Overcoming Fear of Social Media

originally posted on Concept Hub

The Face Your Fears Website has a list of American’s Top 10 Fears which includes;

1. Speaking in public

2. Snakes

3. Confined Spaces

4. Heights

5. Spiders

6. Tunnels & bridges

7. Crowds

8. Public transportation (especially planes)

9. Storms

10. Water (as in swimming and drowning, not drinking)

Wikipedia defines fear as “an emotional response to threats and danger. It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of pain.”

Fear is the emotion that causes us to be alert and cautious as we explore unknown territory but taken to the extreme fear paralyzes us, makes us feel anxious and causes us to avoid the unknown.

So what does this have to do with Social Media?

Many people I have met with know a lot about social media. They are keeping up with the latest trends and stats, they know about the latest social networks that are popping up and have a treasure chest of case studies. They have attended conferences, webinars, and workshops; but they have yet to launch their own social media initiative.

Several months ago I wrote about 9 reasons why social media became a speeding bullet. Why it seemed like we all woke up one morning and everyone had a blog and a Facebook or MySpace profile.

Today I am going to explore why people seem to resist launching their online persona.

1. I do not know what to say or not to say. This fear is similar to the fear of public speaking. When we are on stage, even if we have a script, we fear that we will forget what to say, say the wrong thing, or overall look foolish. When we post a blog, a comment, or even a status update, we are speaking in front of the whole world.

2. I do not understand online communities. Just like there are nice snakes and venomous snakes there are positive stories and horror stories about what has happened to people in brands that are part of the conversations happening online. When you do not know how to tell the difference between a nice snake and a venomous snake you become fearful of all snake. The same is true of social networks. People wonder which bloggers might attack them which communities make go sour and which affiliations may damage their reputation.

3. I do not have the time to keep up with all these online networks. This is related to a fear of commitment, or a fear of getting locked in, a fear of losing one’s freedom, a fear of confined spaces. What happens if we sign up for Twitter, build our community and create a strategy around Twitter and then another better, faster, more effective micro-blogging platform comes up and you are stuck to Twitter? You feel like you can not move, you are committed, and if you were to move, you would only find yourself confined to yet another platform.

4. I am afraid of losing control. We could jump, but once we begin to fall, there is no turning back. In the world of social media, we know that we could even be pushed off the edge and we would be falling without a strategy (or parachute) in place.

5. There are too many creepy people in these online communities. Just like spiders, these people hide in the dark corners of social networks and weave a web to snag you. Many of them are effectively camouflaged and you only know they exist when you come in close contact with them. We know these people (Spiders) are out there ready to hurt us because the media has alerted us about every attack that any spider has ever attempted.

6. There are too many things that can go wrong. Humans have wonderful imaginations. Our imaginations not only allow us to create, but they also protect us from danger. We have the ability to use our past experience and our accumulated knowledge to imagine all the things that could potentially go wrong. Those who fear tunnels and bridges are well aware of what a collapse would be like even if they have never experienced one. Many corporate executives feel their job is to use their imagination and collective knowledge to identify when and where things could go wrong, and to them, social media is a very rickety bridge that they are not yet ready to cross.

7. It’s too noisy. I may get trampled on if I can not keep up or if the crowd suddenly changes direction. Social Networks are moving fast. There are new tools and sites popping up every minute. New topics taking hold and spreading throughout the networks at the speed of sound.

8. I will not be able to manage the direction and speed of the message. We all like to be in the driver’s seat not because we like to drive, but because we know who is in control. Those who fear public transportation have a hard time trusting that the person or system that is driving has the best interest of that passengers and is the most qualified to be in charge. The same is true of those who do not want to let going of the steering wheel of their brand, message, or reputation management.

9. I feel vulnerable being out in the open. Just like people who hide in the basement when they see dark clouds approaching there are those who retreat from online communities because they fear that if they expose themselves, lightning could strike from any direction. There are those who will accuse people who do not want to expose themselves as having something to hide. I do not believe that is always the case. Some people simply believe that lightning strikes are not discriminatory to who has been naughty and who has been nice.

10. I will drown trying to keep up with all of these online conversations. People who fear drowning fear being overwhelmed by a force that is beyond their control. Social media seems to have hit our culture with the force of a tsunami. It seems we could be swept away if we try to keep up with all the incoming networks and social media tools.

All of these concerns really can be narrowed down to 3 common fears that most people share;

1. Fear of looking foolish

2. Fear of losing control

3. Fear of the unknown

As the well-known quote from FDR states;

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”

If we allow our fears to keep us paralyzed, we will be left behind or overwhelmed by forces that are beyond our control.

The Positivity Blog has a list of 5 life-changing keys to overcoming fear which can be adapted for those who are still feeling anxious about social media;

1. Take small steps. Steps like first just saying hi to people. Or starting to talk more to people online via forums and Instant Messaging. And then trying to be more involved in conversations to exercise your conversation-muscles. I guess one could say that you gradually de-sensitize yourself to social situations or whatever you are afraid of.

2. Get some concrete, positive motivation. Getting to the stage where you really feel that you need to stop waiting – or need stop reading one personal development (social media) book after another – and take action can take some time. One way to get moving is to replace some of your negative thoughts – that creates negative feelings – with clear, positive reasons to get going.

3. See failure and rejection in a new light. You have work on your skills to sharpen them. See failure or rejection, not as something incredible negative that might end your life (or business) if it strikes. Redefine it in your mind to lessen the negative emotional impact and the fear. See failure simply as feedback on what you need to improve on. Listen to the advice the failure gives you and you will improve. And success will come.

4. Stay in the now. But being in the now means to not getting your mind stuck in a kind of psychological and emotional headspace (or new trends, networks, or tools) that is placed in the past or future. It means not dwelling on what has gone wrong before and what could go wrong tonight or tomorrow. Such thinking will only create and ramp up your fear to the point where you feel unable to do anything.

Focusing on the now not only reduces fear but also increases the chances of you succeeding as your mind is focused, your confidence ain´t shattered and your thoughts become clear. It also makes it easier to succeed because when you are in the now you are not that self-conscious – something that quickly can lead to insecurity – but instead focused on the outside world and people you are interacting with.

5. Redefining you, me, and reality. To change yourself and overcoming fear you have to be prepared and willing to redefine yourself. (As well as your business, your message, your audience, your communication channels, your media, and your level of control).

Finally, if you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious about taking your first or even your subsequent steps into the world of social media, find a guide. Someone who understands the landscape. I am seeing many guides who have read many guidebooks but have yet to put their business on the line in the world of social media. If you are taking steps to move forward and are choosing a guide, be sure to choose one who can truly help you move forward as opposed to someone who may hold you back because they are dealing with their own fears and insecurities.