Game-Change: Moneyball and the Reality of Social Business.

Game Change: Moneyball and the Reality of Social Business. image moneyball brad pitt

Moneyball - Courtesy of Sony Pictures.

I finally watched Moneyball over the weekend. I’m not a big baseball fan but it held my interest, partly because it was based on a true story and partly because the movie really wasn’t about baseball at all. It was about old thinking vs. new thinking, about industry politics vs. the heresy of innovation, about dinosaurs desperate to hang on to a failing model that sustains their livelihood even when that model is clearly broken, ineffective and no longer relevant.

The scenes in which Oakland As’ general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) locks horns with his cadre of coaches and scouts over how to do more with less, about how to break the cycle of mediocrity plaguing their organization, about how to get results again is brilliant, not because of the writing or the acting but because it is spot on target. How do I know this? Because I have been in that meeting hundreds of times. Well, not that particular meeting, but in others exactly like it. And every week that goes by, I find myself sitting in that meeting again and again and again.

In the US, in Europe, in Asia, the same meeting goes on almost daily. The conference table is always basically the same, the fluorescent lighting too. The players, they’re the same as well, everywhere I go. Only the vocabulary changes, the industry lingo, but the meeting, it’s the same and it goes pretty much like this:

Billy Beane: Guys, you’re just talking. Talking, “la-la-la-la”, like this is business as usual. It’s not.
Grady Fuson: We’re trying to solve the problem here, Billy.
Billy Beane: Not like this you’re not. You’re not even looking at the problem.
Grady Fuson: We’re very aware of the problem. I mean…
Billy Beane: Okay, good. What’s the problem?
Grady Fuson: Look, Billy, we all understand what the problem is. We have to…
Billy Beane: Okay, good. What’s the problem?
Grady Fuson: The problem is we have to replace three key players in our lineup.
Billy Beane: Nope. What’s the problem?
Pittaro: Same as it’s ever been. We’ve gotta replace these guys with what we have existing.
Billy Beane: Nope. What’s the problem, Barry?
Scout Barry: We need 38 home runs, 120 RBIs and 47 doubles to replace.
Billy Beane: Ehh! [imitates buzzer]

What we see in this scene is a roomful of insiders with a century in a half of industry experience between them, and yet they haven’t figured out that their model is outdated, that their “experience,” is no longer enough to keep moving forward. They carry on day after day, season after season, doing the same thing over and over again, half-expecting a different result, but then again, maybe not. Worst of all, most of them have no idea what the problems plaguing their organizations actually are. A lot of it is just operational myopia. Some of it is also ego: they couldn’t possibly be wrong. All that experience and intuition, the entire industry’s decades-old model… how could things have changed that much, right?

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And yet they are wrong, the model isn’t working anymore, and instead of listening to the guy in the room who sees it and knows how to fix it, they treat him like a punk. When he wants to do something about it, they push back. Hard. In Moneyball, he’s their boss. Imagine when he is just a Director or a VP, or even just an account manager. Imagine how quickly he gets overruled then. I’ve seen amazing people get shut down and pushed out of organizations over this topic. I could give you names and dates. I could make you ill with true stories of stupidity and petty politics, of wasted opportunities and complete operational failures that turned what could have been huge wins for companies that needed them (and customers who demanded them) into case studies in wasted potential. And as tragic as these stories would be, they are no different from the opportunities that will be wasted this week, and the next, and the one after that, always for the same reasons, always because of the exact same thinking and business management dynamics.

