Overcoming fear of social media

I have to admit I have a bit of a phobia when it comes to social media. Not only am I generally a private person who thinks the world doesn’t need to know every time I sneeze, the idea of leaving behind all those digital fingerprints kind of gives me the heebie-jeebies.  I feel the same way about cell phones and navigation systems that allow satellites to track your location. Perhaps the 1998 Will Smith/Gene Hackman movie, “Enemy of the State,” made too big of an impact on me. (Not that I’m a closet conspiracy theorist, but sometimes it does give you pause.)

So it’s a bit ironic that in my personal life I tend to lay low, yet in my professional life I have had a very public face for two decades as editor of various industry trade magazines, and I currently advise clients to build an audience using social media and email marketing, much the same way publishers do with the readers of their magazines.

I found when I was researching this topic that there is so much information out there that it’s overwhelming. For a company who is trying to overcome its fear of social media before diving in, the vast amount of advice may be a deterrent rather than the intended result. So here’s my take on the subject.

First, know your audience. According to small sample surveys I’ve conducted in the construction industry, nearly half of you are not using social media for business. Those of you that are, prefer Facebook and LinkedIn to Twitter. I often hear from construction professionals that they don’t bother with social media because the people they are trying to reach are not using it. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that no one is. I firmly believe that statistic is directly tied to another dilemma that the construction industry is facing—an aging and soon to retire workforce that is not replacing its workers at the same rate that they are leaving. In addition, as smart phones and tablets become more commonplace on the jobsite, social media usage will increase.

After you have a handle on what your intended audience is doing, consider not trying to do it all. As you take that deep breath before the plunge, just focus on one social media outlet. Get comfortable with that first before expanding to other platforms. As you do your own research, keep in mind that some advice is for beginners, other advice is for experts who are already neck deep and are trying to learn how to truly harness social media’s power. Look for information that fits the type of business you are. Retail businesses have different needs and goals than manufacturers. Consulting businesses are different from product-centric ones.

The next most common objection I hear to engaging in social media is that you don’t have time to manage it. I agree! It’s a bad idea to make this a one-person job. I suggest enlisting a team representing several different departments in your organization. Establish goals and a protocol with clear guidelines and then divide the responsibility up among several corporate voices.

Like any business plan, your social media strategy will evolve over time. Keep it simple and set short milestones. And don’t be afraid that jumping in means you can’t ever take a hiatus. It really isn’t a lifetime commitment. In fact, you may try it and find it’s not for you. That’s ok. Remember it’s just one layer of many marketing channels available to businesses today as they strive to increase market share and serve their customers.