Given my entrepreneurial, extroverted and — some might say — experimental personality, it’s only natural that I started blogging in 2004 and have enthusiastically embraced Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, to name just three of the many social media communications channels and tools that are so wildly popular today.
I enjoy the free exchange of information, knowledge and opinions. And I’ve never been shy about opening myself up to others.
Yes, like a kid in a candy store, I’m enamored with the Internet, giddy and practically overcome by the extraordinary power it gives me to make new friends and business contacts so easily and quickly.
I admit it. I can’t get enough of it, this life in a post-Cluetrain Manifesto world. To me, it’s intoxicating and addictive. It’s fun, not work.
But despite my passion and partiality for building community — and striking up new relationships — online, I realize there are still many detractors and holdouts, those who would rather shake hands and swap business cards than trade tweets, pokes and links. Some may be technologically challenged. But most seem to be uncomfortable with the notion of complete and utter transparency, stuck on the same, old questions about what to say in such a public forum and how others will react to their communication streams.
After all, no one wants to embarrass themselves — or worse, jeopardize their career over something they said.
And besides, those who have not yet jumped on the social media bandwagon are right on at least one account. No online tool will allow for the intimacy and authenticity of face-to-face conversation.
But I still think the pros of using social media far outweigh the cons. And so does my wife, Barbara. Yes, even though she wondered aloud for months why literally millions of users — including her husband — were so smitten with Facebook (we’re talking over 150 million active users, in fact, according to this January 7 announcement by founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, on the Facebook blog), she’s now singing this social utility’s praises for having connected her with dozens of friends and opening up a whole, new world of communications with them.
The truth is that the reason Barbara hesitated to take the plunge and sign up for Facebook until just a few weeks ago is pretty much the same one that others — especially business people and corporations — are taking so much time to dip their collective toes in the social media waters in general.
That’s what I learned from my wife about Facebook and social media…and that’s what I would like to share with you here. Most people hesitate to join the online conversation for fear of the following…
The Six Fears of Facebook and Other Social Media Channels
1. Fear of the Unknown. It’s only human nature to be afraid of the unfamiliar, to cling to routine and status quo. Barbara knew about the popularity of Facebook for a long time. But the mere thought of it was daunting to her. It was overwhelmingly new and different, a strange, distant world. And that’s the same feeling I sense among many of my colleagues, peers and clients. It’s fear bordering on paralysis.
“Sure there are success stories among the big companies that have dipped their toes in the social-media water,” writes blogger and social media strategy consultant, B.L. Ochman, in this recent AdAge article. “But the vast majority of giant companies are still absolutely terrified of social media.”
Yet everyone I know who has joined the social web, feels remarkably at home there, comforted by the fact that they are surrounded by like-minded friends who understand what it means to reveal some of this and share some of that, building trust, goodwill and a warm, fuzzy feeling that we are indeed all in this together. The outcome of all of this activity is new and improved relationships that we might not have had otherwise. And not just with former classmates and old flames, either — with valuable, new contacts, leads, business prospects and clients, too.
2. Fear of the Loss of Privacy. I can’t tell you how many times I hear others cite confidentiality issues or just plain shyness as their reasons for not adopting social media. On the one hand, I’m deferential to those who prefer discretion to transparency, independence to community. But I also think any fear of going public on the social media circuit is unwarranted and misguided. In many cases, you are the gatekeeper to information you post about yourself or your business. As Barbara quickly learned, you don’t have to connect with someone you don’t know or anyone you don’t like. And you don’t have to share anything that is, in fact, privileged information.
But perhaps more important to note is just how many others — young and old alike, working professionals and homebodies (all of whom might be classified as members of Gartner’s Generation V, by the way) — have already jumped on the social media bandwagon. Who wants to be left behind?
3. Fear of Having Nothing to Say. Like me, Barbara always has a lot on her mind. But for some reason she was concerned she’d have nothing to say on Facebook. That’s preposterous, I told her, knowing that her free spirit, sense of humor, interest in popular culture and knowledge of current events would play well in a virtual community. And it has. She just had to wait until she was ready to put herself out there.
