Cyberspace is full of guides and tips to help both individuals and organizations achieve digital success. Some of the advice is misleading and full of false promises (see for example Social Media in 10 Minutes a Day? 7 Reasons not to be Fooled), but much of it can be quite helpful.
Contrary to the all-too-common perception that social and digital engagement is fun and frivolous, it's serious business. It can be a grind and a slog, a relentless and ever-present master, requiring a lot of experimentation with no guarantees and a decent risk of failure. The most practical and valuable advice recognizes that digital success does not come easy or cheap, and that it requires a lot of time and effort. Like anything else worth doing, especially in business, it demands commitment, focus, organization, rigor, persistence, resilience, ruthlessness, self control, efficiency... none of which is possible without both mental and emotional discipline.
Here are some of the primary ways in which discipline is required to achieve digital success.
Laying a Strong Foundation
The disciplinary tone for digital success is set by an organization's leaders. They need to make social and digital engagement a priority, work with others to establish clear goals and objectives, and allocate the necessary financial and human resources to both create and maintain strategically important digital properties and activities. A disciplined approach to digital engagement also requires strong governance, including:
- Identifying the core team and supporting players (e.g., content creators, employee advocates, influencers)
- Clearly defining roles and responsibilities, as well as related accountabilities
- Creating action plans and content/editorial calendars for both created and curated content
- Establishing rules of engagement (e.g., whom and when to follow back, what and when to reshare, when and how to engage with and reply to others)
- Developing systems and procedures for content management, sharing, and results tracking
Finally, discipline is required to ensure assigned team members have the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities to be digitally successful, and to either acquire help from outsiders or provide the required education and training if they don't.
Implementing and Refining a Plan of Action
Leaders must continue to be role models for discipline by maintaining their commitment to digital engagement, continuing to allocate the necessary resources to achieve and maintain digital success over time, and supporting experimentation and the inevitable failures that will follow. They must also demonstrate personal discipline by being tireless champions and leading by example - getting out of their comfort zones, taking personal chances, and demonstrating a willingness to learn and grow.
The digital engagement team must also be committed to continuous learning and growth, and must have the discipline to stay current with the latest trends and never-ending changes in various platforms and tools, as well as related tips and tricks to maximize their efficiency and effectiveness. They should develop routines for ensuring all required tasks are accomplished consistently, triage activities based on established goals and objectives, follow the established rules and procedures, and maintain a strong attention to detail.
Discipline is also necessary for the core team to demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence. Digital engagement can be complete drudgery, so it's important for people to "find the zen" in routine work. At the same time, they must also maintain the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances and requirements, and have the discipline to:
- Break old - and especially bad - digital engagement habits
- Not let a desire for perfection stand in the way of progress
- Let go of small imperfections and mistakes (e.g., grammar, images, timing)
- Think before they act in non-routine circumstances
- Control their emotions when a digital crisis arises and/or someone challenges or criticizes the organization in cyberspace
For both organizational leaders and the core digital engagement team, discipline is also necessary to:
- Explore new and better ways of doing things and strike the right balance between research and action, avoiding both analysis paralysis and irrational bandwagon jumping
- Engage in strategic experimentation
- Challenge the status quo, revisiting and refining existing governance standards to optimize both processes and results
Pulling Back, Letting Go and Walking Away
Less is often more when it comes to achieving digital success, and finding the right balance between more and less requires discipline. It takes discipline - and no small share of ruthlessness - to:
- Pull back and be less digitally engaged when the return doesn't justify the investment
- Recognize when an experiment has failed and decide to cut one's losses instead of continuing to commit to a failing course of action
- Shut down a digital presence and/or leave a social media platform
As always, I welcome your feedback. What questions has this essay raised for you? In what other ways do you think discipline is the key to digital success?
For more digital engagement guidance, check out these Social and Digital Engagement SMART Articles.