Mental Models: The Effect They Have on Social Media Managers

Innovating doesn’t always have to pertain to inventing a new product or service. Instead, it can be geared towards creating a new and improved social media strategy. In my master’s work, I had the opportunity to read a book that changed my outlook on creativity; Creativity, INC. Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, wrote the book, so it was terrific. The point that caught my attention the most was how often the team focused on using mental models. Ed and his team were always striving to keep their minds open to new possibilities and ideas because by doing that, they could achieve true creative stories. Note that this same process can be applied to social media managers. Thinking open-mindedly can lead to innovative and creative social media strategies you might not have thought of if you had just stayed in your bubble. The best way to keep your thoughts flowing and open is by using mental models, and I want to talk to you about three that Creativity, INC lays out for us. The first one can be a little bumpy, but let’s dive in!

Mental Model #1: Skiing 

You are racing down a mountain with snow flying in your face. You have no idea how to stop. You bobble through trees as your heels sink in the snow. When turning, you realize you’re leaning too far and begin to fall. Your body begins to tighten to embrace the fall. But what if, at that moment, you could control that pulling up? What if you could maintain your body position so it didn’t lead to crashing?

Acknowledging that you might fall is the first step to realizing that you have time to react. You have time to manage the situation and come up with a solution. You have time on your side. In a split second, you can readjust your balance. You can dig your hand into the snow in two seconds to help you not fall over. Brad Bird, The Incredibles Director, talks about this perfectly, “So I tell myself that I have time, even when I don’t. I’m going to sit back and muse rather than look at the clock–because if I sit back and muse, I’m more likely to solve the problem.” Take the time to sit back and look at the situation. When developing that social media strategy, don’t rush through it because the client needs it now. The client will get it. But, think through every aspect of the plan and don’t tighten up. Don’t think that creativity just happens because you are on a tight deadline. Effective, thorough strategy requires the patience to think it through. We know well what it feels like to have a client breathing down your throat about a strategy. We get it! Don’t let it stress you out; remember that you have control. Begin to put positive and uplifting thoughts into your head to get back on track with working on the plan. When your brain begins to feed you negative or anxious ideas, fill it with kind and encouraging thoughts.

The more you realize that you are in control of your time and thoughts, the easier it will be to find a Zen spot. Once that Zen spot is found, completing the task will be much easier. But it would help if you practiced realizing to not tense up, know you have control of your situation, and feed yourself encouraging thoughts to find that Zen spot.

Mental Model #2: Long Tunnel

As social media professionals or any professional, we have all been in a situation where we are working on a project that feels like it will never end. All you see is miles and miles of black with no glimpse of light at the end. We get it! But what’s interesting is that if we realize that there might not be an end and accept it, it can help us feel less anxious about the task altogether.

We have found ourselves so deep in a community management strategy that there is no way out. We continue to find new organizations they engage with, and the client is continuously unsure who their target audience is. We are in a scary spot because we are up against a deadline with little information and much work to do. We are in the middle of a tunnel, and it’s black. Very, very black. What’s important to realize here is that you are deep. So deep that it’s scary. But if you know that you are deep and scared, it will allow you to calm yourself down. Once you gain control of your mind, you can start feeding yourself positive thoughts to keep you from getting lost in the tunnel.

Social media professionals tend to get so deep in their creativity that they work on it for hours and feel like it isn’t good. We then tend to change it 100 more times in an attempt to make it better. Then we spiral into negative thoughts that it will never be perfect or fit the client’s needs. However, if we realize that discomfort and understand that there will be a point where the client likes it, we are more likely not to get stuck in a rut. When you feel like you’re in a project like a long black tunnel, take hold of your mind and realize there is always light at the end!

Mental Model #3: Climbing A Mountain Blindfolded

A lot of the time, we are thrown into situations at the worst moments. The owner has had three public relations firms do social media for her, she has spent thousands of dollars with knowledge gain, and she needs business now. I don’t know about you, but that feels like I am climbing up a steep hill blinded. I don’t know her target audience. I don’t know what social media platforms she has. I don’t know what her ideal buyer persona is. I know nothing!

This is where you have to use other senses to guide you along your journey. Regarding the situation above, you now want to start asking questions about who engages with their content. What forms of content do they enjoy creating? How are they currently tracking the success of their social media content? Do you know who their ideal customer might be? Do they know where they like to hang out? These questions make up those “other senses” that help us along the journey.

Climbing a mountain blindfolded makes you focus intensely on your other senses. It would help if you used every nose follicle to smell the things around you. You must use every inch of your fingertips to rub and touch what’s around you. You must activate every ounce of your eardrum to hear all the sounds around you. This must be done for your social media strategy as well. You might eventually understand who your customer is, but then you need to take it to the next stage to determine where they like to hang out and where they shop. It’s also pivotal that you have conversations with ideal/current customers to fully understand everything about their viewing and buying habits. You already know the basics, so dive deeper!

Just because you are blindfolded doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop along the way and explore; your main objective is to get to the top, but you don’t want to miss other opportunities to smell flowers or pet a squirrel like they run by. Make sure that you don’t limit yourself. Don’t go straight for the social media strategy, either. It would help if you talked about different things along the way to ensure you can meet the end goal of having a completed and well-thought-out social media strategy. On the way to that goal, stop and think about the business objectives, business goals, buyer persona, social media analytics, and more. Spend time with those different aspects, just as you would spend time smelling other flowers and feeling the flow of streams. Don’t rush through those elements. Sit with them.

The last thing I want you to remember with this mental model is that it can be a long process. You might be hiking and forced back down because it got too cold. You might get halfway through that strategy and realize their target audience isn’t any of the places you are proposing. You might get to that river and know you must take a day or two to let the river get low again. You might get to the end of the strategy and acknowledge that you are collecting the wrong data. You very well could get forced back down. But that is okay! Preparing for things to go south allows our minds to adjust faster in those situations because we are already ready for them. Be prepared for anything and everything as you hike up that mountain!

This is a long one, I know. But you made it! This stuff is fascinating to me. To have models that enable us to take control of our thoughts and accomplish our goals is so powerful. Let’s face it, we all struggle with different mental things; writer’s block, brain blocks, and creative blocks. I have realized that mental models are essential for us as social media managers. We have to control our feelings in challenging situations to get the tasks completed and meet deadlines. I have also realized through these models that fear leads to some of your best strategies, but to find those elements, you must rest in the emptiness and fear.

I appreciate you reading this month’s blog post and hope that you can use some of these mental models to assist you in all your work-life situations.

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