You’ve likely heard of the show if you’re not already a devoted fan of it or its spin-off this season: Top Shot and Top Guns. Both shows are hosted by the three-time-Survivor-contestant and television actor Colby Donaldson. Both Jean and I have become fans of both the shows and Colby as a personality, to the point where we began following Colby’s twitter stream (@Colby_Donaldson) to watch his amusing commentary and chatter during the shows.

Over the past few weeks I’ve watched twitter on Tuesday and Wednesday nights to see Colby consistently and actively engage with a very enthusiastic audience. I’ve been impressed time and time again as he tweets replies to both silly and very interesting questions posed through Twitter with tact, humour, and a balance of mock-arrogance and humbleness. He really does “get” the social spaces and how to interact with his audience (if I didn’t know better, I’d think he was following IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines)…

Which is why I was surprised to see this tweet from Colby during Tuesday’s Top Shot episode:


Ok, perhaps not surprised, but a bit dismayed that History Channel executives seem to have a “Command & Control” attitude when it comes to social business. Not to say this was out of the blue or unexpected as “last week” refers to when Colby was tweeting during April 10th’s episode answering some questions about rumoured cancellations of Top Shot and Top Guns. In a few of his responses he noted that higher ratings were needed to pickup for season 5 which, as you’d expect, got the fan base on Twitter a bit active and tweeting to @HistoryChannel calling for renewal of the shows.

From my perspective (as someone who works in a social business role), it seems to me that the “Top Brass” has taken a reactive command and control position rather than embracing the openness and transparency which social interactions thrive on, and which have helped to drive even further interest in two of the shows running on their channel; shows which are heavily promoted on both History and H2 in advertisement spots appearing around once an hour (as an observational guesstimate, I don’t have the specific numbers).

So what happened this week after Colby ‘caught heat’ from the History Channel ‘TopBrass”? One single tweet from Colby noting his absence, and then radio silence. From a social business perspective what I saw was a lost opportunity to continue engaging the audience and building support; lost opportunities to listen to the audience and engage in conversations to improve on the channel’s investments. What I also saw was a turn of the audience from engaging in conversations relevant to the show’s content to conversations solely around the show’s potential cancellation (or renewal) and the few questions/conversation about the content there were go wholly unanswered.

The take away from all this is a real world example of how and why “command & control” mindsets won’t work in today’s social business economies. Conversations are happening regardless of your desires and policies; if you don’t engage, you’re missing out on opportunities to transform those conversations and people into real positive interactions and potentially loyal clients. Social business isn’t about pushing your ‘approved’ messaging to the masses, as it seems History Channel may believe, but rather the way to flourish is to embrace social business concepts and tools to allow for open, transparent conversations and collaboration surrounding your business. Just as critical, however, is allowing the flexibility in your organization to transform and grow, not only to identify the needs of your clients, but to proactively meet those needs and become the leader in your industry because of your ability to engage and work with your client base. That’s what social business is all about.

Serendipitously, my colleague and partner-in-crime, Kelly Smith, recently posted to her blog on “Knowledge is free- bring your own container“, in which she says:

… You can’t put this genie back in the bottle.  Knowledge is no longer in the hands of a privileged few to be doled out to the worthy. Knowledge is being openly shared and recorded, so that others may benefit…

She’s right, of course: You can’t put this genie back in the bottle, the social web has made certain of that fact. Gone are the days of successful “command & control” policies aimed to manage brand perception and hide or obfuscate poor business practices. Knowledge can’t be controlled or contained, and we are seeing evidence of this more and more everyday. The future ahead of us all (and specific to business success) is about sharing knowledge in open and transparent fashions to ensure shared successes; *being* the best at what you do, showing your clients you are agile and paying attention by engaging in these conversations rather than trying to control them and manage perception, this is the way to truly be a social business and find successes ahead…. Something I think the History Channel’s executives may not yet understand.


*** Updated 4-25-2012 ***

I am happy to report that last night’s Top Shot was again accompanied by Tweets from Colby. It seems some accord has been reached between he and the top brass, as his tweets had the same level of authenticity, information, and humour as they had in the past. I can’t find any specifics of what may have happened in the past week, but am pleased to see that the command & control mentality has been backed off. Good news, as it definitely shows that the History Channel is at least paying attention to its audience. Well done there.

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