Michael Gilbert had a helpful article last spring in Nonprofit Online News called Playing it Safe is a Trap: Five Syndromes in Online Marketing.
That’s a great title, and I’d say the concept applies to much of work and life — not just nonprofits and online marketing.
His five points in the article are:
- Seeking safety in best practices
- Seeking safety in the wrong metrics
- Seeking safety in self-promotion
- Seeking safety in cautious language
- Seeking safety in control
Here are a few helpful excerpts:
When it comes to communicating with their current and prospective stakeholders online, nonprofits will often choose the path that feels the safest to them. They do this in regard to their methods, their metrics, their language, their content, and their management practices. I argue that such a choice is anything but safe and indeed is responsible for some of the most serious and common mistakes that a nonprofit can make.
Ultimately, we seek to control things that needn’t be controlled, in our desire to avoid the uncertainties that come with the kind of communication practices that truly light a fire in people. Indeed, we are simply afraid to light that fire because at some point it will no longer be in our control. We set up time consuming approval processes, elaborate branding requirements, and many other mechanisms to ensure that the communication of our staff and our stakeholders all remains firmly managed. Even our notion of “viral marketing” tends to involve setting things up to encourage our stakeholders to do exactly what we tell them to do.
This is not the place to describe the alternatives to these fear avoidance tactics. (Indeed, I sometimes feel like all our other work is about such alternatives.) But it’s important to note that the alternative isn’t just random risk taking. That’s a straw man that we set up to justify our actions. The overarching alternative is simply to practice letting go, a bit at a time. The more we allow anxiety and fear to guide our decisions, the more power we give them and the harder it is to break free. Breaking these five patterns is a good place to start.