As a kid growing up in the ’60s, the Mercury and Apollo astronauts were my heroes. I was 10 or 11 years old when an oxygen tank in the service module on Apollo 13 exploded—putting the lives of Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert in peril. I remember how the doomed mission’s week in space captivated the world, while NASA’s Mission Control and the three stranded astronauts worked to bring their crippled spacecraft home to Earth.
One of the challenges associated with bringing the space travelers safely home was sifting through all of the data that was generated immediately following the explosion and during the subsequent week in space. Mission Control had to determine what was and wasn’t relevant.
Apollo 13 (the movie starring Tom Hanks) did a great job of capturing the drama associated with that mission and what took place, as Mission Control tried to make sense out of what the instruments in Houston were reading and what was really happening in space. As their week in the Lunar Module “lifeboat” progressed, Commander Lovell removed his biomed sensors—eliminating the flight surgeon’s visibility into his medical condition. The following bit of dialog from the movie represents the difference between the need for data and the need for context:
CAPCOM 2: 13, we just got another request from the flight surgeon for you to get some sleep. Don’t like these readings down here.
Jim Lovell: [Tearing off his biomeds] Let’s see how he likes this. I am sick and tired of the entire western world knowing how my kidneys are functioning!
Dr. Chuck: [After Lovell’s heart rate flat-lines] Flight, we just lost Lovell!
CAPCOM 2: 13, Houston. Jim, we just had a bottoming out on your biomeds.
Jim Lovell: I’m not wearing my biomeds.
CAPCOM 2: [After Gene Kranz shrugs it off] OK, Jim. Copy that.”
[Jack and Fred now tear away their own biomeds]
Dr. Chuck: [After all three crew members flat-line] Flight, now I lost all three of them!
Gene Kranz: It’s just a little medical mutiny, Doc. I’m sure the boys are still with us. Let’s cut them a little slack, OK?
Kranz was able to recognize why (the context) Lovell reacted the way he did; what’s more, he knew instinctively that he was still “with us.”
Information Without Context
All of this is to make the point that information without context doesn’t really mean anything. Marketing leaders need more than raw data—or even overly simplified color-coded status indicators—to inform decisions. They need the real story.
Perhaps social media can be put into use to help access the whole story. In the Forbes.com article “Why Social Engagement Is Critical to Business Success,” author Rajeev Singh, president and chief operating officer of Concur asks: “While you may be immersed in social media as a consumer, how much thought have you given to the implications of this phenomenon from a business perspective?”
Social media provides a wonderful avenue for encouraging collaboration and capturing information. I’m not suggesting that Twitter or Facebook be incorporated into how we collaborate and communicate about work and projects. What I am suggesting is incorporating a Twitter-like stream of conversational information that provides context to the data recorded by traditional status updates.
Gleaning the "real story" from social engagement.
Singh describes how Concur has incorporated social media within its organization, which is pretty interesting: “From being active on Twitter (with several handles that target distinct audiences), to posting fresh content several times a week on our corporate blog, to sharing videos on our YouTube channel, to hosting forums where clients can interact with each other and share knowledge, to setting up LinkedIn groups that bring people with similar interests together, to keeping everyone updated via Facebook, we truly believe in the incorporation of social networking. Indeed, we not only encourage our employees to help us engage people online, we also use Chatter in-house, which enables over 1,500 Concur employees to share and collaborate with each other 24/7, no matter where they are on the globe.”
What Singh is describing is not a project-management application of social media, but rather a way to use social engagement to create dialog with both external and internal stakeholders. I think the ubiquitous nature of social media today provides the perfect vehicle for creative teams to collaborate and capture the context associated with the work that’s transacted daily.
When the “stream” of conversational information is focused and attached to tasks, issues, and projects, marketing leaders get a view into what’s really happening on their teams—and that’s when they’ll have the real story.
What’s more, a social approach to how team members interact with the project-management process—one that recognizes individual team-member accomplishments and contributions—fosters an environment in which team members are more inclined to participate and provide the information marketing leaders need to make informed decisions about capacity and resource allocation.
It’s really people, not process, that makes things happen within marketing organizations. When the solutions we use focus on people, they encourage discussion, which allows everyone on the team to highlight and recognize accomplishments and make comments on each other’s work and success. Providing this type of value among the team makes sense with a social approach. It feels familiar, and it’s friendly—it’s not “big brother” trying to micromanage or control things.
What do marketing leaders get out of all this? A voluntary, free flow of information from team members, timely and accurate information captured at the source, and the real story--information they can trust.
Any solution that does nothing more than give “management” a better view into what everyone is doing “to keep track of everyone” will never work. The social-media metaphor fosters a more collaborative environment, enabling marketing leaders to more effectively lead project teams. Giving peers and managers visibility into performance and providing the creative team with the means to clarify project status more clearly benefits the entire team.
The Successful Failure
Working together, NASA’s engineers at Mission Control were able to successfully cut through the morass of data, glean the context from what they were seeing and hearing, and make the smart decisions that would ultimately bring Apollo 13 safely home.
“It was a failure with regards to its initial mission, a success to the triumph of the people that suddenly were thrust upon a problem that they never anticipated, they never planned for, they never trained for, and were able to pull off a successful recovery.” —Flight Commander Jim Lovell
Fortunately, most marketing initiatives are not matters of life and death such as that, but they often involve challenges that were neither expected nor planned for. Incorporating a stream of conversation about the work marketing teams are doing provides context to otherwise marginally relevant quantitative data captured by most project-management solutions. Conversations about tasks, projects, and goals should be captured and addressed in ways that shed light and provide context to the conversations. Social media methods can be incredibly valuable to business leaders looking for context within the mountains of data they must deal with in order to make decisions.