Broken glass in drain.

In the computer technology world, there are two terms that indicate how delicate a system is: coupling and brittleness.

A tightly coupled system is one in which there isn’t a lot of room for error. Things work seamlessly when they do work, however, because there’s no slack, no inefficiency, no excess. A loosely coupled system is exactly the opposite. For example, a tightly coupled inventory system is one in which the delivery truck with new supplies rolls up just as you use your last widget. You don’t carry any inventory, but you also have no margin for error.

A system’s brittleness indicates how resilient it is to failure. A flexible system routes around failure, while a brittle one shuts down when failure occurs. In the example above, if the delivery truck hits traffic, the store is out of commission until it arrives. If, however, the manager of the store stockpiled a few extra widgets under his desk just in case, then his store is slightly less brittle and can stay in business longer during a failure.

Why does all of this matter? Because in the digital marketing world, your systems are significantly more brittle than you think they are, and they are much more tightly coupled than you think they are. Don’t believe me? Unplug your Internet router at your office and see how much work gets done in the marketing department. For example, in my office, if I lose either power or Internet access, I literally go home (and work from there) because without those two utilities, I can’t do any significant work besides writing.

Look at each of your systems and ask two questions of it – how tightly coupled is it to your business, and how brittle is it? All of the SEO in the world doesn’t matter if your site is down – do you have a recovery plan in place to get back in business? The best crack sales team in the world will be out of business if your sales CRM is offline for any amount of time.

If you find a system that is tightly coupled to your business, meaning that its failure endangers your business, ask how you can build some failsafes into your processes, some backup, some way to continue business without that system until it’s repaired. For example, I promote my LinkedIn profile frequently because I can download my contacts from LinkedIn and store them. If LinkedIn ever vanishes for any sustained period of time, I have at least that file that I can email if an urgent need arises.

If you find a system that’s excessively brittle, look for ways to add redundancy or flexibility to the system. For example, work on cross-promoting your social media audiences from one network to the next, so that if Twitter’s down for the day (as has been known to happen), and you’ve got a big product release or announcement, you can hit up Facebook or Google+ or LinkedIn and still reach a majority of your audience.


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