Social media and the new world: Winning by losing

Lately, I’ve begun to view many aspects of life as a game – not in a casual, non-serious sense, but rather in a way that makes things more fun and less of a drag.  For example, I used to loathe doing the laundry, a mindless, yet necessary task which was the bane of my existence in college.  However, once I viewed it as a game, tackling the ever-growing mountain of clothing became less of a chore and more of a competition with myself.  How fast could I get it done?  How quickly could I fold everything?  How efficiently could I bring order to chaos?  (If you’re getting the sense that I led a pretty boring college life, you aren’t that far off.)

As adults in a capitalist/consumer culture, one of the biggest games we play is the money game.  Paychecks become points, and bank accounts become scoreboards.  An individual’s “worth,” or “value” in the eyes of Western society is often misunderstood as how much money one has.  The individual plays the game of participating in commerce, attempting to make informed choices amidst a barrage of targeted advertising and marketing campaigns.  For many, the game revolves around the notion of getting the most while spending the least.

The other side of this game is played by the corporate entity.  Businesses are constantly
looking for ways to make more money while spending less, and are realizing that the value gained from traditional advertising versus the cost and effort it takes to set up and maintain these campaigns is diminishing in the wake of the social web.  Naturally, companies are now turning to social technologies like Facebook and Twitter to directly engage their customers and promote their services or products to a vast network of people instantaenously.

The funny thing is, every business is different; every consumer has his or her own tastes,
and there is no apparent way to “win” this game.   Our culture likes to think that “winning” is the only option, and “losing” is a very, very bad thing.  Often, we find ourselves locked in the unsolvable problem of winning without losing, over-thinking and over-strategizing  instead of just doing and evaluating the results.

A consumer can be incentivized to refer friends online through social networks, but the messages that people share regarding products or services aren’t always positive, and a reward doesn’t necessarily change an individual’s negative perspective in most cases.  In fact, many of the larger corporations’ Facebook pages that I’ve seen, act as a way for the disgruntled consumers to vent their unhappiness directly to a company’s social marketing group.

I’ve spoken with decision-makers at enterprise-level companies who have expressed hesitance in promoting incentive programs through social networking channels for this exact reason.  There ends up being a sentiment of, “We will lose this game before we even start, because our page is full of complaints and unhappy customers.”  This may appear to be the case, but the truth is that there really isn’t any such thing as “losing.”

What is gained by creating and promoting a program that under-performs, doesn’t go anywhere, or is ultimately a failure?  Financally-speaking, money would be lost, but the true value comes from the knowledge and understaning of why the program did not work as expected.  A company may learn that their customers are not who they thought they were, and that a particular incentive is meaningless to them.  Or, a company may learn that their customers have not had a positive-enough experience to share it with friends and family.  These are valuable things to learn, and can be used to significantly increase the quality of a business overall, as long as the entity and its decision-makers remain open to critique and change.  This knowledge is, in the long-run, exponentially more valuable than money earned in the short term through a dissatisfied customer base that is just pursuing an empty cash-in.

Winning and losing, success and failure… these are all opposite sides of the same coin.  Failure needs to exist in order for us to know what success is, but that  doesn’t mean that something positive cannot be gained from a negative situation.  After all, it’s only a game, and no one gets better at games from winning all the time!   So, fear of failure should not be a barrier to learning more about your business or your customers.  Put things out there, give things a try, and by all means, don’t let your laundry pile up.  Do, and learn from experience.