Mind the Gap

I was recently visiting NYC and got to chatting with a friend about the signs in subway stations constantly reminding passengers of the gap between the platform and the train. My friend, a hardened New Yorker, commented that 10 years ago these signs weren’t around – and that only a moron wouldn’t realize that a gap between the train and the platform is a necessity so things don’t rip apart as trains rush passed.

Reading Mark’s Feedback Lacuna post – combined with this conversation about minding the gap – got me to thinking: while we work to bridge the gap in the feedback cycle maybe we all just need to be responsible enough to deal with it. Look up from your smartphone when you board the train and step out of your comfort zone when working with folks in different functional areas at the office. Maybe it’s time we stop looking to blame someone else for the fact that we tripped on a gap between our worlds that was so frickin’ obvious.

We tend to get tripped up by this feedback gap because of a lack of trust. We don’t trust that the other side can bring anything valuable to the table when it comes to helping us do OUR jobs. The social media/marketing team can understand that the product team makes the product come to life – but questions how their way too deep in the weeds perspective can help marketing maintain a solid dialogue with customers. The product team questions how the touchy-feely marketing people can get them any closer to something they live and breathe every day.

So, in the spirit of conversation, and building off Mark’s post, here are five thoughts on how we, the social media/marketing guys, might take the first step in building the Lacuna bridge we need:

1. Make the time and format you use to share what you learn make sense to the product team. Who wants to hear what you have to say? How can you speak their language? Find the person on your product development team who you think will give you the straight dirt, buy them a few cocktails and get down to figuring these things out.

2. Stop with all the incessant meetings – most meetings suck and are a waste of time – when you do NEED to meet, make sure only the people who need to be there are invited, have an agenda and keep it short.

3. Don’t just listen to your customers, listen to your product development team. Figure out a way to sit within earshot of them at least one day a week. What are their biggest concerns? And not the ones they tell you when you ask, the ones they bitch about to each other.

4. Get some hands on product experience (to Mark’s post, at least work with the product team on spec writing). Figure out a way to get everyone on your team into the product groove so they can walk away with a more “product-centric” perspective on how they do their job. This will let you better understand what your “social media feedback on what should change” really means to the product team and how hard is it to make the changes happen. [The natural counterpoint to this is that product folks need to better understand what the marketing team is doing and why – hopefully they will ask for this but if they don’t, find a way to give them insights as you work together.]

5. Tame the social media tidal wave for your product team. Now that you are building a better understanding of what it means to be on the product side, find a way to weed out the noise in the social media pipeline and bring the product team specific, easily digestible data about what customers who are online want/need on the product front with hard numbers on why this feedback is worth taking to heart.

While we work to bridge this gap, let’s all agree to stop whining over it. It’s natural that it should exist based on how business has evolved and, if we hope to bridge it as we move into a more socialized world, the first step will be to recognize and appreciate what our counterparts bring to the table. If you product types want to sit caressing your potentially great creation ala Golum in a lonely cave, keep alienating marketing. And if you marketing folks want to keep trying to make smoke without fire (and then proceeding to blow said smoke up any ass you can find), go ahead and keep ignoring the importance of engaging the product process. Without product, there is no story – without marketing, there is no storyteller. Now shake hands and play nice.

~ by Julie Crabill on September 28, 2009.

2 Responses to “Mind the Gap”

  1. Wow! Well said and brutally honest. I might add in a 6th to your list: hire some product people on your marketing team. It’s so much more common for product peeps to be involved with marketing than vice-versa it seems and the skills that a PM has (prioritizing, understanding development schedules, planning releases, etc.) are rarely found on a PR team.

  2. Very interesting post, Julie. It’s so much easier to execute on the PR side when you have an inroad with the product folks and actually UNDERSTAND what it is you’re bringing to the press. Diving deeper and getting beyond the surface messaging is what makes PR great – and makes things easier on the product/marketing relationship.

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