In Part 1, we talked a little bit about the complexity of big data, digital/social monitoring, and the inevitable rise of mission control centers. Today, let’s talk about how to stay on track and avoid shiny object syndrome.

Why the most important question is always why?

First, let’s acknowledge that discussions between revenue generation-focused executives and budget-spending focused executives about how to measure ROI can be difficult and sometimes problematic. Command centers, in order to be worthwhile, have to demonstrate value beyond “wow, that looks cool.” Here, we run into the same types of discussions about value (and more specifically ROI) that we were having three years ago in regards to social media:

1. What is the value of having a digital mission control center? What will be the benefit(s)?

2. What will this help us do that we can’t do without it?

3. What will this help us do better?

4. Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

A quick word about value:

Next step: Defining value for the entire organization. At its most basic level, the value of building a command center is twofold:

1. Built properly, it serves a real-time funnel for market data and consumer insights.

Examples: campaign management, product launches, competitive analysis, brand sentiment, message virality,  complaints, technical questions, lead evaluation, etc.

2. Managed properly, it becomes a catalyst for operational efficiency. (Though mostly, it adds velocity to consumer-facing response functions.)

Examples: customer service, PR, reputation management, crisis management, technical support, sales, etc.

Don’t just guess at the potential value of a DMCC. Sit down with every team and/or group in your organization and ask them how a digital command center could help them do their jobs better. Start with customer service, product management, marketing, PR and sales/biz-dev. They won’t just help you map out the operational value of building a DMCC, they will also tell you exactly how it should be managed, and by whom. (This will be the topic of Part 3.)

A quick word about command centers and the marketing function:

The primary function of any marketing-related endeavor is to help grow your customer community. That translates into three areas: customer acquisition, customer development, and customer retention. One way to address this particular focus is to link a portion of the activities enabled or supported by a command center to effecting changes in customer behavior. (Hint: When customer service monitors social channels, it begins to own a big piece of the customer development and customer retention parts of the community management equation. Add word-of-mouth to the customer development and retention mechanisms, and now customer service becomes a source of lead generation.)  Having a well thought out DMCC structure and building processes around it, a company can leverage real-time monitoring and turn data into insights, insights into opportunities, then seize upon those opportunities in real time.

A not so quick word about data, market intelligence and insights:

Hundreds of millions of people talking about stuff on the internet all day isn’t just data. It’s market intelligence. Throw in some simple programming that captures certain combinations of letters and numbers, and what you have now is the ability to track and capture mentions and keywords across dozens – no, hundreds - of channels. If someone mentions the word coffee in the interwebs anywhere in the world that isn’t behind a firewall, you can capture that. You can capture how many people are talking about coffee right now versus five minutes ago or an hour ago or a month ago. You can also look into how they are using the word coffee. Are they craving it right now? Are they asking for recommendations after a bad experience turned them off a particular brand? Are they simply comparing coffee to their personal preference? (Tea, for instance.)

You can even disambiguate: maybe they were talking about a color or a candy flavor. Maybe they were referring  to a commodities report or citing economic data from Colombia. You can see where in the world they are, you can look into their wants and likes and habits, you can see what they take pictures of, what TV shows they tune into, even track their movements by observing their check-ins. You can even divine some measure of their digital influence by using tools like Klout and Kred – however controversial they may be. If you sell coffee, that sort of thing might be pretty important.

Ten years ago, companies had to pay market research firms big bucks to be able to do that, and even the most sophisticated among them couldn’t provide this degree of specificity, this breadth of data, and certainly not in real time. Today, companies can bypass market research firms altogether and create their very own in-house market intelligence operations (at least when it comes to digital). In most cases, they will spend less and get more. But even if some feel like spending exactly the same amount of money they used to, they will still capture considerably more data and insights today than they could have ever dreamed of just a short decade ago. So it’s no surprise that digital monitoring has become a thriving industry. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a software vendor that sells some sort of digital monitoring, tracking management or measurement solution. And it’s been a while since I’ve run into a PR firm or ad agency that doesn’t offer some sort of social/digital (digisocial?) intelligence, expertise or service.

