Do you hesitate to release anything into the public realm until it is exactly right? Do you dread negative feedback online? Do you believe that if you can't do something properly, it's better not to do it at all?
If that attitude sounds familiar, you may well be suffering from what Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck calls a 'fixed mindset'. First published in the US in 2006, Dweck's book Mindset How You Can Fulfil Your Potential has been garnering some serious attention this side of the Pond following last year's UK paperback release. Dweck defines mindsets as 'beliefs about yourself and your most basic qualities. Think about your intelligence, your talents, your personality. Are these qualities fixed traits, carved in stone? Or are they things you can cultivate throughout your life?'
People – and organisations – with a fixed mindset, base their worth on a sense of who they 'are'. They often demonstrate perfectionist traits, such as extreme control, risk aversion, the creation of complex processes to stay safe and a reluctance to react quickly – all strategies developed to protect a sacred self. To a business with a fixed mindset, social media appears deeply chaotic, threatening the brand's carefully constructed identity with its playful irreverence and insatiable hunger for real time, relevant content.
A growth mindset, on the other hand, values 'becoming', in which the process of communication is as important as the end result. A growth mindset sees identity as constantly in flux, and develops it through working hard, pushing beyond comfort zones, and failing and learning fast. To a business with a growth mindset, social media is an inspiring sandbox, full of chances to evolve and collaborate.
Traditional marketing channels have always allowed companies to don a mask before they face the world. The very word 'brand' implies a 'carved in stone' stasis. But if you're going to try to apply professional production values to every video you upload to YouTube, or issue a list of 'on brand' and 'off brand' language to be applied to every tweet, there's a serious mismatch between your mindset and your medium.
A grainy Instagram snap of a hot-out-of-the-lab new product, taken by the dev team on a smartphone, is more engaging than a beautifully shot press image. A spontaneous back-and-forth with a customer on a forum is more satisfying, and likely more productive, than a template email. Consumers feel more involved in your brand if you're willing to show the process behind the product, particularly if you allow them to be part of it, perhaps through crowdsourcing ideas or releasing experimental beta trials. An authentic sense of rawness fascinates consumers – and terrifies fixed-mindset brands.
Perfectionism has its place, of course. Steve Jobs' exacting ideals helped create iconic products. Industries such as finance, law and pharma have a very real duty to protect their customers, so rigidity has to be built into their DNA. And there's never any excuse for bad spelling and grammar, or sloppy basics online; it only takes a few seconds to ensure that you have the correct logo on your Vine or the correct link in your tweet.
But there is a difference between upholding high standards and letting them hold you back. Perfectionism is virtually impossible to sustain, and has a tendency to lead to inertia. To participate in social media, which is a petri dish of continual growth, you have to jump in, take risks and improve by doing, not by theorising. If you operate in a closely regulated industry, be honest about your constraints; we'll respect you all the more for it. But you can still find new ways to share content – perhaps by creating advisory videos or infographics illustrating complex issues – that won't compromise your integrity.
A growth mindset is equally important when it comes to social media monitoring. "If, like those with the growth mindset, you believe you can develop yourself, then you're open to accurate information about your current abilities, even if it's unflattering," Dweck explains. "What's more, if you're oriented toward learning, as they are, you need accurate information about your current abilities in order to learn effectively." Yet too many companies panic at the sight of negative word of mouth, and only see online conversation as successful if it aligns with their desired messages.
A fixed mindset will get snapped in social media. A growth mindset will blossom. You can talk hashtags and content calendars all you like, but if your team's mindset isn't right, being social will be a struggle every step of the way.