You May as Well Fear Phone Calls 14

Are you scared of your phone? Then why are you scared of social media?

Fear seems to be ruling the day lately. Take what has increasingly been referred to as “the current economic situation”: As Paul Krugman explains in The Return of Depression Economics, a recession by definition is the perception of a group of people that they should slow down their spending. In other words, fear is a self-fulfilling prophecy that comes about as the result of how we think about the world. Much the same kind of fear seems to be holding many organizations back these days when it comes to their efforts in the digital realm.

We all know the rebuttals when it comes time to discuss social media: “That’s just for kids.” “Why would I care what someone had for breakfast?” “This is just a fad.” Most insidious of all is a kind of creeping fear that just seems to be the modern version of the “seven words that killed the business”: We never did it that way before.

This post isn’t intended to persuade you of the ubiquity of social media in our age or its value. The point isn’t that half a billion people are using Facebook or that 50 percent of them check in on any given day or that each of them spends an average of 55 minutes on the site when they do or that Facebook is just one of thousands of ways people are using social media. The ubiquity of social media is already beyond question. The point here is that social media are just one more way to communicate with whomever you might need to communicate with and that if you stop thinking of social media as something scary, you may find huge new opportunities.

Every communication tool was new at some point. In The History of the Telephone (1910), for instance, Herbert N. Casson, notes that the phone was initially widely considered to be a “scientific toy”:

People who talked for the first time into a telephone box had a sort of stage fright. They felt foolish. To do so seemed an absurd performance, especially when they had to shout at the top of their voices. Plainly, whatever of convenience there might be in this new contrivance was far outweighed by the loss of personal dignity; and very few men had sufficient imagination to picture the telephone as a part of the machinery of their daily work.

Again, this was written in 1910, when it was already obvious that the telephone would endure. People fretted that the phone would mean people wouldn’t want to meet in person anymore (sound familiar?). People disliked that others always had access to them (sound familiar?). People thought it was silly (sound familiar?).  Etc. and so forth. I saw this kind of fear in action personally at an organization that didn’t have voicemail — in the mid-’90s — because the organization apparently believed that voicemail was impersonal and off-putting. We were an organization dependent on information and connectivity, and we only worked during the day (as did the receptionist). The outside world just thought we were nuts.

It’s hard to say how much we lost over the years as the result of that unilateral decision not to answer the phone at all for half the day. (Many work-arounds were devised, incidentally–mainly in the form of good-old cassette-tape-based answering machines on individual lines.) The world expected voicemail and we didn’t have it. We were scared to take a chance, scared to roll with the times. Fear is natural but counterproductive, especially when you want to keep up with the competition. Your competition is already involved in social media, though. Just take a look at what the Fortune 100 are doing in social media. Try to look at them as your well-funded R&D department, leading the way for you in best business practices. They see your future, and it’s in social media. It’s one of the first rules of public relations: speak to your audience in ways it likes to be spoken to, which includes utilizing the channels it uses to receive information. The question becomes, then: How do we conquer this fear and get over our inertia? Here are some tips:

