How to get Over Your Fears of Social Media

Portland-downtown I could write just jump in. Or, I could suggest you put all kinds of policies and training in place. The truth is that fear is irrational, and often driven by lack of knowledge. Plus, the reality sits somewhere in the middle, just like life is shades of colors.

In the last couple of the days, I've had the pleasure of meeting professionals in the software construction business. Some of them are immersed in consulting for large implementations, others help rescue and manage building projects. That is complex, because it needs to take into account the real reality — that of the physical world.

We tend to forget that. Those of us who spend time in social media, tend to live and breathe the space as if it were real life, which it isn't, of course. It is however, a great place to build a network, find like minded people, see what others are working on, and learn with them.

The goal is to apply what we learn to real life — you know, the construction projects, data center hosting, filling the barns with product in ag, distributing inventory to warehouses, and all that good stuff. It doesn't only pay the bills, it also provides satisfaction for those who love their work, who come home after a long day and have the quiet satisfaction of having put a first floor in a new building.

Compared to all that, social media can be abstract, and feel overwhelming… at first, and scary.

In the conversation I helped moderate, we talked about the advantages of social media for B2Bs, building communities of practice and engaging communities of interest. The best part was when members of the audience took over the conversation. I keep my presentations brief for that reason, so they can do that.

And way in the back is sitting this IT manager, who ended up knowing my former CIO (in another small world surprises), who jumps in to share how he got his company to start adopting social media. He went to the service people, who are used to one on one conversations, and got them familiarized with the tools.

Once they started getting oriented in social networks, they did what they do best — help customers with questions and issues, reaching out to them proactively, and making friends. Then they started talking to the rest of the organization about what they did, and how they did it.

We then discussed how a set of guidelines with enough content to support employee adoption, give them ways to respond to issues, and an escalation path appropriate for the organization not to get in trouble, is a good way to stay open to opportunities — while being smart about them.

I was delighted to speak to a director of general contracting afterward who thanks to the conversation we had was excited at the possibilities and the opportunity. Next week, we'll talk a bit more about the kind of pact companies need to make internally between IT, management, and the employees who raise their hand to help their companies network and be social.

Together, they will teach the rest of the organization how to get over their fears of social media.


What about your company? What are the issues and questions your colleagues challenge you with regularly? How are you helping them manage risk — real or perceived?

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0 responses to “How to get Over Your Fears of Social Media”

  1. I used to get a lot of questions about what happens if someone says something bad about us on our blog, what do we do if an employee goes crazy on Twitter, what do we do if we get hacked, etc. Now, the majority of questions are really of the “Why would we bother” type. Being in the nonprofit world, our clients fear wasting their time, not generating donations that fund their work, and everything related, so I typically perform research on what types of conversations are already taking place, what constituents might be approachable through social media, etc and then am able to discuss with them what the quick wins could be and what could be the longer-term implications/goals of their social media participation. When I put it in terms of small steps, marketing vs fundraising efforts, and what we already know will generate response, I tend to see my clients’ fears dissipating. But nonetheless and regardless of how much data we have initially, I think their is a subconscious fear of “Are we wasting our time?”
    Unrelated, well mostly, I used to work in that building pictured above 😉

  2. It’s strange, some people take to social media like a duck to water, whilst others stare into the headlights as the speeding truck gets ever closer.
    I hate the term, but it’s a new paradigm. So much has changed, and most of it for the better.

  3. I was the first at our company to “dip my toe in” to the newer social media tools (new compared to our bread and butter, forums). I think the important thing is to focus on why the engagement is important, rather than the tools themselves. I’ve had some tell me Twitter is a “timesuck,” and yes, it can be; but I try to communicate that it’s only a waste of time if you’re wandering around it aimlessly. Go in with a specific plan, and it’s fantastic. I’ve formed some amazing new bonds (with colleagues & customers) that never would have happened without it.

