Novak Djokovic is one of the slowest tennis players around.
More specifically, he's one of the slowest when it comes to making decisions. Studies show that he waits several milliseconds longer than most of his opponents before deciding where to hit the ball.
He's then extremely quick to act, however. He can position himself and adjust his stroke much faster than other players. This speed in execution buys him time to observe the court, analyse the situation and hence decide how to play. That lets him take control.
Military pilots will recognise this as the 'OODA loop' (observe, orient, decide, act) in action. They are taught to observe the situation, orient themselves, decide what to do, and then act. In air-to-air combat, it is not the pilot who reacts fastest who wins; it's the one who goes through the OODA loop most rapidly. Action without observation and orientation is blind.
The same is true for social media. Savvy organisations, such as Dell with its Social Media Command Centre, are building their capabilities to observe the social universe. What are customers saying? Where are they saying it, and to whom?
Once they know what people are saying, they can begin to analyse the chatter. What do all those messages mean? How are customer perceptions shifting? What does this mean for our brand? How can we shape this conversation?
This forms the basis for effective action. Dell can use it to identify incipient customer-service issues; to take complaints and turn them into positive messages about its commitment to solve customer problems. Burberry can use it to identify relevant conversations, spot opinion-formers, and hence engage in ways that maximise the brand's exposure.
How about you? Do you have a well-honed ability to observe and orient that will enable you to act decisively in the fast-paced world of social media?
How do you improve your ability to execute the OODA loop? Here are three places to start.
Build the ability to execute rapidly
Rehearse your response to crises. Practise standard procedures until they become second nature. Make sure that you have the right systems in place. Define clear team structures and responsibilities. Rapid execution buys you time to observe, analyse and make better decisions.
Build time for reflection
Most of us are under extreme pressure to show that we are doing something. We need to fight for time to stop and think. Become comfortable with inaction, watching, thinking and waiting for the right moment to spring.
Act too soon and you will lack real understanding of your options. Act too late, and most options will have been closed off. Finding the right timing window for decision-making and action is hard; it's impossible if you don't include more nuanced analysis than 'as rapidly as possible' in your thinking.