Back in the early 1990s, one of my favorite computer games was Lemmings. The premise was simple – navigate "lemmings" through puzzle levels in order for the group to survive. This game was an ever-so-slight departure from the long-lived misconception that lemmings are suicidal creatures that do absurd things, such as jumping off cliffs en masse.
As it turns out, lemmings are truly all about survival. Like business leaders, they survive or die – succeed or fail, really – based on the decisions they make. Crossing an unknown river for lemmings is the marketer’s "do I ask my client to use this platform and be ‘first’ to do so?" Most times, when one succeeds, the rest of us follow and succeed as well, sometimes with diminishing returns (see: Second Life) and sometimes with solid long-term gains (see: Pinterest and retailers). Sometimes the wisdom of the group leads away from mistakes or ill-conceived choices. Sometimes the entire group fails.
What’s important is that we continue to lead – and follow – as a collective. This doesn’t mean any one organization, business, or individual practitioner should simply follow what others are doing. It means the mix of leadership and passion for continual improvement – even "one-upedness" – is a good thing.
When I was leading a team doing blogger outreach programs a decade ago, we learned from the mistakes others had made and sometimes – many times? – drafted off their successes. On occasion, your work ends up in a book or case study somewhere and inspires – or scares off – others.
The same goes for social right now. Take Facebook, for instance. As the platform’s algorithms continue to change, it would be really easy to just bail out and go find another sandbox to play in. Do we stay because of the time and investment we’ve made as marketers? Perhaps. Do we all move on because someone out there tells us that Platform X is the next big thing? Probably not. Could that change? Absolutely, but only time will tell.
In recent months, my girlfriend has taken up competitive cycling, with the (short-term) goal of STP (Seattle-to-Portland), a popular ride in the Pacific Northwest. Short story long, one of the more interesting parts of riding with a team is "pulling" as part of what’s called a "paceline." Essentially, the rider at the front peels out of line and drifts to the back of the group, keeping the group moving at a fast pace by giving "everyone" a chance to ride up front.
This isn’t to say we should all be egalitarian and let everyone take the lead in deciding what’s what and who should be making decisions for the group. However, in a space such as communications we must all recognize that good ideas can come from just about anywhere – from solo practitioners to multinational agencies and everyone in between. That’s the lesson we all need to keep fresh in our minds.
Tom Biro is VP of Allison+Partners' Seattle office. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tombiro.