It's a signal of the beginning of summer. Across the country, dads, friends, uncles and even moms embark on the enjoyable, maddening and always unpredictable adventure of coaching a Little League baseball team.
Other than stories about the bad beat at the poker table, there may not be an activity that is so mind-absorbing to you - and that absolutely no one around you wants to hear about. No one outside your cocoon of youth baseball fanatics cares about little Johnny's double play.
That being said, here are a few thoughts about how coaching 9 year old baseball players is a lot like running a social marketing program.
1) Every channel / kid is different: Coaching would be easy if you could just say the same thing to everyone. Just explain how to turn your hips when swinging, and watch everyone execute the call to action perfectly. But one player is going to interpret that message as, "Pretend like its a hula-hoop" and another is going to hear, "Keep my feet perfectly still like they are in cement and turn my hips." The message may be the same on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, but the way you present is going to be a little different, the same way you have to nuance your message differently for different kids.
2) No matter what you do, some audiences are just not going to do what you want them to do: You can test visuals, posts, tweets, videos and more. You think your creative is amazing, and yet there are still potential customers who will ignore anything you try to tell them. You can explain over and over again, "Run through first base." You can do drills in which they run through first base. You can have quizzes and ask them what they are supposed to do when they get to first base. During the game, 11 out of 12 kids will run through first base. And the 12th kid is still going to slide, come up short, be out by 2 feet, end the rally and the coach will have to resist throwing his scorebook through the fence.
3) You will have some successes you shouldn't have, which makes it hard to change: A 9 year old doesn't think about how good he can be someday. He sees that he hits better than most of the kids, and doesn't care that he only keeps one hand on the bat. To him, it's good enough and he's comfortable with it. You reason with him to use two hands. You bribe him. You tell him. "You will be a better hitter if you keep that 2nd hand on the bat." He finally agrees to take a swing in batting practice, keeping both hands on the bat. Of course he misses the ball. Now he's convinced that your way is dumb and never going to listen to you again. By all accounts, there's no way he should be able to hit with one hand, but since he can, he won't change. We have social marketing campaigns that are "above average" that we are scared to optimize. Maybe we know we are doing some things that aren't perfect, but the client thinks they are good enough so we don't want to rock the boat. If we dip our toes in the water and have a day of less success, we hear it from our stakeholder, and quickly we revert back to what we know. But we know we should carry forward with the "right" way to do it, even if it hurts at first.
4) There is always a team with greater resources who looks impossible to beat: There's a team in our league that has a pretty significant advantage over the rest of us due to some back room wheeling and dealing. The team knew of a stud player, told him to skip the draft, and then had him join their team later while no one was paying attention. Plus, the coaches' kids are all studs that got placed on the team with their dads. So there's a team in the league stocked with 4 first round quality players and everyone else has one or two. Your social marketing team has less people than Starbucks, less brand power than Coke, less executive buy-in than Ford, and can't afford RedBull's space shuttle. So you have to be smarter, like Dollar Shave Club, or more creative, like BlendTec. You need to see who you can beat head on, and understand where you might have to accept finishing second or third.
5) The losses will be hard to take but the wins will be fantastic: Something is always going to surprise you. The kid who never swings will somehow hit a grounder, make it to first - and even run through the bag! The center fielder who hasn't caught a pop-up all year will chase down a bomb in the gap and make an amazing play. The right fielder staring at the flowers will field a base hit and inexplicably throw the batter out at first. You just never know where these unexpected wins will happen. You'll want to take credit for them, but instead, just enjoy them. It doesn't matter if the idea for the Facebook post that went viral came from you, your CEO, the customer service rep or the janitor. When it works, we all feel good.
Those are 5 takeaways. We could come up with more, but like most Little League baseball games, this post has dragged on pretty long. Happy to hear your insights on the topic.