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Gini Dietrich

Executives and the Ostrich Syndrome

By: Gini Dietrich | May 10, 2011 | 
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This first ran on DIY Blogger, Dino Dogan’s blog, during his Fear of Marketing week. If you don’t know Dino, DIY Blogger, or what he and Dan Cristo are doing with Triberr, I suggest you check it all out! And, if you read this over there, just move to the comments. We all know that’s where the real action is anyway.

I spend a good amount of my speaking time with Vistage groups across the country.

Vistage, if you don’t know, is a CEO membership organization. Which means, in order to join, you have to be an entrepreneur or professional manager. Every month you sit around the table with 15 of your peers to discuss issues and challenges you can’t discuss at work.

One of the things they recognize in their members is they do not, in fact, know everything. So they bring speakers in every month on different topics: Leadership, communication, financials, HR, unions, law, etc.

My topic is doing business on the web through marketing, communication, advertising, HR, sales, and customer service.

The Ostrich Syndrome

One would think, by now, people would understand that doing business on the web is inevitable. Three years ago, everyone told me it was a fad. Now they begrudgingly say they get it, but they still don’t want to be there.

I always begin these presentations with

Let’s put all our baggage out there. Why aren’t you using the web for business growth?

They all think they’re so smart and no one else has their baggage. But I hear the following things in every, single speech I give:

  • I don’t want people to say negative things about me or the company
  • If my employees are using social media, they won’t get their jobs done
  • This is for the kids and they aren’t in my business yet
  • My customer isn’t online (seriously, I STILL hear this)
  • I have no control over what is said online
  • It just takes too much time and I don’t understand the ROI
  • Is there an ROI? It seems like just a bunch of what you’re having for lunch
  • You can’t build relationships online

You know what all of this is?

Fear.

Fear of change. Fear of loss of control. Fear of marketing.

It’s sad, really.

The fact of the matter is that if people are going to say something negative about you online, they’re doing it offline, too.

If your employees aren’t getting their jobs done, it’s an operational issue, not a social media challenge.

This isn’t just for kids; the fastest growing demographic online is older than 50.

Your customers ARE using the web. They may not be looking for you, but what a great opportunity that provides!

Get Over It

The past two and a half years have been rough. Everyone cut their marketing budgets. And now they’re scrambling because business is still down. What do you expect? You stop communicating, people forget about you.

But not only that, the game has changed. No longer can you throw stuff out there and see which 50 percent sticks. People want to be talked with, not talked at. They expect it.

And for those of you who are afraid people are going to say negative things about you or that you can’t control the conversation, you’re going to be left behind.

Which company would you rather be? The one that sticks its proverbial head in the sand and waits to see how all this digital stuff shakes out? Or the one that takes the bull by the horns, experiments with one or two technologies, deals with the negative conversations, and leaves its competition in the dust?

Seems like a no-brainer to me.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

92 comments
robertpf
robertpf

I'm just going to get this tattooed: "What do you expect? You stop communicating, people forget about you." Might be a bit less painful, but still super-cool ;) .

But seriously, just came across you after reading a blog post on MarkHarai.com, and your content is awesome. It really is fear and inertia that is stopping all these companies jumping on Social Media, I just hope they get their act together sharpish, they'll already have to start playing catchup!

patrickreyes
patrickreyes

I think @ginidietrich is brilliant. I think I may tattoo this blog post on my back because it's brilliant. Get over it folks. The web is here to stay and it's changing things.

TheJackB
TheJackB

Something that I find to be interesting is that a lot of companies have assigned junior level people to handle social media. I don't mean to bash the younger and less experienced, but I am surprised sometimes that they give these people the opportunity to be the face/voice of the company.

Especially since they wouldn't do it in traditional areas.

mdbarber
mdbarber

Great post @ginidietrich, as usual. Your bullets are right on but I think what’s missing here is trust and empowerment.