  1. Be strategic. Any effort you undertake should fit into your strategy–and social media realistically may or may not be a part of it. (Increasingly few situations aren’t right for social media in some way, shape or form, but that’s for another post.) The point is: If you’re strategic, you can’t go wrong, as least as far as tactics like social media go. Mapping your efforts to your strategy will help ensure that you budget time and resources effectively and that whatever you’re doing is in service of your goals. This is an essential management function, something that every business owner or organizational leader is at least intuitively familiar with.
  2. Understand your fear. We have all kinds of reasons to fear things, but most come down to not understanding whatever it is we’re scared of. Look in detail at your fear. Spend some time seeing what it is you think might happen if you delve into social media. Perhaps there are things you can plan for, or you may find that some of your fears are ungrounded. In any case, knowledge is power. At the very least, you’ll know precisely why you’re choosing not to utilize social media. Be realistic. Look at the facts. Make your decision based on information rather than emotion.
  3. Imagine the worst case. What’s going to happen if you take part and it doesn’t work? Probably, you’ll just stop. That’s hardly the end of the world. Dip a toe in and see what happens.
  4. Awareness. If you see the scale and speed of the transformation, you’ll see the urgency of getting involved. Stay up with sites like and Be aware that consumers are talking about you whether you take part in the conversation or not. At the very least, you’ll be on top of new possibilities that are constantly emerging. Perhaps your industry hasn’t yet found an application for social media–but if it does, you’ll at least want to be current. So watch.
  5. Monitor and observe before becoming active. “Lurk” for a while (register and watch without contributing). You’ll see if it’s right for you and will very quickly learn to avoid any major mistakes. This is an excellent and underutilized way to test the waters.
  6. Just do it. Imagine you were a salesperson who was determined to create the perfect pitch before trying it on the world. It makes no sense. You learn by doing. Will you make mistakes? Sure–just as you do when you’re meeting face-to-face. That’s how you learn to do it better. The only way to learn to play a game is by … playing it.

The question of social media is no longer if but how. You can lead, keep up or be swept away. Be scared if you want, but it makes about as much sense as being scared to use your telephone. How have you overcome the fear of the unknown in social media? How have you seen this in action?

Will Reichard, MBA, is the president of CrossCut Communications, LLC, a full-service social media, public relations and marketing consultancy based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

About William Reichard

Will Reichard, MBA, President, has a broad background in social media, strategic communications and marketing, public relations, development, fundraising and business management. His forte is messaging. From working as an editor with a Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper to helping establish capacity in an early-phase public relations company aimed at middle-market businesses to articulating the selling points of an innovative customer-focused nonprofit fundraising organization (United Way of Central New Mexico), Reichard consistently helps to give shape to challenging but mission-critical ideas. He is an award-winning writer who has been published in outlets including Innovation: America’s Journal of Technology Commercialization. Most recently, he has consulted for a wide range of clients through his company, CrossCut Communications, and has become a sought-after speaker and adviser on the field of social media and business, a role in which he enjoys applying his bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology. He writes a blog on social media, public relations, marketing and technology and was recently invited to be a panelist on personal branding at the prestigious Crittenden National Conference. He has additional interests in change management, social theory, issues of diversity, and management of technology. He graduated magna cum laude in anthropology and recently completed an executive-level master’s of business administration with a 4.0 gpa, both through the University of New Mexico. He is a member of Beta Gamma Sigma. Reichard belongs to Social Media Club and the New Mexico Tech Council, is a member of the Albuquerque Independent Business Alliance, and belongs to the Business New Mexico network. He is involved in a variety of community efforts, including serving as president of Albuquerque Net Impact Professional and the board of the YMCA of Central New Mexico. He is particularly proud of his membership in the Rotary Club of Albuquerque del Sol. Available for speaking opportunities.

  • While I'm definitely over any fear I had, many yrs ago, I think I'm still dealing w/ lots of frustration at trying to keep-up and trying to come up with subjects to talk about on my blogs.

  • Great points on why businesses, organizations and entrepreneurs shouldn't be letting fear dictate whether or not to jump into the conversation. I tend to think that in most cases, those who avoid social media as a communications channel do so out of a combination of both innocence and fear. Because their families and clients don't talk about social media, they believe that it might not be important. And then one day, people are asking them why their outfit isn't on social media, and then it becomes a sloppy rush to keep up.

    Great post, Will!

  • Great point, Mark–transitions like these happen very quickly (in relative terms), and something that's an experiment today can be a standard necessity a year from now. Hmmm…an idea for another post about keeping your toes dipped in multiple pools.

  • Susan, that's something I hear a lot of, enough that another post is already in the works on how I recommend budgeting your time to be strategic about social media. I know from personal experience that it's not easy. (Someone told me last night that I'm the “most prolific” Twitterer out of hundreds they follow.) Hang in there.

