Shiny Object Syndrome: Don’t Fondle the Hammer

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The following is draft material for the second edition of Now Is Gone, which is almost out of print. Comments may be used in the final edition. You can download the first drafted chapter of the new edition — Welcome to the Fifth Estate — for free.

foursquare.jpgWhen seeking to inspire a conversation about one’s initiative — whether it’s product, cause or simply education — the first instinct drives one to reach for the hot tool of the day. Since the first Now Is Gone was written, this has shifted from blogs to Facebook/Twitter to widgets and applications to iPhone apps to now geolocation networks FoursSquare and Gowalla, as well as Facebook again (thank you, Open Graph).

First dubbed Shiny Object Syndrome by PR Squared Blogger Todd Defren in 2005, this phenomenon plagues organizations, companies and individuals to adapt the latest social communications tool. It’s often based on peer pressure, buzz, or a desire to be one of the first. The issue belies strategic approaches to social communications.

Ace social technology analyst Jeremiah Owyang has in time called the phenomena “Fondling the Hammer.” Web strategists oft focus on the tool rather than their strategic approach. While we have a general strategy towards creating a great conversation, we need to best understand how to participate within that community, create an approach that will work with it, rather than just run to the shelf an pick up the latest power tool.

Unfortunately, while in the short term placating a need to play with the newest communications toy, Shiny Object Syndrome can create terrific wastes of money. That in turn, can create terrible consequences for organizations, executives and communicators alike.

In Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff‘s classic book Groundswell the home run statement, “concentrate on the relationships, not the technologies.” The community drives social media, not social media in their many technological forms. Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff also note that Shiny Object Syndrome can become a major barrier to success in their fourth chapter.

Getting beyond Shiny Object Syndrome requires the lead communicator to STOP! Then go back to the master communications plan. As unsexy as it is, a blog or a widget may still be your most powerful tool. A healthy evaluation of social media tools should reveal the tools stakeholders and their influencers are using, a critical determinant as these are the relationships you seek to forge.

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  • http://treypennington.com Trey Pennington

    So true. Not long ago I interviewed Rick Murray of Edelman Digital. I was interesting in hearing how such a huge organization approached new technology like social media. He surprised me. Rick told me he was tasked to spend YEARS visiting Edelman’s branches so he could understand their culture FIRST, and then explore what cultural changes must be made for Edelman to shift to the “new age.”

    My argument in Spitball Marketing is this is the age of opportunity, but it’s NOT by embracing technology. One may seize the bountiful opportunities by intentionally examining basic assumptions about what business is, can be, and should be, and then DUMPING the bankrupt worldview “the chief aim of business is to maximize shareholder wealth,” and the bankrupting pursuit of profits!

    If companies would use all tools, including social media, to help other people create things that matter, we can skip the foolishness of SOS.

    Avoid the Shiny Object Syndrome by changing your assumptions—It’s NOT about the money!

  • http://www.wistex.com Scott M. Stolz

    And those who have the hardest time not fondling the hammer are those with ADOS disorder (Attention Deficit Oh Shiny).

  • http://thoughtwrestling.com/blog Mark Dykeman

    When you wrote “don’t fondle the hammer” I couldn’t help but think of the upcoming Thor movie…

  • http://occamsrazr.com Ike

    I am not really interested in the construction industry. Yet I live in a house.

    I don’t subscribe to dozens of magazines about cars, yet I drive one to work every morning.

    I don’t stay abreast of every detail in the dairy industry, yet I drink a glass of milk with breakfast.

    At some point, milk and cars and shelter became extremely useful to me, even as my active interest in them wanes.

    The danger of Shiny Object Syndrome is it confuses the interesting with the useful. I can get swept up learning a LOT about things I don’t need to know, when I ought to be just using them. (Of course, it’s my job to stay a little ahead of the curve, but it would be shameful for me to keep yelling at those behind to catch up.)

  • http://www.ann-sense.com Ann Marie van den Hurk APR

    Plans aren’t very sexy nor exciting, but it all comes back to it. The plan is the foundation allowing you to swap out the tactics based on the wider picture. Often the “shiny” object just doesn’t fit, but without the plan you can’t see that until it is too late.

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