The Ghost Town Effect: If it’s everyone’s job, it won’t happen—especially in marketing
Damn near every company I’ve worked with in my consulting practice and as a full-time employee has made the mistake of diffusing responsibility for something important across too many individuals without matching productivity and accountability frameworks. There’s enthusiasm at first, and then…not much else. This happens a lot in marketing, most frequently with things like social and content. I call it the Ghost Town Effect. It happens due to a unique combination of factors:
- These things can seem fun, lower-effort, informal. Sometimes even unimportant. Fun and rigor don’t seem to go together, so they often don’t. But that’s a lie. The world is full of people who prove there can be a wonderful symbiosis between fun and rigor: successful artists, high-achieving students, competitive athletes, World’s Best Dad mug recipients, loving partners.
- There is a superficial cadence to things like tweets, blog posts and the like—inactivity punctuated by activity. Procrastination thrives easily when inactivity is part of the expectation. The reality, of course, is that success with social and content is a continuous project, and the real work takes place in the moments between. Being from the Bay Area, I can’t help but think of the Golden Gate Bridge. I imagine that someone seeing it for the first time as a tourist thinks of it as a finished project, but the more often one crosses it, the clearer it is that it’s really an ongoing endeavor—structurally, aesthetically, etc.
- The best content and social programs integrate many distinct voices, which reinforces the expectation that many people should contribute, which can be misinterpreted as “many people should be responsible.”
- Companies are maturing (thankfully) in terms of their expectations of content and social. Most now understand that there is a significant lag time between activity and results, so the absence of results is less of a red flag, less of a catalyst for the consolidation of ownership—it never really seems like the sky is falling.
It’s not decentralization or diffusion of activity that’s the problem, as I’ll come back to in a sec. Diversity in every respect is additive. Uniformity is boring.
It’s unarguably true that the barriers between channels and distinct platforms are dissolving or already kaput, and having someone entirely devoted to a specific channel / platform increasingly seems to be an outdated concept. Yet there’s still something to be said for specialization, right? And even if we think there shouldn’t be channel / platform specialists, here in the real world these people exist and can be very good at what they do.
The best path, at least for now, is to find the right balance between diffusion of activity and clarity of individual ownership. This model is nothing new, it’s actually Management 101. Yet for the 4 reasons listed above, this fundamental approach often isn’t applied to content and social. It’s not difficult to implement. For example, a marketing executive can ultimately be responsible for social results, but he or she can delegate different elements within an activity or strategy to individuals within a group. They can be specialist or generalists, as long as they add value. This is the way to get high-performing variation, continued productivity and long-term value from content and social programs.