The Crisis of Courage in Social Media

In my work with organizations, I'm often asked to speak with executives who fret about extending themsevles (and their companies) into social media. The problem: the risks of being exposed, attacked, and misunderstood appear to far outweigh any sort of tangible benefit that might be gained from engaging.

The reluctance to engage has less to do with making the ROI case for social media, and more to do with the fact that executives and their organizations don't have the institutional fortitude to engage. Don't get me wrong -- these are highly accomplished executives who got to where they are because they made risky bets along the way which paid off. But that was them being brave, where they felt confident about the choices they were making and were comfortable with the risks. 

With social media, bravery is good to have, but what's needed even more is courage. Courage means being afraid and yet still moving forward to the edge and jumping off, not knowing what will happen. Social media exposes the need for courage because doing it right requires engaging in a dialog and relationship with other people -- which is pretty scary when you have no idea what they will say.

As we know from our personal lives, courage is required to enter into any type of relationship, as the outcome rests as much on the person on the other side of that dialog. So being active in social media as an individual and as an organization is an act of courage because it's fraught with uncertainty.

So how do you create courage in your executives and organization? Here are three suggestions:

  1. Acknowledge that social is hard, really hard, and thus requires courage. Let's face facts -- this social stuff is just plain hard for newbies. Acknowledge that despite all of the preparation they will do, this is hard, that things will go wrong, and that it will sometimes just be confusing/humiliating/frustrating. But also share that it *will* get better as they do it. My palms still sweat a little when I think back to how I felt when I wrote my first blog post eight years ago. There's still a twinge of apprehension each time I post even today. 
  2. Center the "burning platform" on credibility. Sometimes the only way to get someone to jump into the social media deep waters is to burn the platform they are standing on. And the universal one that is shared across all executives and organizations is credibility. You cannot have credibility saying you are a customer-centric if you ignore your customers in social media channels. Today, 66% of online Americans are actively using social networking, but only 16% of companies use social media to engage with customers. Closing that gap with courage is the first step to developing credibility in the eyes of your connected customers. 
  3. Recognize and reward courageous acts. We often highlight the splashiest, most innovative efforts within our organizations. But the little acts of courage that people take each day can be much more motivational because others have walked in those shoes of uncertainty. Create a safe place for people to talk about their fears -- and how they overcame them -- and reward them with recognition. 

Now it's your turn. Inspire us with your stories of courageous acts, both personal and organizational, about how you overcame your fear and uncertainty to engage in social media. 

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