3 ways to work with people who think they know digital better than you
So you’ve been recruited by a small, medium or big organisation because you know about digital.
You’ve got some kind of variation of the word digital and the word manager in your job title.
You are the digital guru in your organisation - of that there can be no doubt.
Yet, yet, yet…
You seem to spend half your time at work being told by senior stakeholders, managers, content ‘owners’ and the post room about how the website is rubbish, or how the emails aren’t engaging.
And, of course, how it could all be done so much better.
“Just look at this…”
“Why can’t we do it like that…”
“I read in my management magazine about this other place where what they do is sooo much better…”
Why does this happen? Why do these people know better? And how do you deal with it without either Radioheading your digital presence into the ether, or banging your head against your firewall so hard that it no longer protects anything?
Every blog needs numbers and lists (remember ‘11 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Were Made from Loom Bands’?), so here are my ‘top 3’ reasons as to why these people know more about digital than you:
1. First and foremost, it’s because digital is so accessible
Which also makes it really important, and really interesting.
Whisper it, but debating what style of image best communicates the brand of your organisation is a heck of a lot more interesting than analysing financial accounts with a fine tooth comb.
You are the victim of having an interesting job. The problem is it’s so accessible that everyone mistakes their subjective opinions for objective truths.
2. Some of them could be scared (and feel a bit threatened)
It’s going to happen to us all. The generation below us will soon be far more savvy about the latest technology and how to use it. But we’ll be senior by then and earn oodles more cash. So you can see how that’s all a bit threatening.
And, of course, the best way to deal with that is to throw hierarchical weight around and tell people to change things. Then that means they’re adding ‘real value’ worth that extra cash that’s being paid to them.
3. They heard at a conference / spoke to a random person / etc that the best way to do something digitally is ‘x’
These suggestions, by the way, will frequently arise at least six months behind where you are on your curve, and will probably be something you’ve been suggesting for the previous six months.
And it’ll be infuriating that rather than listen to you, the person employed to tell them this kind of stuff, they’ve jumped all over the same suggestion when it’s not made by you, because that random cat from behind the bins meowed it to them.
Three ways to deal with the interference
This is all from my personal experience, but I’ve found the following three tips useful ways to put some of the frustrations into perspective and move on.
1. Don’t fight every battle
In fact, try not to fight any battles. As soon as something is a ‘battle’, there will be a winner and a loser and the odds are that stubbornness, ego and hierarchy mean you won’t be the winner.
If the suggestion you’ve received isn’t that bad, or is over something that really isn’t that important, do it. It doesn’t matter. And you can always change it or do it differently in a few weeks when whoever suggested it has moved on - if it really bugs you.
And if it’s a good suggestion, definitely do it and make a lot of noise about how you’re doing it and what a good idea it is. That way, you’ll be seen as someone who listens and is ‘collaborative’, which is a good reputation to have in advance of those times when you really do need to put your foot down and say ‘no’. If you’re saying no, it must be because there’s a good reason…
If, however, the suggestion you’ve received is mad and clearly not a good idea DO NOT say no straight away. Use phrases like:
“That’s interesting, I hadn’t thought of that” or;
“I can totally see why you’d suggest that… you might have something there, leave it with me”.
Then wait for a bit, gather some data showing why it’s the maddest thing in the history of digital, and introduce it to the person using phrases like “I really liked your idea, but I found this out” or “when we tested we didn’t have the reaction I’d expect, people were actually saying…”
With a bit of luck, they’ll feel like it was their decision to change their original idea.
It is manipulative, and it isn’t the good, straightforward honest communication we’ve all been bought up to believe in, but sometimes you have to do these things for people’s own sakes.
2. A good idea is a good idea
If it’s the same idea as yours but someone else has got the credit for it, does it really matter? I’m pretty sure these days that, at work, reward and recognition isn’t always linked to achievement anyway. So the chances are you’re not really missing out on anything.
But you are getting to do what you wanted to do. Enjoy it.
3. Introduce the concept of continuous improvement / beta / whatever the current term for “Listen pal, digital, by definition, is always evolving and never ‘finished’, so signing something off is a bit of a conceptual issue”
This is the Holy Grail of digital management.
Internal stakeholders who realise that spending six months to-ing and fro-ing, signing off a homepage or a Twitter icon in minute detail is anathema.
Content ‘owners’ who recognise that whatever the text says today will be refined and improved in a few weeks anyway so that long debate about exactly what words to use is literally a waste of money.
It’s hard to get there, but you can do it.
Get a friendly senior manager on board, and show them case studies of how digital improves quicker when it’s allowed to evolve more freely.
Show people user testing examples that prove some things are too subjective to ever be able to please everybody.
Develop performance targets that are meaningful and linked to different approaches. Get people involved in deciding what approaches to test so they feel like they own the data, and therefore will want to make any changes it leads to.
And if all of that fails…
Well, sometimes jumping on your desk, hopping on one leg and shouting “feel the digital breakdown” over and over again can at least get you some time off.
Good luck. And remember, you do know better, and you are the expert. It’s just that what you do is better and more interesting than what they do. So they want to have a break from the dreary drudgery of their daily existence.
To be honest you have to feel a bit sorry for them really…