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Be bold: Embrace social media

March 18, 2010

This column originally ran in “The Idea Corner” in the Jan. 22 print edition of the Birmingham Business Journal.

When I hear from business owners, they ask great questions about social media, namely “What’s in it for me?”

They don’t know why they need to waste time on setting up a Facebook account or learning how to tweet.

What are you afraid of?

I didn’t get on Twitter until February 2009. I thought it was silly. I didn’t get it. I was afraid it would eat up too much time.

But I volunteered to talk about social media tools for a Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce seminar. Oops. Looks like I needed to learn the ins and outs of Twitter in 30 days.

I went in with a game plan and a willingness to learn. If it turned out to be useful after 30 days, I’d keep tweeting. If it turned out to be a time drain and a bore, I’d drop it.

I conquered my fear by taking one small step after another. Set a goal to learn. Then, sign up for an account. Begin to watch how others use the tool in different ways.

Next, send status updates about me, my work and my life. And finally, talk with people. Real conversations in real time that weren’t dumb old sales pitches.

That doesn’t sound so difficult, does it?

Let’s name some fears people have when it comes to social media. By saying them aloud, we diminish them.

Fear of looking foolish: Few people want to come off as silly or unserious when it comes to their brand or their company.

But making mistakes is a part of social media and a part of being human. What I hear clients telling me is, “I’m afraid of being human.” Too late: It’s a life sentence. Embrace your imperfection, and people will embrace your humanity.

Fear of wasted resources: Who wants to waste months and dollars on a project, only to see it go nowhere? That’s a great fear to have. If only more companies were as judicious with resources and making the most with what’s available.

Social media should be no different. Every new endeavor should have clearly defined goals with measurable results and flexible execution. Can social media help your business? Make a plan and find out.

Fear of not jumping in: Some business owners can hold onto two opposing fears at once: fear of using social media and fear of not getting on the bandwagon. The good news is that Facebook has 300 million users and won’t be going away anytime soon. If your business decides to wait 6 to 12 months, Facebook and other social networking sites will still be around.

Same with blogging. Recently, Technorati State of the Blogosphere reported, “The rise of the professional blogger continues: 70 percent of part-timers, pros and self-employeds are blogging more than ever.” Holding on to these two opposing fears can be paralyzing. Let them both go.

Fear of negative feedback: When customers complain about your company — and most of us complain — they are giving you an opportunity to be a hero or a coward. Heroes run into burning buildings with little regard for their own safety. Cowards run away.

By learning why your customers are unsatisfied and finding ways to turn it around, your company can act heroically. No, you won’t and can’t “save” everyone, but your reputation will soar far above your competitors.

Fear of failure: This is the big one. Your company might look foolish. Or waste time trying to figure out these tools. Or not jump in soon enough. Or miss hearing critical comments from customers.

Psst, your company is probably already failing at these things. We all struggle with learning in this new social economy and will fail many times. The better question is: Are we learning from our mistakes? Are we getting better with each conversation?

After 30 days on Twitter, I gave my talk to a lively audience. And I still tweet every day. As a writer, it gives me a new outlet for precious words but also gives me flashes of insight on the human condition.

And in business, it allows me to push fear aside and dive head first into the global conversation. Afraid? Not me.

• • •

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