Starting a business has reinforced and heightened the recognition of the social media fear factor for me. It was bad enough when I was blogging on my own behalf with no revenue attached. I worried that people would judge me for my poor spelling, my quick posts, my occasionally sarcastic sense of humor, my lack of enough cross-linking, etc., etc. I have a brand of self-analysis that causes me to believe that I could always do better. On my worst days it can be paralyzing because no matter how much I work on something, it could always be better. I don't think I'm alone in feeling that way. I think it is a big reason that people are cautious about using social media for professional purposes. It is far easier to have a team of copy editors and reviewers making sure content which is published is professional (never mind if it strips out the personality). It is not helped by a general cynicism in our society that tends to make people believe the worst in others, not the best.
There is plenty to be anxious about in considering using social media for business. Among the considerations:
- Are you, as an organization, self-aware enough to know what your boundaries and limitations are - both legally and culturally?
- Are you set up to provide a place that is open enough to encourage frank criticism?
- Are you ready to respond proactively and without artifice to the criticism you do get?
- How much are you comfortable sharing with competitors? Does your business rely on IP or on execution? Do you have a collective sense of what you are comfortable sharing?
- Do you have enough interesting content and programing so that prospects will hang around long enough to get to know you even if they see a spelling mistake?
- Does everyone know what they are legally obligated to stay silent about - whether because of their industry, their customers' industry, or because of SEC regulations?
Many look at all their valid fears - whether they are as simple as having un-edited content in the public eye or whether they are concerned with law suits - and decide it is too much to take on. On the other side, I hear a lot of social media enthusiasts recommend a 'Just Do It' approach. Like many things, the reality for people concerned about the ramifications of using these new communication mechanisms is somewhere in the middle.
Let me share my own experience which I often cite as a way to get started. I had an anonymous blog for almost three years where I experimented with the whole concept of blogging. I'll out myself - you can find that blog here. It wasn't professional and it wasn't all that interesting - I used it to catalog amusing things that I found online. But it got me used to the practice of blogging which was important and I shared it with a limited set of people and got used to the idea of 'exposing' my ad hoc writing. I also, at the same time, used an internal blog at work where we all posted links and information about the industry. It became the resource for any external information and research. Do you need to practice for 3 years? Maybe, maybe not - it depends how quickly you pick it up. When scaling to do this at an enterprise level, a couple of years of practice is not a bad thing. Things you can do to practice:
- Use Yammer internally
- Train and encourage people within your company to have personal blogs. Run competitions.
- Introduce smaller work groups to wikis
- Implement an enterprise-wide social network (emphasis on social)
- Create group blogs to comment on industry news and events that are only accessible internally.
- Pretend to blog for an external audience before you deploy an external blog.
- Form communities of practice internally and learn how to 'manage' them