I see that scene, that meeting, that discussion being played out almost everywhere I go, especially when it comes to social media and social business: guys sitting around a table, treating social like it is just an extension of the same old traditional digital marketing game they all understand and desperately want to stick to. And so they make strategy decisions based on models that don’t apply at all to the social space, they insist on using measurement schemes that aren’t the least bit relevant to it or the business as a whole, and worst of all, they make hiring decisions that absolutely make no sense at all for the new requirements of social communications. Why? Because even though the game has changed, no one in the room wants to accept that it has. No one in the room wants to adapt. No one in the room wants to look reality in the eye and do what needs to be done to actually win. Talk about it, sure. Use cool new words like earned media and engagement, definitely. But actually change anything and adapt to a new model? Nope. Not happening. The change management piece that comes with social business integration, the piece that is absolutely vital to it actually working, that piece is still DOA.

Here’s another conversation that also goes on “offline” at every company (agency or brand) around the world right now in regards to hiring decisions that touch on social media management. Here it is again, through the filter of Moneyball:

Peter Brand: There is an epidemic failure within the game to understand what is really happening. And this leads people who run Major League Baseball teams to misjudge their players and mismanage their teams. I apologize.
Billy Beane: Go on.
Peter Brand: Okay. People who run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players, your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs. You’re trying to replace Johnny Damon. The Boston Red Sox see Johnny Damon and they see a star who’s worth seven and half million dollars a year. When I see Johnny Damon, what I see is… is… an imperfect understanding of where runs come from. The guy’s got a great glove. He’s a decent leadoff hitter. He can steal bases. But is he worth the seven and half million dollars a year that the Boston Red Sox are paying him? No. No. Baseball thinking is medieval. They are asking all the wrong questions. And if I say it to anybody, I’m-I’m ostracized. I’m-I’m-I’m a leper. So that’s why I’m-I’m cagey about this with you. That’s why I… I respect you, Mr. Beane, and if you want full disclosure, I think it’s a good thing that you got Damon off your payroll. I think it opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities.

Every company has a Peter Brand on staff or sitting in a stack of CVs. Not necessarily in the sense that they are geniuses with statistics but in the sense that they see the forest from the trees, that they see what needs to be done, but every time they open their mouths, they get shot down. Worse, if they open their mouths too much, they’re gone. And if their CV doesn’t have the bullet points and keywords that hiring managers were trained twenty years ago to find relevant, they don’t even get considered for the position.

If I see one more social media leadership position go by default to candidates with “big agency digital experience” or “big brand digital experience,” I am going to throw my pencil at somebody’s head. There is the medieval thinking in action, right there. There’s the primary reason why almost every social media program on the planet is failing to produce results, why three fourths of companies still can’t figure out how to calculate the ROI of their social media programs, why most brands see less than 1% of engagement from their followers and fans after the first touch, why “content is king” is failing, and why increasingly, “social media” strategy and budgets are shifting to ad buys on social networks. That’s right: For all the talk about earned media and engagement and conversations, social media account roles are starting to go to media buyers now. Everyone loves to talk the talk. Almost no company is willing to actually walk the walk. That sound you’re hearing is the banging of traditional marketing hammers pounding nails into social business’ coffin.

You want to know why most big brand social media programs aren’t gaining real traction? Why they don’t work without a constant influx of ad spending? Why nobody sticks around when the “free iPads for likes” promotions are gone? Start there: no one in the room gets it. No one in the room wants to get it. And when someone in the room does get it, he or she doesn’t keep their job for very long. You think most companies are going to hire, promote and support change agents all on their own?

So the real question is this: Do you want to actually score some real wins or do you just want to spend big marketing budgets and play at being a digital big shot?

It’s a real question. In fact, it’s the most important question you might ask yourself all year. Because the answer to that question will determine whether or not you still have a job in two years. No wait… I misspoke. The answer to that question will determine whether or not you have the job you want in two years, and yes, there’s a difference. A big one.

