One hot, humid night this summer I found myself at a local barn where a friend of mine was boarding her horse. She had moved during the spring from Philadelphia to Atlanta and she had just moved her horse Rebel here. This was to be the first time she saw Rebel since moving him here and my first time to meet him.
We arrived at the barn and all of the horses had been turned out to pasture for the evening. As it so happens, they keep them in their stalls during the heat of the day during the summer, and turn them out to pasture in the evenings. My friend, anxious to see her horse, said she was going out to the pasture to see Rebel and I was welcome to come along. I of course chose to go with her. As we started out to pasture, she briefed me on how to move in to the pasture, what to be aware of, and how to respond if I was approached by one of the horses. We made the long walk down toward where all of the horses (all male, maybe 20-25 of them) were grazing and playing. About halfway down, one of the horses made an aggressive move and my friend turned to me and coached me about keeping my eyes on that horse and what to do if he came charging. At that moment, I felt a little anxious. And then I remembered hearing somewhere that horses can sense fear and will take advantage of it. Of course, then I became even more anxious, but I knew my friend was an expert and I continued to follow her lead as we stayed the course. And before I knew it, that horse had calmed down and come along side me to join me as we walked. We made it down safely to the center of this pasture and saw Rebel – an incredibly beautiful appendix quarter horse. Before long, we found ourselves surrounded by 15-20 horses – they literally formed a circle around us. It was really a cool moment. I watched as my friend really had the full command and respect of all of these incredibly large beautiful horses. Yet she had no whips or bridles – in fact, no equipment at all. At one point, a couple of them started to get aggressive with each other and she put a stop to it quickly. It was an amazing moment.
I met with several organizations this week who are in the crawl phase of considering integrating social media into their marketing mix. In one instance someone asked me: “Is it to late to join? I’m concerned these communities and relationships are already formed and our joining this late in the game could be awkward. How do we know where to start and how to make the right entrance?” So what does this experience have to do with those questions and social media 101? Well, I think there are some important lessons inside this experience that apply here and carry over for those who are just beginning to consider integrating social media into their marketing mix:
1) Do your homework – before joining any community, it’s important to learn the rules, learn the boundaries, what is acceptable and what is not. Sometimes there is an expert who can guide us and other times we need to do our homework, but it is important to do your research first. My friend was kind enough to brief me and as a result, things could not have gone better.
2) Define your strategy – a solid strategy is in important, especially as you journey into new areas. Prior to our entering the pasture, my friend explained to me our strategy for making it safely in and out of this pasture complete with route, how to respond to if a conflict arose, and the importance of remaining calm. Her confidence in the plan and expertise put me at ease right away.
3) Seek to build trust over taking control – when entering a new community that is already established, it is important to seek to understand the dynamics, build the trust of the other members, and make solid connections. If you come on too strong initially, you can drive people away and even ignite conflict.
4) Listen, watch for cues – listening closely and paying attention to the community cues will help keep you on the path and out of trouble. I was in awe as my friend was able to calm the two horses and end their scuffle. I thought they were beginning to roughhouse but she knew better and was able to end their conflict and keep us safe. Sometimes joining the community quietly, getting your bearings, gaining trust will serve you better than a grand entry.
5) Stay the course – often people will turn back when things do not go as they expect early. If I had turned back in that pasture when I felt nervous, I never would have seen Rebel that night, or found myself in almost a surreal moment with those other horses. By staying the course, I learned a lot that night about horses, about communication and about myself. I thought about turning back when the first horse approached me, I was nervous about being so far out of my element. Many organizations start their social media initiative and early in the process feel the same kind of anxiety and they but turn back before they reach the middle of the pasture. By turning back they miss out on accomplishing the goal and the unexpected and unplanned goodness that comes with staying the course.
Agree? Disagree? Any advice you’d like to share?