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Overcoming Your Fear of Social

The massive transformation taking place in the world of marketing and communications has thrown a lot of people for a loop. Many people are lost as to what the next steps really are in the online world. Information abounds on how to use the tools of the web to connect with people and develop better businesses, yet every time I teach a course or give a speech on social media or technology, I am astounded at still, how little people really know about this space. I’m thrilled every time I am able to open someone’s eyes to this world and its power.

The tools are only the first step, though. When it comes to actually building things, you need to consider carefully how to do it. Goals need to be set – but real, tangible business goals, not “get 500 Likes on Facebook” goals. Strategies need to be put in place, and plans need to be created around how to implement those strategies.

Where things start to get hairy is once we start implementing. And by implementing, I mean really getting out there and publishing content and interacting. That’s when, for many people, the real fear starts to creep in. That fear stops most people dead in their tracks. It’s too different from what they know and are used to. They long for the days when everyone sat down face to face (or over the phone) to have a “real” conversation.

Why are you following me?

Some days I wish we’d just do away with some of the lexicon of the social web. “Friends” implies a relationship that sometimes, doesn’t really exist. To the uninitiated, “Following” is just plain creepy. People find it odd when I tell them that I have actual friendships with people I’ve never met in person. They look puzzled when I tell them I record a weekly podcast with someone who lives on the other side of the world (and we’ve never met either, incidentally). They don’t understand how I can have close friendships with people that I see, maybe, once or twice a year (if that).  Jon and I were good friends for almost a year, and until the day we met in person for the first time, our entire friendship had been based in text.

That’s kind of mind-blowing when you think about it.

The whole idea of following and friending is a hard concept for people to understand at first, but it’s the foundation of everything in the online space. To me, there’s not much point in just connecting only with people you know (though that is where many of us start, and that’s fine). If you’re going to get any benefit at all out of your experience on Twitter, or Facebook, or whatever, you have to throw away your inhibitions and get nice and cozy with your natural sense of curiosity. If someone follows you, don’t get weirded out. Click on their profile, and check them out. Click their web site link. Say hello, follow them back. It just might be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Don’t talk to strangers.

Wait a minute. Weren’t we always taught not to talk to strangers? The skeptics tell us not to trust people online when we first meet them – after all, anyone can invent whoever they are from the safety of their keyboard. All our lives, we’ve been conditioned to be suspicious of anyone we don’t know, so it’s no wonder we’re freaked out. When you’re first delving into the world of the social web, it’s pretty easy to feel like the odd duck. You’ve just walked into a room full of strangers, many of whom know each other already. It’s all just a bunch of knowing looks and inside jokes. You’re the outsider, and it can be pretty intimidating to think about inviting yourself in.

But that’s exactly what you need to do.

My friend Mitch Joel says that we are in an era now where we don’t need permission to be introduced to each other. We are all connected, whether we like it or not.

We can either stand off in the corner of the room and wait for someone to come and talk to us, or we can step forward and start shaking hands.

Who succeeds?

Strategies are great, and essential, but they are like the beginning of a roller coaster ride – you know, the part when you’re climbing and climbing before that first big drop. The anticipation is frightening, but it’s nothing like what you feel when you get to the other side.

Implementation is where things get sticky and scary and wonderful. It’s the other side of that first big roller coaster hill. It’s thrilling and wild and sometimes completely out of control. You’re strapped in, and you feel safe – after all, you have a plan – but once the ride actually gets going, the thrill is incredible.

It’s exhilarating to finally take the leap and hit the publish button for the first time. When you post something that scares you to death, or when you finally say hello to that “stranger”, or you step away from the corner of the room and shake someone’s hand, things change. From that moment on, you’re part of it, and there’s no going back.

Those of us that cross through our fear and jump into the stream are the ones who will succeed.

[photo by Fixeche]

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