As it was for my wife, that’s how it is for many business folks, too. They may have tons of experience, expertise and news about everyday endeavors to share with others. Not to mention all that good personal information about themselves that uncovers the emotionally endearing, refreshingly human side of business. Yet many still hem and haw over taking that first big step.
In a recent post on his blog, Chris Koch (who writes about B2B marketing in the technology industry) said…
“Indeed, the only thing scarier for marketers than being responsible for a corporate blog where people can say anything they want about you and your brand is the prospect of having to sustain it — to keep coming up with smart, thoughtful things to say. Forever.”
4. Fear of Rejection. The bigger the organization, the bigger the fear of negativity and criticism, of naysayers and competitors taking shots at the brand. Barbara had such trepidation concerning her own personal brand identity before joining Facebook. What if she was called out for saying something silly? What if none of her friends connected with her? But just as Sally Field once exclaimed on stage, my wife was soon shouting, “you like me, you really like me!”
Sure, the stakes are much greater when stock prices, sales and jobs are on the line. So not everyone — or more to the point, every conversation — is suitable for social media. Obviously. But what most constituents find after a short time spent immersed in these new online communities is that the atmosphere is invariably civil and chummy, almost quid pro quo-like. As long as you’re truthful and trustworthy.
For some excellent ideas about “Conquering the Fear of Blogging,” check out what Chris Brogan wrote on his own blog here.
5. Fear of the Time Commitment. Yes, it takes time to write a good blog, to share a link on Facebook, or to answer a few questions in a LinkedIn group. Sorry. There is no automatic pilot in social media. Like any worthwhile endeavor, you get out of it what you put into it. But that doesn’t mean you have to give your life over to it. Few of us can be as active, prolific and visible in this space as the likes of Chris Brogan, David Meerman Scott, Guy Kawasaki and Joseph Jaffe. But like any good relationship, if you’re going to be social, you do need to touch base regularly. Barbara, for instance, checks Facebook for a few minutes several times a day — to connect with close friends, to post comments, ask questions, update her status, etc. That’s all, though. Slow and steady may not win the race, but it will put you in the middle of the pack. And from a strategic point of view, that’s not necessarily a bad place to be, given how new this is to most participants.
For a great, step-by-step guide on how to get the most out of your social media efforts, check out Dave Evans’ book, “Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day.”
6. Fear of Failure. Have you ever played in a golf tournament? If so, then you know what it feels like to tee it up in front of a gallery, all eyes on your attempt to drive the ball long, straight and clean. Like speaking in public or, yes, hitting a golf ball in front of a watchful crowd, contributing original content online — coupled with the thought of, yikes, baring one’s personality — strikes fear in the hearts of even the most intrepid professionals. After all, we’re talking history here. What happens on the Internet, stays on the Internet. So obviously, no one wants to risk looking bad. But that’s just the point: Human beings, by nature, are imperfect and flawed. So theoretically, we shouldn’t be afraid to adhere to perhaps the most important principle of the social web, which is to keep it real, always.
In a recent guest post (“Generation Y in the Workplace Explained”) on Chris Brogan’s blog, Teresa Wu wrote…
“While Generation X continues to emphasize the importance of maintaining a professional online image, we who grew up using Facebook and MySpace as places to share our photos and lives with our friends don’t want to turn it into a purely professional arena. I’ve found that the most meaningful connections I’ve made were when I’ve exposed the more personal aspects of my life.”
So remember, it’s not just okay to be transparent and authentic, open and honest on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and wherever else you may be on the social web, it’s imperative. Take a lesson from Teresa Wu. Or from my wife, Barbara. To face the six fears of Facebook and other social media channels, just be yourself.
For more social media strategies, check out our webinar, “How to Build your own Blog and Social Media Marketing Strategy”