Associations, Social Media And The Fail Fast, Fail Often Philosophy

The mantra, “Fail fast, fail often” has become the rallying cry for many a successful startup in recent years, especially in the tech-Mecca of Silicon Valley.

The concept urges everyone to experiment as often as possible while realizing when to continue with an idea or let it fall by the wayside as a failure. The goal is to pursue innovation which such fervent zeal, but without an absolute commitment to any one idea, so as to hit upon ‘The Next Big Thing’ as fast as possible.

Successful companies, like Facebook and Google, have built the philosophy into their workplace culture and swear by its potential to increase productivity and return on investment.

While the fail fast, fail often (FFFO) model has its flaws, associations would do well to imitate their for-profit counterparts and dip their toes in the many ponds of innovation in order to find the one warm enough to jump into.

Social media is one of the vehicles to help associations test the FFFO model, get used to it and figure out how to integrate the approach into the culture of the association.

First, some caveats. Fail fast, fail often is a catchy phrase, but it leaves out some important elements all organizations need to remember, especially when it comes to social media.

Failing fast and often doesn’t mean you need to fail big or fail without thinking. Instead, it’s crucial in the FFFO model to gauge exactly where you can fail, what failure is acceptable and manageable, how to gauge your failure and what the goal is going into the attempt that may end in failure.

Failing doesn’t mean rushing into new endeavours without a second thought as to the goals, consequences, outcomes, stakeholders and next steps. Before you initiate any actions based on an FFFO model, put the mechanisms in place so that you, staff, members and whoever else can feel safe and productive.

Make sure you create boundaries and guidelines for experimenting, failing and following up. Have clear goals in mind and tests to gauge the effectiveness of each new attempt. After all, the goal is to succeed at some point amidst all those failures. Have a ‘Code Red’ plan in case something goes wrong and know how to encourage staff and help them manage failure. It’s not an easy thing to fail, nor has it been commonly acceptable in the workplace until recently, so it may take some getting used to and a solid plan.

Using social media as an example of how to produce an FFFO framework, it’s important to ask yourself and others questions like: What level of experimentation and failure is manageable? Is changing the association’s brand and voice every few weeks acceptable (hint: it shouldn’t be)? Do we measure success and failure through a platform’s reach, engagement, audience growth or association resources used, or a combination of a few factors? Does the failure of a social media strategy have a bigger and negative impact on any other part of your organization?

You need to take all this and more into account when create a FFFO model for social media at your association.

Now, enough with the doom and gloom and boring procedural details and onto the actual innovating!

One of the best ways associations can experiment and fail fast and often with social media is to try new strategies with either the back end of the process or using established practices.

For example, try new ways to maximize resources, such as new strategies for sourcing content from colleagues and volunteers or new ways of curating and creating content for the association’s online platforms. Does having a 10-minute team meeting twice a week yield better results or does having a shared Google Doc where staff can drop their ideas and requests cut down on time spent and increase the quality of content? Try both and see which works best or if neither do. Keep good records of the response and do it over a short time span so you can invest your time in the method that works best or move onto a new strategy.

As another example, take a look at your association’s social media analytics and determine some conclusions about how your audience interacts with your organization’s content. Once you have done that, experiment with following audience trends to increase the return on your efforts. For instance, if the data says your audience likes talking about politics or responds better when you mention the city/province/country you operate in, try adding more of these topics or keywords in your content. It might not work, but then again, it could generate much more reach and engagement for your associations and without the risk of changing your brand, focus or voice. Try as many of these as you deem necessary to arrive at an optimal level of engagement.

The fail fast, fail often model does indeed have its flaws and is not as plain, simple and easy as it sounds, but with good planning, a good framework and some creativity, it could set your association up to be a leader in the industry for a long time while also yielding some great results.

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