Fear and Social Media

social fish
social fish

During CommPartners’ Social Learning session at #ASAE11, attention turned quickly to social media. Someone asked the perpetual question: “what if someone says something bad about us?”

You could almost hear the groan, the desperate “When will we stop having this conversation?” The Twitter stream came alive – “will the association world ever get past this discussion?” We’re tired of saying THEY ARE ALREADY TALKING ABOUT YOU! DON’T YOU WANT TO JOIN THE CONVERSATION?

While working on this post, Reggie Henry, CIO of ASAE, posted this tweet.

Reggie responded to my “when will we stop having this conversation?” with …

So I read Why Companies are Afraid of Social Media, a guest post by Eric Deckers, Jason Falls‘ co-author of the upcoming book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing. Eric offers all of the best business reasons – social media isn’t going away, it’s inexpensive to use, has gained wide acceptance quickly and finally social media marketing can be measured in ways other forms of marketing can’t be measured. All excellent points but it does not address the basic issue of FEAR. Emotions can’t be managed through logic, rational arguments. If it could, we wouldn’t still be having this discussion.

I’ve written about risk and fear in my blog Risky ChroniclesPaul Slovic, professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, identified the psychological factors that let us decide what to be afraid of and how afraid we should be. David Ropeik, risk perception consultant, has built upon Dr. Slovic’s work. Two of the biggest risk perception factors are trust and control – two issues facing every association and nonprofit.

Trust is the glue that holds relationships together. The more we trust people and organizations – our employees, members, sponsors, donors and others — the less afraid we are. Senior management’s concern about social media is really saying “we don’t trust our employees and members.” “Of course I trust my staff” but look at their actions and culture with many policies to “control” or dictate behavior – use of phones, computers, time off and now social media. Most policies exist because one or two people pushed the boundaries too far. Many organizations prohibit the use of social media on company computers although employees have ways to “work around” the barriers.

I don’t know how to get managers and supervisors to trust their employees or for association staff and key volunteers (Board) to trust their members. Trust is a personal thing based upon our life experiences and personality. As a Boomer I took trust walks, trust falls and other experiential exercises but I’m not sure the tasks increased my trust level beyond my small group. I don’t know if trust is a skill that can be learned or a talent you do or don’t have.

For social media, you have to take a leap of faith and trust your people. Most employees and members want to do the right thing (you may need to teach them what that is in social media). A social media policy provides parameters for appropriate behavior and guides people in interact effectively and with some very basic rules. If someone does “misbehaves,” respond accordingly. You may have a training issue or received valuable marketing or customer satisfaction intelligence.

We humans have this illusion of control. We honestly think we can control what others do, say, think and feel. Social media challenges our sense of control – we can’t control or even know what people will say or do on social media relative to our association, members and employees. We don’t “control” our brand currently, so social media isn’t taking away control. Rather, social media gives us many ways to try to influence it.

We can discover what people are saying about our association, personnel, and industry. We have the tools to thank and acknowledge people and organizations and to respond to negative comments. In some ways, social media gives you more “control” over your brand, not less.

Fear is an emotion, so we can’t just tell people to not be afraid. We have to help them work through it. First identify what they really are afraid of — why they don’t trust some people and their need for control. What will it take for them to be comfortable with the ambiguity of social media? And if all else fails, sometimes you just have to say “What the f*#k?” and push your way through the fear. Trust me, it’s worth it.

* Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant tackle the issues of trust and control in their forthcoming book, Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World. Pre-order now.

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