Now that the NFL Lockout is over, all football teams have reported for 2011 training camp. Regardless of what level of football you’ve played, you are aware of the Team Depth Chart. If you were like me, always undersized but motivated at your position, you worked like crazy to climb that depth chart and get on the field!

In Denver, we have that most special of “Open Competition” on the Depth Chart – The Quarterback Controversy between the proven veteran Kyle Orton and the exciting and well-loved Tim Tebow (with Brady Quinn an unfortunate and distant after-thought).

So how can companies compare their social media efforts with NFL players fighting for a spot on the Depth Chart?

  • Open Competition – Every team generally puts last year’s starters as 1st string on the depth chart. However, the best teams make it known that there is open competition at each slot. Complacency can doom a team’s success, so coaches always want to keep the players hungry and looking over their shoulders at the young guns trying to take their roster spot. In social media, treat everyday as an open competition. You are staring up at the incumbents, and they may be a lot bigger than you. However, are you more agile, do you have more endurance, are you more hungry to get on the playing field? Social media is a great equalizer to allow the little guys to run with the bigger boys and try to earn Share of Voice (albeit with smaller budgets).
    • Coaches Reward Effort – Sometimes effort may not get you that starting job, but it keeps you a roster spot to hopefully make a move later. One of the biggest “effort positions” in the NFL is “gunner” on the punt coverage team. These guys have their motors always running, and the punt receiving team generally assigns two blockers just to this one guy! They will block them out-of-bounds, knock them down, and then stand over them to make sure they still do not get into the play. In some cases, the effort is so legendary that the opposing team will find other means to keep the gunner out of the play like the Jets against the Dolphins last year.
In social media as the little guy, you need to act like a gunner. Keep that motor running, blow through obstacles to your success, and make the play. Then get up and do it again…and again. Eventually, that effort will get you a shot at playing with the big boys (anybody remember Bill Bates from the Dallas Cowboys ;) ).
  • Talent has its Advantages – I’m not going to lie to you…talent goes a long way to getting you more time on the field. Everyone has some level of talent at the professional level, and that is where work ethic comes into play. However, the ability to break the game wide open, or force a momentum changing turnover, is not part of everyone’s DNA. In social media as the little guy, you need to be a good talent scout. Whether it is finding a social media consultant, or grooming someone within that has a knack for keeping the plates spinning and multi-tasking across several media channels, you need to prepare to invest in this resource. Just like NFL teams can lose marquee players because other teams recognize the value and will spend more money, you need to find the incentive to find and keep these superstars. Recognize that it doesn’t always have to be financial compensation. Some people get their rewards from work-life balance or an appreciation for being granted autonomy to make a difference.
  • Fans Hold Sway – It would be great if all team decisions regarding playing time were decided on the field. However, fans hold an interesting political sway. After all, they are the consumers of the product. In Denver, Tim Tebow is in his second year and he is as squeaky clean and likable as a player can be. I’m rooting for him to succeed in life and on the field myself. However, I also think that Kyle Orton is a reliable, intelligent quarterback that can make all the throws. Give him a running game, and even an average defense, and he will have a 10-win season. However, the very vocal and adamant Bronco fan base may expedite a change to Tebow. In social media, listen to your fans, friends and followers (3Fs). Treat the 3Fs as valuable assets and allies. Fine-tune your marketing strategy based upon the feedback from an engaged community. Address customer service issues quickly and courteously. Use a social media monitoring tool to actively engage across as many media channels as you can support (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Amazon, CNET, eOpinions, blogs, etc.).
  • If you Meekly Accept 2nd Place, don’t even show up – OK this is a little harsh, but if you go into a competition expecting to come in 2nd place, then you are going in prepared to be “the first loser”. No competitor should have that attitude. If they do, they might belong in a different career. Yes, I will put the caveat in there that some people do stick around knowing they will never be #1, but they truly love the game…or love the fact that they can keep their game at a high enough level to draw a high salary that sets them up for fulfilled dreams later in life. However, I encourage you to reach for that brass ring. In business, if you just try to find a comfortable niche to carve out your space and make a living, I assure you that other people will covet that same comfortable niche. Work on an overall marketing and execution strategy with the expectation that you will succeed. That means you should have several intermediate and attainable goals that build to an overall company success. There is a Proverb that states “a wise man has many counselors”. Assemble a leadership team, or use outside board members and accountability partners, to help you plan and execute on your strategy.

So, are you rooting for any players to make the jump to 1st string in the NFL this year? How about a favorite rookie (I’m interested in seeing Von Miller progress even though he is a Texas A&M Aggie vs one of my beloved Longhorns). Are you building a fan base in social media and treating the marketplace like an open competition…with the assumption that you truly belong and will succeed?