Here's a frightening thought: for many companies and people, social media is no longer optional. It's a requirement of business and everyday life.
Meanwhile, there's more and more scary stuff out there about what will happen if you make a mistake on Twitter, Facebook, or some other social media platform. It's no coincidence that the most popular post on my blog has been the one that lists Ten Twitter mistakes you don't want to make. We're all terrified of making a move that will plummet us to the bottom of the social networking heap.
Fine, you say. I'll get help. I'll hire a consultant or advisor who will offer me a path through the social media wilderness. But wait! Fire up Twitter and you'll be sure to find yourself clicking on articles offering dire warnings about "snake oil salesmen"--so-called social media "gurus" who do nothing but send you into social media FAIL hell. Who wants to go there? What if you're involved in the social media strategy for your company? You've got customers, board members, VCs and--even more spine chillingly awful--stockholders to please!
Take a deep breath. Yes, there are horror stories. But they aren't anywhere near as common as the success stories. Something to keep in mind: we're descending into the so-called "trough of disillusionment" in the Gartner "hype cycle" for the newer social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter. What this means is that we're all, as a group heading into a state of anxiety. We fear demons lurking around every corner. Social media hucksters. Blood suckers. Sharks, circling around looking for fresh meat... But how realistic is all this fear-mongering?
My basic assumption when I work with companies is that they have not taken leave of their senses. In my experience, social media does not turn otherwise smart marketing and PR people into raving lunatics. Sure, there are stupid ideas, or ideas that seemed good at the time but in retrospect were unwise. But this kind of thing predates social media by decades. So Toyota laid an egg when it sent (ahem) harrassing emails to a customer recently. But don't forget that in 2007, a very low-tech attempt at publicity by the Cartoon Network led to a city-wide bomb scare in Boston. And does anyone remember the nightmare that was New Coke?
Even those who have been pilloried for their Twit-faux-pas, like former Ketchum consultant James Andrews, are finding that notoriety is working in their favor rather than against it. Andrews recently told Businessweek, "'It helps me today ... I use it as a case study. It creates authenticity.'" I agree. The more mistakes you make, the bolder you become--the more willing to stretch out and risk falling on your face. This is the only way to get better at anything.
I would much rather work with companies that have an open, curious, creative outlook than those who are hiring me because they are seeking ways to run for cover. One reason is that it's a lot more interesting for me. But another reason is that a proactive attitude leads to better results overall. Social media is just one part of a larger marketing and PR strategy, after all. So relax. Take heart. You'll probably live longer, and therefore live to see the day when someone tries to scare us about the next big thing.