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Management by embarrassment

In my speaking engagements, I often talk about my experience working at ibm.com, a huge Web site any way you slice it—millions of pages, dozens of languages, over 90 countries, thousands of people. It’s those thousands of people that proved the most challenging for Internet marketing, because most techniques must be coordinated, but they can’t be centralized. (You’ll never have a blogging department, for example.) So, how do you coordinate hundreds or thousands of people across a company to do the right thing for Internet marketing?

Unfortunately, Internet marketing in medium-to-large companies can require more of a background in organizational behavior than in marketing itself. When you need dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people to move in the right direction, you’ve got a real challenge on your hands.

You can’t centralize or outsource blogging. You must create an environment where your rank and file employees can blog effectively to improve the image of your business.

Search marketing is similar. Sure, you can hire an agency to manage parts of your paid search campaigns. You can centralize or farm out search strategy and maybe keyword management, but the basic blocking and tackling of organic search must be done throughout your organization—Webmasters, writers, and lots of other specialists must do things right every day on every page.

How do you respond to customers who complain about your company on message boards? It won’t help to assign customer service people to the job—what you need is experts who are part of the community. They’ll have the kind of credibility you need when a crisis hits.

Add in social media marketing and wikis—so many forms of Internet marketing require coordination across the organization. How do you do it?

Your basic tools are:

  • Evangelism. To get people to change behavior, they must understand why they must change. You need to convince people that the tasks you want them to do are important—important to your company and important to them personally.
  • Policies. Sometimes, you need policies to address what is needed. Bloggers should know the rules before they start. Webmasters should know that they are expected to perform search marketing tasks as part of their jobs. Larger companies need policies and procedures, but smaller companies might just need checklists. Regardless, you need to fold new tasks into the fabric of existing jobs.
  • Training. Don’t expect people to know what to do or to “pick it up on their own.” Conduct training to explain exactly how to do things so that each person knows what is expected.
  • Coaching. No matter how much training you provide, you’ll always run into unexpected situations. Provide experts who can be summoned for sticky problems, such as helping a poor blogger who is under fire for something she said.
  • Tools. To whatever extent you can automate the policies and make training simpler, do it. Can you remind people to blog each week? Can you provide an internal community to find partners to blog with? Can you offer a message board to converse with experts to aid learning?

But how do you police it? How do you compel action? To really get everyone on board, you need some kind of corporate governance, but that sounds so heavyweight and painful. My preference is what I call “management by embarrassment.”

First decide what actions you want people to take and figure out how you can check up on them. For example, organic search depends on having good titles on your pages, so once a month check on how many pages have titles. (At ibm.com, we wrote a program that crawled all pages on our Web site to check.)

Then, collect all your numbers and divide them up by organization. So, to continue our example, perhaps 93% of pages from Department A have titles, 98% from Department B, and 83% from Department C. Then decide how to color code what you found—perhaps any department with over 97% of the pages titled is rated green, while over 95% is yellow, and under 95% is red. Choose targets that are achievable in a relatively short period—perhaps a year. Sure, you might like 99.7% of pages to have titles, but if you make the job too hard, people will give up hope of succeeding before they even try.

Then you create a chart that lists all the departments with their color-coded scores and you call a meeting among the department heads. You explain to them how important organic search is (that’s the same evangelism stuff discussed above) and why titles are so important to success, and you show them their scores. You also explain what their folks need to do to raise their scores and offer to meet them and train them.

And you do it all over again next month. And the month after that. When I did this at IBM, I was working with executives in charge of country Web sites or Web sites from whole divisions with thousands of people in each one. And I tackled many areas at once, not just page titles. But the idea is the same.

And what I found was that the executives, by and large, could tell this was important but they had no idea what I needed their folks to do. That didn’t matter. After just a couple of months of being told they were “red” they went to their teams and said, “I don’t know what Moran wants, but just do whatever it is so that I am not called ‘red’ again next month.”

Basically, they did not want to be embarrassed in front of their peers. That’s a very powerful motivator for executives—far more powerful than if we had told all the executives that only 87% of our pages across IBM had titles and this was awful and we need your help to fix it. They all would have yawned and gone back to their Blackberries. But when an individual executive is failing on a scorecard in front of her peers, well, that gets her attention. Splitting the scores by department or division places accountability with one executive—that brings action in response.

So, in about a year, ibm.com went from having 87% of our pages with titles to over 97%. And everyone rejoiced that they were all “green” now. So then I raised the bar. Now green became 99% and yellow 98%. And on and on you go.

You can use this technique to compel any behavior that is measurable. And you can stop measuring things when you don’t need to anymore. (IBM stopped measuring page titles when we were consistently at nearly 100%, for example.)

So, get smart about getting medium and large organizations motivated. When you can identify the behavior you want and you can measure compliance, then you can divide your measurements to apply peer pressure to get the organizations to comply. It may seem like a lot of work at first, but once you get the system established, you can apply it to anything you can measure. And it’s a lot less work than wheedling and cajoling people one by one.

So what Internet marketing tasks in your company do you need to embarrass people over?

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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