  4. I think the larger issue is that of organizations – brands – being more than just mouthpieces for marketing propaganda. The proliferation of digital conversation on the web today requires that brands be more than just clever slogans and pretty faces – the brand needs to be it’s own entity, just like it would be on paper to the banks, investors, and legal system.
    “New”/digital/social media = conversation.
    That’s it. I wonder how many of these purportedly well-educated and uber-skilled executive types would view an opportunity to speak to a room full of potential customers with such fearful apprehension or pompous dismissal?
    What if someone in the audience stands up and calls fraud? What if a member of the press asks an embarrassing question? What if? I would hope that individuals tasked with running a company or managing a brand would be competent/confident speaking face-to-face with people about their organization – why is it so different online?
    It isn’t. At least, I don’t see it that way. :shrug

  5. @Eric – wasting your time is part of what happens when there is no strategy. God of you to break down processes in bite sized chunks, to make it fell less overwhelming. I do wonder though when we start thinking that acting human was so scary? I picked my image well, then 😉
    @Grout – love the animal analogies. And you’re right, the term is flawed. The principles are not.
    @Rosemary – networking is a time suck if you’re just out there handing out business cards. When the cards are an after thought, when the exchange comes naturally after establishing a mutual interest, things are indeed very different.
    @Brian – and I do hope we see the attempts at social media propaganda as well. The tools give us greater opportunity than was has been tapped so far, why limit applications to what we think we know? Good example on speaking in a room. I do know of examples when that has happened and executives have been whisked out of sight to have PR people handle the rest. The point is that it’s no different online, except for now, everyone in the room is having their own conversation with their networks the minute they see you unwilling to have one with them.

  6. Late Thursday afternoon I heard a contractor say that he just likes to build things and couldn’t see the connection between social media and the online world and his ability to build buildings. Saw it as a complete waste of time vs. communication tool.
    Others were simply overwhelmed by the concept of SM and uncomfortable with dipping our toe in. But there were many signs of people starting to get the a-ha. Our IT director, has overcome his fear of apps like Tweetdeck poking holes in the firewall – and knows it’s something he simply needs to monitor and manage as it’s not going away.

  7. In my company there’s never been any fear of social media, more like, no one really felt it was necessary for a while, nor they felt they had time to invest in it.
    One day I started taking the situation in my hands like that IT manager did, and I am still slowly educating (such a big word, I don’t believe I can educate anyone yet, but you get my point) and building a strategy that hopefully, in the long term, will prove valid.
    It’s always a learning process, as I often like to remember, and I don’t think changes like this can happen overnight.

  8. @Patrick – and you can build things in 3D. I do get the shift is hard for people who have their feet very much planted on the ground. As you point out, this is not going away. Email didn’t go away. Remember when mobile phones where these big black boxes you carried by a handle? Good on your IT manager for taking the step.
    @Gabriele – maybe showing people what you do and they will get their own ideas. This change has not happened overnight, either. The technology we use today has been developing in many tools over a number of years. Ten+ that I can remember. Some will say more. I love Bill Moggridge book Designing Interactions

  9. Fear tends to arise in one of two circumstances; firstly when the activity is unknown to us, when we have no experience of it. Secondly, it occurs when – even if we have experience of the activity – we feel we lack control. For social media these two sources of fear combine. For many businesses social networking and online social media are brand new and the lack of any experience makes it potentially scary. But, the biggest issue for many businesses is the realisation that they lack control. Before online social media arose, businesses could control everything (almost) that appeared about them. Even if they suffered at the hands of negative press coverage, it could be dealt with using PR techniques. With social media, such control is almost impossible to exert. Companies realise that and so this ends up being the principal source of fear.
    What it really means is that the “game is up”. Business models have been based on the control principal for centuries. That no longer works online. It means that the entire basis of business is challenged as a result of social media – and that is the scariest thing for many business owners. They realise that companies cannot be run the way they always have been. The result? If you accept social media into your company, you need a significant, wholesale structural change and a complete altering of mindsets. That’s very scary. So, for many companies, the best thing to do is ignore social media in the hope it is all a fad.
    Bad news for those companies who think like that…it isn’t..! It’s here to stay, which means unless businesses radically alter the way they think, they won’t be here to stay themselves.

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