Why is social media still so new in 2011?

I gave my first ‘intro to social media’ talk more than three years ago at the AIM Conference. That was a presentation Rob Swick and I gave called “The Authentic Web”. Since then, I’ve lectured on the topic frequently; introducing various industry groups, small businesses, non-profits and numerous others to social media. Since the talks are often an hour or less, it’s hard to delve too deep into anything but tactics when many in the groups haven’t really moved beyond a personal profile on Facebook. Small businesses and especially non-profits are cash-strapped, especially when it comes to marketing. Traditional forms of advertising are often expensive and don’t always work for small businesses because they can’t afford the frequency required to make print, radio or TV work for them. It would seem that social media is the perfect way for small organizations to connect to potential customers, nurture relationships and showcase their expertise. The barrier to entry is reasonably low in that to apply these tactics you don’t have to work with an agency or pay any media fees.

In the introductory talks that I give, invariably there are a handful, (usually less than 10% of the crowd) who are very well-versed in Facebook, Twitter or blogging. These folks are the early converts in their industry and are reaping the rewards of establishing themselves ahead of their peers. The great thing about this is that the early adopters help to validate the message that I’m speaking about–namely the benefits of a social media presence.

So given that many in small organizations are having success with social media, and the fact that blogging is a more than a decade old and Twitter, YouTube and Facebook have all been around for about half that, why are so many people still in the dark when it comes to using this medium? I think it has to do with fear. The most common reason I hear from small business owners is that they:

  1. Don’t have time
  2. Think it’s stupid or inane
  3. Don’t want people to say bad things about them or their business

The thing is all three of these fears are easily overcome. The first is very valid for anyone, we’re all busy. It used to be that our marketing and networking were limited to specific events or times of the year. Now, we’re always on, constantly checking our smart phones for emails, voicemails and social networking messages. However, as small business people we need to be constantly networking. That doesn’t mean you have to be tweeting constantly or always posting out Facebook messages. But, if most people spent fifteen minutes a day on Twitter plus an hour a week on a blog post, they’d make great in-roads as far as connecting with potential clients or referrals.

With regards to number two, there’s no question that most things people discuss on social media are shallow or insipid. However, that’s no different than most of the small talk people make when they meet new people or casual acquaintances at physical networking events. We tend to talk about the easy things: the weather, connections we have in common or current events. Inevitably though, if you’ve already gotten these sorts of conversations out of the way on Twitter, it provides a starting place for when you meet in person.

The third issue is one I hear most often from larger businesses or people who work in controversial industries. The thing is, if people are saying bad things about you on the web, and you’re not present to defend your actions (or better yet apologize for them) and explain how you’re working to fix the issue you’re missing an opportunity to change or enhance how you are perceived in the marketplace.

As users of social media, we need to have better answers for non users when they question the effectiveness of the medium when it comes to marketing. If you meet someone who doesn’t get it, take a moment to explain it or demonstrate the benefits. Until it becomes as second nature as email, there will always be fear associated with it for some people. It’s time to start taking it to another level, and that can only happen once the use of social media is the norm instead of the exception.

What do you think? Have we reached social media saturation, or are we still in a fishbowl?

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