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We have nothing to fear except social media itself

Is your company afraid of social media? I don’t mean merely uncomfortable or inexperienced. I mean white-knuckle teeth-clenching afraid. I frequently talk to companies that live in deathly fear, and they have their reasons. The question for them is what to do. Do they give into their fears and avoid social media or do they plunge in and overcome their fears? Usually, the right answer is neither. Instead, you need to try to let your rational brain break through the wall of fear and take a first step that doesn’t feel so big.

Figure 20 from Charles Darwin's The Expression...

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 It’s more often large companies than small companies that live in social media fear, and that fear is often rife within the executive ranks and especially the legal department. In regulated industries, there is usually a compliance department that spends every minute of the day mitigating risks and social media is the biggest risk they can see out there.

But I see it in small companies, too. Owners of businesses terrorized by the prospect of a bad review on Yelp. Many big businesses and small would be thrilled if social media disappeared from the face of the earth.

What can we do to get over these fears?

Part of what’s needed is for us to recognize that fear is an emotion that often alerts us to real danger. We must always tap into our emotions to notice when we are in a truly threatening situation. If we had no fear, we’d get ourselves into real trouble far more often.

But with social media, although the risks are real, we must figure out how to cope with them rather than avoid them. When we are afraid (or angry or any other “negative” emotion), we must always make the choice as to whether we are going to act on that fear or whether we want to override it.

For example, if a policeman pulls your car over and starts writing a ticket for a violation that you absolutely did not commit, you’d be justifiably angry. Yet you are unlikely to begin yelling at him. You experienced a very strong emotion, but your rational brain overruled your emotions and decided to stay calm and fight the ticket in court. Or pay it even though it is unfair. Or engage in calm discussion with the officer to explain the error. Or just about anything except losing your temper and taking a chance of getting arrested.

Fear of social media needs the same approach. You might be experiencing real fear, and there are real dangers. But social media is here to stay and we need to use our rational brains to overcome our fears, starting with a small step that seems less risky.

My advice is to start by listening. Read your Yelp reviews. Start subscribing to blogs. Follow someone on Twitter. Set up a Google Alert for your business. If you are a large business, get a listening service like that of Converseon. (Full disclosure: I serve as Chief Strategist for Converseon.)

Whatever you do, don’t just sit there in the fetal position, wondering if you can make it to retirement without having to deal with social media. Accept the fact that you are fraidy-scared and make a rational decision to start by listening and gaining experience. After you listen for a while, you might feel the impulse to participate. And then you are on your way.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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