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In 2013, you’ll have to overcome your fear of social media

Jan 21, 2013 Business Daily, Technology

“I recently taught a workshop on crisis communication at a top business school. Afterward, a mid-career executive came up to me with a question. But it wasn’t about how to handle rogue employees, or industrial accidents, or philandering CEOs. Instead, it concerned a far more personal sense of crisis: her overwhelming fear of public criticism if she became active on social media.
…She isn’t the only executive I’ve met who shares this concern. Sure, some professionals hesitate to get onboard social media because they’re worried about the time it takes, or running afoul of company policies, or simply because business is so robust, they don’t feel they need to. But a healthy subset are genuinely afraid that if they’re perceived as seeking attention, they’ll be quickly put back in their place.”

DORIE CLARK, HBR Blog Network (26 December, 2012)

Dorie Clark, a strategy consultant, just put her finger on it. Why do so many senior executives fear social media?

Ostensibly, there are solid reasons. First, that it feels childish and frivolous, and being on social media is akin to seeking personal attention. Second, that after a lifetime of being coached by PR specialists and lawyers to manage and control every public communication, business leaders are understandably nervous of the anything-goes jungles of social networks.

All very good. But they aren’t the real reason. The true block is purely psychological; it is the fear of subjecting oneself to public criticism, or even humiliation and ridicule.

In other words, it’s the same fear shy teenagers have of going over to the cool corner in the club. There might be mocking and jeering, and a loss of dignity.

This fear is not unfounded. Anyone venturing into social media will be shocked by the number of ‘trolls’ they will encounter, mouthing off with ill-informed opinions without even a modicum of courtesy. For genteel corporate types, this can feel like descending into a cage of whooping baboons. And yes, most early-adopter CEOs usually confirm that the worst part of the experience is the idiots you will encounter, often hurling profane abuse under the veil of anonymity.

But so what, folks? Rogue elements exist, and they are full of vile rubbish. They are mostly cowards and embittered losers who compensate for their failings by belittling others. They are best ignored and denied the oxygen of seeing their rantings having any effect. It’s a common problem, easily handled. A courteous, sensible, right-minded person is perfectly able to stick to her path and ignore the gutters of croaking toads.

The vast majority of people on social media are just that: ordinary people. They follow people they find interesting or entertaining; they generally wish to better their own lot and seek advice and inspiration and hope. Just like people everywhere.

The point, however, is that you will soon have little choice but to engage with social networks. For a corporate executive, social media channels provide real-time exposure to consumer trends and direct customer feedback. Even if you are not on, you can rest assured your customers and staff mostly are. So unless you wish to be hopelessly out of touch with new business realities, you’re going to have to gird your loins and plunge in. Social platforms are where brand sentiment is going to be measured and customer service effected. It is also where internal knowledge sharing and collaboration will migrate.

The era of decisions taken in secrecy by a small group of insiders, and then communicated in tightly managed messages is fast disappearing. It’s all out there now, and we have to learn to live with scrutiny. I suggest you make it a point to understand, utilize and deploy social networks in 2013.

Be there or be square, as the cool people said when I was a boy.

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