Stop Playing it Safe on Social

How to stop playing it safe on social

Working in corporate marketing for the past 15+ years leading various enterprise social media teams I've observed many playing it safe on social. 

I get it.

No one ever got fired for posting the boring brand-approved template.

But at the core of this risk aversion is a phenomenon where employees get the brand's social media identity entangled in their own identity. 

Every poor-performing social campaign, video or content would feel like a personal failure and create small dents in their sense of self-esteem.

Navigating through changes in social media direction would feel like a personal attack on their identities. 

And these failures or rejections chipped away at innovative social media.  Compounded over time, they had a subtle but corrosive effect on social media managers, gradually turning them risk-averse and resistant to change.

And what's worse is status quo, attracts status quo.

How many times have you heard a team member say "That idea is interesting, but it’ll never fly". 

The more you keep things the same, the harder it becomes to change over time. The more risk adverse one team member is the more others become like that. The magnet for mediocrity becomes stronger and stronger. 

But for social media to be successful, you need to detach your personal identity from your brand's social media identity. 

Social media is not for YOU.

Social media is for your AUDIENCE. 

You need to take risks.

You need to try a ton of different things. 

You need to fail.

Playing it safe on social is the reason you're not succeeding. 

So how can we teach our social teams to stop playing it safe?

Here are a few exercises I've done with my past teams to break from the routine and take more social risks: 

1. Role-Storm

Rolestorming is a brainstorming method pioneered by a businessman named Rick Griggs. This technique involves having your team release their inhibitions by taking on different roles or personas. Encourages thinking from different perspectives by having your team step into the shoes of others. This can lead to unique insights and creative solutions. A conventional approach would be to have them take on roles of the target audience or but a more avant-garde approach is having them take on a well-known character or celebrity. For example, say you are a Marketer at the brand The North Face - what would Superman value about his Thermoball NorthFace jacket?


This is a creative thinking and problem-solving tool that provides a structured approach for generating new ideas or improving existing ones. Each letter in "SCAMPER" represents a different action to prompt creative thinking. You can apply this technique to your social media content calendar, your social media design, or your social media copywriting. Ask your team:

  • Substitute: What can be substituted or replaced?
  • Combine: How can ideas or elements be combined for something new?
  • Adapt: Can you adapt or modify existing ideas?
  • Modify: What can be modified, magnified, or minimized?
  • Put to another use: How can the idea be used in a different context?
  • Eliminate: What can be removed or simplified?
  • Reverse: How can elements be reversed or rearranged?

3. Brand-Swap

One of the biggest downfalls of marketing is it tends to be industry-secular. Meaning CPG Marketers tend to hire other CPG Marketers, Tech Marketers hire other Tech Marketers, Health Marketers hire other Health Marketers. This insular approach leads to a limited perspective on what is deemed "acceptable" on social media. It creates a tunnel vision, hindering the incorporation of valuable insights from diverse industries that could propel growth, foster evolution, and, most crucially, distinguish your brand from competitors.

But hiring is not always feasible and sometimes you have to work with the team that you are given. If that is the case then do a Brand-Swap. Where you ask your social team to design and write content in the brand voice, tonality and structure of another unrelated brand. For example create a Microsoft social media campaign in the same social style as the Brand Crocs. I find this works exceptionally when you're trying to get B2B brands to think like B2C brands.

4. Brainwriting

Start with a team of people. And a business challenge to be overcome. Each person writes down five ideas on how to solve this with social media on a sheet of paper in ten minutes. They then pass the paper to the person on their right, who adds a variable or edits that idea. Continue to pass around the papers until it gets back to the original ideation. This process generates a myriad of ideas in a short time and is great technique to include more introverted team members who like to quietly add their input. 

5. Venn Diagram Association

Pick a random object unrelated to your product/service and then ask your team to associate as many ideas and concepts that bridge that object and your product. Essentially creating a Venn diagram to stimulate creative thinking. It encourages thinking outside the box by making unexpected connections. 

7. Image-ination 

This concept I got when I did a brainstorming session with the Disney brand as we were doing a co-branded marketing campaign with WestJet. The method entails creating a collection of image clippings sourced from magazines. Subsequently, each team member selects a random image, leveraging it as the catalyst for developing a unique social media campaign. Each person must present their idea to the group and then the group discusses these ideas -fostering a dynamic exchange of creativity..

8. Ten Word Story

This exercise comes from Ernest Hemingway's infamous "Six Word Story" but expands a bit. Challenge your social media team to tell a compelling story in only ten words about your product/service. This exercise encourages brevity (important for social) and creative expression.

9. Limitations

If you’re stuck on a social media campaign, give it a limitation you wouldn’t otherwise have. For example create a social campaign that only appeals to Dads or if this campaign was only on Instagram, or create posts that only start with action verbs or a campaign around this specific TikTok trend. Creativity can often come from constraints. 

10. Time Travel Scenario

Transport your team to 5 different time periods and ask them how would their approach or ideas change if they were operating in a different temporal context? How would their target audience respond to messaging/content in this different context. 

11. Plus OR Minus

Have the team put each social media post for the month on a separate PowerPoint slide and then present it to the team. Then go around the room and have an individual say a plus (adding something to it) or minus (subtracting something from it). This helps get the team thinking about how they can change or modify pre-existing ideas. 

12. How-Now-Wow

This technique categorizes first allows free form of brainstorms and then puts these social media ideas into three categories. Usually I would do this with a whole team and then break into sub-teams for the analysis portion. 

  • How ideas are original but not executable ideas. 

  • Now ideas are unoriginal ideas that are easily executable.

  • Wow ideas are super unique ideas that are also easy to implement.

13. Six Thinking Hats

This is a technique from psychologist Edward Bono in which you have 6 people on the team wearing "hats" and analyzing a challenge from a particular perspective. You can use this technique in the traditional method where there's a hat that represents looking through the lens of creativity, positivity, facts, risks and challenges OR you can use it the way I use it. I would often ask my 6 members to analyze a social media campaign and come with ideas aligned to:

  • A hat that maximizes reach
  • A hat that maximizes education
  • A hat that maximizes entertainment
  • A hat that maximized inspiration
  • A hat that maximizes click-through
  • A hat that maximizes engagement 

14. Social Media Audit

If you want your social media team to break away from the routine thinking patterns and not play it safe, it's helpful to have a third-party unbiased and unfiltered perspective audit your social media. 

A third-party social media audit provides an unfiltered examination of your current social media landscape, paving the way for insightful recommendations that transcend the status quo. Even the most innovative teams can benefit from a new viewpoint, unleashing possibilities and fostering a mindset that embraces change and creativity. An external audit can be the catalyst for a reimagined and more impactful future. 


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