It is somewhat inherent in what you have addressed but I find so many people who don’t “trust” their employees to know what to say in social media. Of course, that makes me wonder why they trust them in traditional media, or with their customers and other audiences. However they have figured out how to let go there and are just learning these new tools.

The issue of empowerment is a big one. Can a company leader empower his/her employee to speak on their behalf in these mediums the leader doesn’t fully understand. It is a loss of power and control, that they’ve already lost anyway to the people who are talking without them listening. It takes a tremendous amount of guts and a special person/corporate climate to let that happen.

I worked on a political campaign last fall where the candidate empowered us to use social media, because we told her she should. It’s fascinating to listen to her today discuss the impact that decision had on her campaign.

Even with these successes I still hear many managers saying their employees will never be on Facebook, Twitter or any of that stuff. I find it’s often a middle manager who has control over what sites are accessible. In fact, I gave a presentation last week where a woman started this conversation with those at her table while I was talking. Little did she know I would turn her words into a discussion for the whole group by doing a live search of her company. Didn’t look so hot!

We need to keep “preaching” our message as you are doing. Eventually people will come around…several have to me in the past week or so. Keep up the great work.

dinodogan
dinodogan

This problem is systemic.

Research shows that knowledge workers who routinely forward good news upstream and ONLY good news are way more likely (figures escape me now) to get promoted than workers/executives forward reality upstream.

In other words, these CEO's live in pink houses wearing rose-tinted glasses. They have NO idea whats going on for real. No to mention the frustration they must feel for being powerless to effect change in any major way (generalization). The Board (Borg? :-) has to be pleased and CEO's job is to do that, not to effect change.

I could go on and on....thnx again for posting this at my house first :-)

janbeery
janbeery

I call this Cranial Rectal Inversion! aka Head stuck up the Behinder! (Oh Lord, Katie is going to tag me for another blog on this!)

In the medical industry, people long thought and still think if they hold their cards close, no one will know what's going on. EXACTLY! That's the point! This is definitely like herding cats. A necessary task in our chosen field but some days, my brain just hurts and the Vino here at KBK gets cracked mid afternoon!

You are spot on Gini. We will just keep on preaching and sharing success stories. At the end of the day, there are some people that rather enjoy their Cranial Rectal Inversion and are happy there. The world will keep on moving forward and they, in fact, will be left behind.

therealkazia
therealkazia

You nailed it! It's about feeling out of control.

My firm primarily works with small, small businesses (under 10 employees) and these owners are really scared to get online too. They've built their business from the ground up and have done and been in control of every single aspect of their business. So the idea of getting past the basic brochure as web site makes them very uncomfortable, it's not something they feel empowered by.

But once people understand that the fundamentals haven't changed, it's just the medium, they tend to relax and begin to let down that wall of fear.

Mark_Harai
Mark_Harai

I hear you loud and clear Gini!

For some businesses, the social web will be a boon... for others the nail in the coffin - simply because they can't or won't get past the ostrich syndrome.

Many won't even see it coming because they are too busy believing their in control of things. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Fear is at the core of most bad business decisions - long before the social web was one them.

jonbuscall
jonbuscall

@ginidietrich Fear of losing control is something I come up against on a daily basis. I think the only way to approach this is to teach them that the notion of control is not really applicable to the web.

A CEO I occasionally work for recently declined my suggestion that she blog about an article in a national Swedish newspaper that mentioned her. She was afraid that if she did a swarm of disgruntled employees would leave comments on the article.

TheJackB
TheJackB

If you never use Twitter, Blogs or FB it is easy to assume that it is just children screwing around online. This is one of those things that I think that has to be experienced to really understand how big it is and just how many people are talking.

NancyD68
NancyD68

This is so near and dear to my heart. First of all, had a sit down with one of my bosses yesterday, and I was told point blank to let the other boss "like" whatever he wants on Facebook! (talk about sticking your head in the sand)

We have a client who is "too busy" for social media. When I began asking why, i got spoken to about it. I was told "just deal with it." I wanted to ask why is he not on there? He has a publicly held company whose stock is not even worth a penny, and you are too busy? Doing what? I asked it because I can't overcome objections if I don't know why you object to this.