    On the subject of ideas–have you ever read Ray Bradbury's “Zen in the Art of Writing”? It's a great, quick, inspiring source. His advice make a lot of sense–things like asking yourself what scares you in your day-to-day career. If it's a fear or a pain point for you, it probably is for others as well. And his ultimate point is, basically, to write _you_, whatever that might be. Good luck!

  • I was at a business networking gathering this morning and some very seasoned business people were rather misinformed about social networking or just completely in the dark. I would say one in 10 actually even used Twitter and was still not very savvy about strategizing his use of it. Sadly, a couple of them still had the misconception that all tweets are noise and thought it was just kids (although his colleague pointed out that “most people are over age 45” – I think that may be inaccurate as well. Perhaps he meant Facebook.

    Brilliant post, as usual, Will. I suppose the misconceptions out there regarding social media are a good business opportunity, if people will listen.

  • Thanks, Marlita. That's a strong misperception. It skews younger–but not by much. As of December, some 37 percent of US Facebook users were 35 years old or older, and *60* percent were 26 or older. (…)

    The percentage of people between 35 and 54 doubled from 2009 to 2010 and the number of 55+ users grew by 923 percent! (…) Hardly a teenage phenomenon!

    I'd guess it will very quickly come to mirror the general population.

    Thanks for the comments!

  • Many people do live in mortal terror of the phone!

    Social media is a form of public speaking. Some people are natural performers, but it terrifies others. I'm unsure that it's really an age thing. Not many (very) young people blog either.

    A lack of confidence in writing skills is also a major cause of resistance.

    This is an informative and engaging primer. If I were you, I'd package it into a PDF or even a brochure to hand out to people during presentations.

  • MalissaKullberg

    @marlitah & @wreichard: both excellent strategists providing a rich, densely-populated stream of useful info while remaining personable, accessible, well-rounded and real. Compared to you, I feel fumbling and anemic–especially at times when I simply must drop off the social media stream due to heavy work demands. Yet I have learned from you both–through your words and actions–that doing so is just fine. Absent airing personal spats or posting ill-considered pics, you can't “do it wrong.” Social media enables people to vet you without direct engagement. Extremely valuable for anyone in business, assuming they are comfortable with selves and product.

  • Can't say I've ever read any of Bradbury's stuff….isn't he a Sci-Fi writer? As for fear, shoot that's a big old pile of worms that I face on a daily basis – severe anxiety that can sometimes keep me indoors for days. Basically I'm just not very good at talking about my art, or selling myself. I'm great at chatting on my personal blog but when it comes to my photography blog I have a much harder time.

  • Thanks, JC! You're absolutely right about it being akin to public speaking, and it points out something that I wasn't really clear about, which was that I was thinking of this more for an organizational audience than a personal one. The issues are largely the same, though, and organizations so often have “personalities” the same way individuals do when it comes to the question of inward or outward focus. For either one, it can be very hard to overcome. Another great idea for a post! Thanks again.

  • Thanks, Malissa! I think you're doing a great job. You have the right the right worldview, which is 99 percent of the game. My next post definitely needs to be about budgeting–for organizations large and small–to ensure social media efforts are “strategic.”

    I increasingly think of myself as a coach for organizations. We want to go as fast and far as we can, but that's unique to each person or organization. Motivation, pacing, training, discipline, planning–these are the elements we have to consider.

    I also need to be clearer that people shouldn't compare themselves to me–this is what I do for a living! You have another job!

    Thank you again!

  • Sometimes sci-fi, but often psychological stories. I've read a lot of
    writing guides, and this is definitely one of the best on getting over

    On the other hand, making yourself miserable isn't a great idea. I'm
    probably giving the wrong impression that writing is the only way to
    communicate. Visual communication works very well, too!

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  • Странно, искал совсем не это, гугл выдал Ваш сайт, и судя по всему не зря, есть что почитать! Goodwork!