Recently, my neighbor undertook a significant project.  With the warm weather, he decided to invest in redoing his back deck.  He wanted an ‘Outdoor Room’.  In talking to him, it was going to be a real masterpiece, or so it sounded.  Two tiers with a gas fireplace, sitting area with a pergola, built in outdoor kitchen.  The works.  My neighbor, Tom, had gotten the idea from another neighbor who had a similar set up.  They’d had a party Tom had attended and he was hooked.

Looking back, things started to go wrong even prior to him starting.  Tom thought about what he wanted.  Built in gas grill.  Check.  Beer tap, check.  Fireplace, check.  Large sitting area, check.  A few other amenities.  Check, check, check.

What he didn’t think about was how to integrate it fully with his current set up.  Hot tub.  French doors off of two rooms.  Landscaping.  View of the surrounding area and surrounding areas view of him.  How he’d use the room.  Parties, entertainment of large or small groups or just family.  Oh and those pesky neighborhood covenants.

Tom was also in a hurry.  He wanted to get to the end quickly…and he is somewhat cheap.  He got two estimates for his list of stuff.  One contractor he didn’t really like because he was “too pushy”.  When I pressed him on this (as I’ve used the contractor myself and found him to be excellent), Tom said that he was challenged on his list and layout.  As the CEO of a manufacturing company, Tom doesn’t like to be challenged.

Both contractors were “too expensive”.  Tom was delighted to find out one day that one of his employees had a brother that was a handyman and could build anything all for $30 an hour.  Tom had him out.  “No problem” the handyman said, looking at the big job and likely drooling.  “I can do it.  I have a few friends who can help out with the masonry stuff. Take about a week to do.”  Doing some mental math and estimating the cost at a little over half the cheapest of the two quotes he got, Tom jumped at it.

That weekend, pallets of brick and stacks of lumber and other materials were delivered.  The demolition commenced and the the construction began.   That minute problems began.  Problems with design, integration, layout and materials.  Oh, the handyman’s ‘friends’ never showed up, so he was on his own.

Moreover, Tom didn’t plan for how he’d use his outdoor room.  He focused on certain shiny pennies he thought he wanted or needed (like the outdoor TV that couldn’t be used except at night because of where it was placed and the glare).

Focusing only on price, he used the wrong contractor who had no real plan and not enough experience to source the right materials in the right amount.  Tom lamented he should have seen it coming, as the contractor never talked to him about unforeseen problems and work-arounds taken, as well as, the materials sitting in his driveway which where being used in ways that seemed inconsistent to him.  It all came to a head when the president of the neighborhood association emailed him and told Tom he was out of covenant on his build out.

Almost a month after the project began (this last week) Tom fired his existing contractor and hired the original one he thought too pushy.  He has 1/3 too many bricks he can’t return and not enough of the other material.  The new contractor has to demo virtually everything that was done and redo it the right way.

Watching this whole thing unfold, I saw a clear similarity to the approach of brands and the adoption of social media.  Specifically:

-Having a strategic plan.

-Ensuring proper integration into existing assets.

-Ensuring you understand the impact of your actions from all angles; both internally and externally.

-Understanding how the enterprise plan’s on utilizing the enhanced business tools.

-Aligning needs, priorities and expectations of all parties.

-Ensuring the right people are involved with the right experience, as well as, ensuring that open collaboration occurs at each phase of the program.

Does Tom’s story resonate with you?  I bet it does.  Virtually everybody has had some problem or incident that is similar to this on some scale.  You get the cause and effect.

Problem is, translate this into adopting new or enhanced social activities and a number of executives turn instantly into Tom.

Whether building an outdoor room or a rolling out a social strategy the cause and effect is the same.  Focus on the wrong things, budget incorrectly, skimping on the vendor selection process, etc. will 99 times out of 100 end badly.

Take your time, understand your priorities, how your program will integrate into your existing program and visa versa, your appetite for risk, your timelines, your budget.  Insert the right people and the right number of them….and always have a blueprint.  If your firm has deployed a social program and it isn’t working up to your expectations, I’d wager that the approach was a lot like Tom’s.

Social works.  Like anything else, it is harder than it looks and it requires a disciplined and pragmatic approach.

Steve Hershberger

Steve Hershberger