Am I insane here?

Petya
Petya

First of all, the photo made me lol! :) Second, I couldn't agree more with you that there is huge fear from social media among some executives. The bad news from those people: online conversation is happening with or without their interaction and activities, so they can't stop it but take an action. This is the best for them in the long-term...

Thanks for the great post, Gini - it's inspiring as usual!

bdorman264
bdorman264

I think it's one thing to be told how to do it and it's quite the opposite to just jump in and 'really' do it. As my organization is trying to figure out there place in this arena we are still somewhat fragmented with a handful of us 'all in' and everyone else looking in from the outside.

Having said that, you certainly want a strategy instead of just some willy nilly effort. In addition to running your core business you have to plan when and how you put together your social media platform.

You are aware of the post Ari did on me (and thanks for the kind words) but when I showed this to the powers to be in my office, it was a light bulb moment. I think they finally get how far reaching and impactful an on-line presence can be.

Of course I've already heard of company's being formed to 'teach' this to entities; but just like anything else, you have to be willing to really get your hands dirty with it.

PS - I had no idea you were going to be drug into that post and if you were an unwilling participant I apologize but I do appreciate you being a trooper and making up some stuff about me.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

We are thinking of upgrading from adding machines to calculators this year but I am getting push back from the CEO.

I have like a trillion examples of this from my work history and AT LEAST a quadrillion from the business news for examples of the Ostrich Syndrome. And history is littered with the corpses of huge companies that die from this.

It's so sad. But if you text 12345 to Save the Ostriches you can donate $10 by phone.

Mark_Harai
Mark_Harai

@robertpf You landed on a great blog with the one of the very best PR and social media teams in the world.

They're beautiful, smart and will talk to rough necks like us - you have to give them credit for that!

There's lots here @robertpf enjoy!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@TheJackB THANK YOU! We talk a lot about that with our clients. Just like you wouldn't send a young professional to a big client meeting or to the golf course (alone) to woo a prospect, you shouldn't let them handle social. Sure they can be a part of it, but letting them manage it alone is a very bad idea.

KenMueller
KenMueller

@TheJackB "This here Social Media...that's what the kids are doing. Let's give it to the intern who's only gonna be here 3 months. Or better yet, my nephew Johnny. He's 15. He's awesome at this stuff!"

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@mdbarber I could not agree more, but my list is what CEOs TELL me. No one would willingly admit they don't trust and don't want to empower their teams. I always talk about this like answering the phone or sending an email. They trust them to do that, but not talk to customes on the social web? Doesn't make sense.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@dinodogan Why the heck would you want to live in a pink house?! Gross. And thanks for having me write this!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@janbeery When I blogged about this initially on Dino's blog, he actually used a photo of a person's head up their rear end. It looked super painful. But that's exactly what this is! And I'm with @Lisa Gerber ... you should trademark it!

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

@janbeery seriously you need to trademark that!!! I LOVE it. :) clearly the KBK culture is similar to the Spin Sucks offices. (picture empty wine bottles strewn about)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@therealkazia Right! It's just networking on a larger and more efficient scale. It's not so scary when you put it that way.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@jonbuscall Boy...two issues here: 1) We've never had control. We've only had the perception of control because we haven't heard the conversations. And 2) if she has a swarm of disgruntled employees, that's not something YOU can fix.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@TheJackB I think you're absolutely right and it's pertinent people use the tools to understand it's more than what people had for lunch.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@NancyD68 No, you're not insane. It's pretty clear your executives and your clients don't get it. But they'll need to or they'll be lost. This is the same as implementing email or websites. It was a fight and now EVERYONE uses it. It's change. People don't like change. But they'll have to adapt or go out of business.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Petya Ha! I just told @kmueller62 the photo makes me laugh! Great minds!

