The Titanic and Social Media: Why Trusting Your Instincts Might be the Wrong Thing to Do and Three Things You Can Do to Avoid Disaster

How often do companies react to an issue in a way that seems normal and correct, only to find that what was “right” is now “left?” Not only do many companies take a wrong turn, they then compound the problem by continuing on. It’s a classic tale. Take the Titanic….

In her new book, Good as Gold, author, Louise Patten, grand-daughter of Titanic’s second officer Charles Lightoller, is convinced the ship struck the iceberg because of a basic steering error and only sank as fast as it did because the captain had ordered the ship to keep sailing instead of stopping and waiting for other ships to come to the rescue.

So what happened?  According to Patten, the man at the Titanic’s wheel heard the captain call “hard a-starboard” when the iceberg was sighted.  Patten claims Lightoller turned the wheel the wrong direction — to the left rather than the right. And According to her book, a recent conversion in the world from sailing ships to steam-powered meant a shift in steering systems, which she believes was the reason for the mistake.

The captain then compounded the problem by ordering the ship to steam on, without stopping to assess the damage and make possible repairs.  From what we’ve gathered, this story has been kept secret to keep up appearances for the parent company of the Titanic, the White Star Line. (We’ll let the conspiracy theorists take on discussion of what happened from that point.)

What does the sinking of the Titanic have to do with social media marketing?  You’ll note in Patten’s claim that there had been a recent change in the steering system used on the newer steam ships, and this change didn’t align with the reflexes sailors had formed after years of working with the earlier steering system.

People with years of training and experience had to re-learn which way was which, not only physically but mentally.  In this case, years of training caused the man steering the ship to rely on instinct and reflex – and to turn the wrong way under pressure.  Social media marketing obviously isn’t a split-second, life-and-death situation (though all the chatter about it can make it seem that way some days).  And yet, many marketers rely on instinct and past experience to make decisions reflexively. And sometimes, those ingrained thought patterns can get you into trouble. People who have been in marketing for a while are comfortable with the old steering systems. They create a message, broadcast it to the market through various vehicles, and then do everything they can to tightly control that message. When something bad or unexpected happens, they batten down the hatches and try to exert even more control. Unwittingly, they turn hard into the iceberg and keep steaming ahead.

In the world of social media, your first instinct isn’t always the right one.  In other words, the steering systems have changed, and now there are more options than just right or left. You don’t have to go it alone to deliver your message. You can enlist others to help carry and endorse it.  Have you reached out to trusted influencers inside and outside your company for guidance and perspective? Have you tried letting go of your message and letting the community deliver it for you?  Have you given your customers the opportunity not only to consume the message, but shape and deliver it as well?

So whether you have an opportunity or an emergency, here are three things you should consider to avoid sinking your message, and possibly your brand:

1.      Don’t go it alone – When you have a challenge or opportunity in your personal life, you’re likely to seek the advice of friends and experts.  Why should it be any different in business? Go to your influencers and your community to gather information and advice. How can you enlist influencers to help you?

2.      Think of the judo move – How can you find a natural way of turning the situation around to benefit from its own energy, and  to redirect the momentum?  Instead of resisting, give.  Instead of being inflexible, bend.  Calm down and take a deep breath, because there may be ways of leveraging existing forces to your advantage.  Think “efficiency” and “effectiveness.”, not “control”. What will give you the path of least resistance and potentially exponential effect?

3. Once you choose a path, turn around every once in a while and see if anyone is following – The Titanic charged on to its doom without changing tactics. If no one is talking about what you are doing, it’s likely to be of little consequence. Re-evaluate and alter course to attract the desired attention.  Don’t keep sailing just to maintain appearances and ego.  Leading is always about taking risk, but not if you have no one seeing enough benefit to follow you.  Are you seeing others join your cause or supporting it?

Steer your business and your marketing right by incorporating the new physical and mental rules of the social media world — and avoid simple but costly blunders.

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