This brings us back to the new wave of digital command centers being erected at pretty much every digital agency and brand headquarters in the US today.  Some are still pretty rudimentary (one or two computers with a few screens running a handful of digital monitoring and management tools), while other setups rival mission control rooms like the ones you might expect from NASA and CIA. Even though it’s still early in the game and we all understand the capabilities open to us with these new technologies, the cost efficiencies brought to market research and business intelligence, and the quantum leap in effectiveness of this type of data and insight collection, it already seems that building digital mission control centers is becoming… a fad, something new and cool to do, the next play in digital services. We haven’t even gotten into this yet, and we’ve already forgotten why we were here in the first place. That’s the danger I want to address today.

Shiny New Object Syndrome – When style erodes function:

Pre-fad, the thinking around social media was this: “This could really help us fill marketing and marketing research gaps. Let’s figure out exactly how.”

Then, when ‘Social’ became a fad, the thinking switched to this: “We need a Facebook page and a Twitter account. Oh, and a content strategy.”

See the difference?

Pre-fad, businesses looked at investments in social media and social activity in terms of opportunities and outcomes: “How do we acquire new customers? Can being here help us figure out what they like and don’t like about us and our competitors? Can we use this to improve customer service  experiences? How can this take cost out of my model? Etc.” Once ‘social’ became a fad, the questions shifted to “how many new fans, likes and followers did we get this week? What’s our Klout score? How do we get more comments on the blog? How many visitors came from Twitter last month?”

What seems more valuable and business-focused: Pre-fad or fad?

We are now confronted with a similar problem with mission control centers – at least potentially: Pre-fad, a company considering an investment in its own digital command center would look at it in terms of concrete value. The evaluation might initially be driven by a question like “how does this help us do X?” (Campaign management, reputation management, customer service, consumer targeting, market research, sentiment tracking, ROI tracking, crisis management, community management, product marketing, lead generation, etc. Good stuff that will keep your hands full all day and then some.) But when the development of digital mission control centers becomes a fad though, what we shift to is this: “Can you build us the same kind of command center company XYZ has? How many screens can we fit on this wall? Should we paint the walls black?” (I’m not joking.)

“Cool” starts to trump function. Having a DMCC becomes a badge of honor, a status symbol, a digital marketing pastiche meant to impress visitors, clients, executives, investors and even potential hires more than serve a purpose. And you know what? There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. If the purpose of a DMCC is mostly to look cool, impress clients and make everyone at corporate feel pretty good about their investment in digital and IT, that’s fine. Aesthetics matter. If anything, it’ll boost morale across the company to have a state of the art digital Batcave. In a way, it’s no different than having an impressive lobby and gorgeous receptionists. BUT, wouldn’t it make more sense to also use that investment to drive more business? To increase customer loyalty? To know exactly what product gaps to fill in the market? To spot PR crises early, before they spin out of control? Doesn’t it make more sense, then, to focus on function before style? You know the answer to that question.

I am sharing these observations with you for a few simple reasons:

  1. To warn you of a common pitfall that comes with every adoption phase: Cool new toys can and will distract you from what really matters if you let them. As my friend Tyler would say, “this is why we can’t have nice things.” My hope is that if you understand how you might screw up, (and know the signs) you will hopefully know how to stay focused.
  2. To let you know that you can have a super cool DMCC that would make the producers of Jason Bourne movies and TV shows like Strike Back and not have anything concrete to show for it.
  3. To remind you that function defines design. Build a DMCC, but never lose sight of why. The why drives the how.

Stay vigilant and keep your eye on the ball. It’s easy to get distracted.

In Part 3, we will talk in more detail about operationalizing all of this and turning your DMCC into your organization’s secret weapon of awesome. (Yep, it’s a technical term.)

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In case you haven’t added Tickr to your list of digital mission control center apps yet, give it a test drive.

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