That's exactly what we discuss when I speak...the conversation is happening. Wouldn't you rather know what people are saying? It's funny to hear them say things like complaints and employee's use is a social media problem. Um, if a customer is complaining or your employees aren't getting their jobs done. that's an OPERATIONS problem.

TheJackB
TheJackB

@HowieG The Abacus will never be replaced. Excuse me, my pocket protector needs to be adjusted.

bdorman264
bdorman264

@HowieG Can we have your adding machines? I'm trying to validate myself and bring value to the bottom line. This would be a real 'win' for me if I could secure a significant capital improvement at a good price.

KDillabough
KDillabough

@HowieG Oh my gosh, you made my day with this one! Sad but true, true but sad that I'm laughing this hard. Texting as I write to Save those Ostriches:)

KenMueller
KenMueller

@HowieG dude...EVERYONE is using abacuses (abaci?) these days. I'm thinking of getting the new iAbacus...because if Apple made it, it must be the best.

TheJackB
TheJackB

@ginidietrich I am glad that someone is advising people against it. It honestly is such a foolish move that it makes my head hurt.

T60Productions
T60Productions

@ginidietrich @TheJackB Not to mention they open all the accounts under their email address... then when they leave you have a whole other mess on your hands! --Tony Gnau

TheJackB
TheJackB

@KenMueller I see it all the time both as a consumer/customer and as a "professional."

mdbarber
mdbarber

@ginidietrich Good point about admitting it. I actually had someone ask me to come talk with a senior management team here following a PRSA AK presentation. Getting them to take the leap of trust may be another challenge.

KenMueller
KenMueller

@ginidietrich @mdbarber It goes beyond that. Think about it, the lowest paid employees at most companies are the ones that have the most interaction with the customers: the people at the checkout counter, the receptionist in the front office. They deal with the customers all the time. In many cases, that's the biggest part of the job.

janbeery
janbeery

@Lisa Gerber The registration is in the works! We often use this diagnosis for particular types of clients we call them CRI's. Have any of those?

KenMueller
KenMueller

@ginidietrich @jonbuscall The perception of control was somewhat legit because when people talked about a business, they could only do so on a small scale. Now, everyone has a megaphone, and with Social Media they have the ability to organize. From a more political view, this is what has happened in countries like Egypt. There were always dissenters, but the dissenters were silent because they thought they were alone. With Social Media, they had a voice, and the ability to realize that a lot of other people felt the same way. With numbers come power and the ability to group together and rise up. The same can be said from a business perspective.

KenMueller
KenMueller

@ginidietrich @Petya some of this is getting me fired up. This post will be quoted heavily in a post for Thursday on my blog. We need to start a "People are Stupid" club.

bdorman264
bdorman264

@Mark_Harai You know, who else other than your friends can step up and save your from yourself. I feel kind bad about Dirty Dancing @marcus_sheridan because he really stepped on it and will just have to live with the consequences. I was just trying to help you avoid the same fate.

I'll be over to your place a little bit later; look forward to your post.

Mark_Harai
Mark_Harai

@bdorman264 Bill, the conversation always rocks and rolls when you show up bro : )

I will do better in the future, I promise!

Are you this hard on the kids your work with? Jeez!

bdorman264
bdorman264

Dude, really?.........we can all see this; man up and don't let me see this kind of stuff out of you ever again...........tough love, but somebody has to do it.......

TheJackB
TheJackB

@kamkansas I recently had a discussion with a company about ways that I could help them. When we discussed social media I was almost laughed at because I mentioned something that "high school" kids can do.@ginidietrich @T60Productions

kamkansas
kamkansas

@ginidietrich @T60Productions @TheJackB I was at a conference recently where the "expert" advised companies to "get a college kid who'll do your social media strategy for class credits." YIKES! I hope no one in the room took that advice.

mdbarber
mdbarber

@KenMueller @ginidietrich It is the biggest part of the job and one that can literally make or break a company. That's why I don't really understand the disconnect. Such a fear of the unknown.

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