When you find yourself looking for your next gig (and you will eventually,) do you want to just be the guy who was SVP digital at (insert big brand/agency here) or do you want to be the guy who took (insert big brand/agency here)’s theoretical social media and social business programs, and turned them into the new industry standards, into the business model that everyone will be copying and basing theirs on for the next decade? It’s a real question. Which guy do you want to be? The dinosaur or the pioneer? If the answer is the latter, then are you going to have the huevos to go against the grain? To take chances on whom you hire, what kinds of programs you launch, where and how you invest your budgets? Are you willing to stick your neck out and do it right? Or is it more likely that you’ll just play it safe, hoping that the system will just carry you for another decade or two, that the CEO or CMO you will interview with next won’t notice that your job was basically to spend ad dollars and shuffle digital board pieces for the CEO’s monthly show-and-tell meeting?

Who do you want to be? What do you want to build? Do you want to just wear the jersey or do you want to win?

Here’s another key piece of dialogue from the movie. Billy Beane’s gamble has paid off. he responds to an invitation from John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox:

John Henry: I know you’ve taken it in the teeth out there, but the first guy through the wall. It always gets bloody, always. It’s the threat of not just the way of doing business, but in their minds it’s threatening the game. But really what it’s threatening is their livelihoods, it’s threatening their jobs, it’s threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it’s the government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people are holding the reins, have their hands on the switch. They go bat shit crazy. I mean, anybody who’s not building a team right and rebuilding it using your model, they’re dinosaurs. They’ll be sitting on their ass on the sofa in October, watching the Boston Red Sox win the World Series.

And a couple of years later, they did.

So let’s talk about our world again for a minute. Ford not only hired the right guy (Scott Monty) a few years back but gave him the authority to build a solid program there. The result: some serious wins on just about every front, from customer perceptions to purchase intent to customer loyalty and recommendations. Even car design was impacted in 2010 by the importance of social communications in the Ford organization. Edelman Digital seems to be doing something similar (I keep running into some pretty solid folks there, notably Michael Brito and David Armano). Want to see something cool? This is one of the things they’re working on. Starbucks caught an early train with that too. So did Dell. What sucks is that in 2012, virtually no one else has even tried to keep up with them. For all the money being spent and all the “case studies” being pushed around the conference circuit, most companies are still fighting it, still refusing to accept that the game has changed – worse, trying to keep playing with old methods, with old thinking, with old, outdated skills and CV bullet points.

Old thinking will not score wins here. Old tactics, old hiring, old measurement, they’re all wrong for these new marketing, communications and business models. They just don’t work anymore. If you don’t believe me, that’s fine. Keep watching your margins erode. Keep watching your digital dollars go to waste. Keep laying people off and outsourcing every last business function you can’t afford to keep in-house anymore. Keep pretending the world is the same today as it was five years ago, and that what you were doing five years ago will still be relevant five years from now. Whatever makes you feel better. Keep doing the same old thing that used to work, back before people carried smart phones and iPads. Keep thinking that the guy you just hired because he spent ten years managing digital for a fast-food brand knows fuck-all about building capacity and traction for a social media program, let alone produce concrete business results for you. Keep coloring the same old boxes with the same old crayons and see how far you’ll get.

_ Okay good. What’s the problem?

We need to fill a VP Digital role.

_ Nope. What’s the problem?

All right… Whatever. We need to fill a VP social media strategy role.

_ Nope. What’s the problem?

We need to hire someone with proven global digital management experience, Billy. Someone with Disney or Nike on their CV. Someone with serious digital campaign experience.

_ Nope. What’s the problem, Barry?

The problem is, we’re not growing our Facebook community fast enough, and our content isn’t seeing the numbers we want. We need a…

_ Nope. [Imitates buzzer]

Get unstuck. Watch Moneyball and let the light bulb go off in your head. Then go find your Peter Brand and hire the shit out of him before someone else does. If you’re lucky, you’ll save both your career and your company in the process.

* * *

Here it is. A whole book on how to make social media work from a business standpoint. ROI is covered, along with a lot of process elements that tie back to it. If your favorite social business “expert” doesn’t seem to get this stuff yet, don’t feel bad about sending them a copy. Knowledge is never a bad gift.

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