of Socialutions possibilities.

What say you?

{ 1 comment }

George Bigger May 16, 2008 at 8:03 am

Catch-ball is OK, for now. What we aren’t clear on is “Who’s on first…”? With a little re-structuring of the way we interact, we might actually have a ‘game’ – that anyone (or everyone) could win!

What if people, businesses, non-profits, governments could:
– all contribute to the same knowledge-base, and then
– equitably benefit from its structured content
– made available via a simple, familiar, consistent interface
– and (co-managed) useful process?

What if they could know by accessing that information – 24/7 – before any decision – the risk and potential reward from their proposed action? Would that improve marketing, help the bottom line – or even stop wars?

Anyone want to help create a useful framework for those conversations – replace the threaded discussions that now only unravel further and further from each other and from measurable progress?

Anyone want to actually “Play Ball”? (organize/cooperate)

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