Disclaimer: I published this Post originally over at Social, Media & Company. This is a cross-post

Recently we gave a presentation discussing the potential marketing of an upcoming product. Alex and me suggested using Social Media to make the step from the phase of early adopters to the mass market. Thought the listeners were quite young people and were aware of social media and its immense power they were quite sceptical, to not say scared. That got me thinking: are people scared of Social Media? And if so: Why? How can we prevent that? What can and should we do about it?

The examples we use

After thinking about it for a while I came to the conclusion that it is our fault. Mine and yours, the people who try to get companies to use Social Media, publicist and journalist who talk about it. The root of the problem lies in the way we approach them. Think about it: when we try to persuade people how powerful Social Media is we use the big and well known examples; we talk about how dell made millions last year, that Barak Obama is president of the US because he used Social Media the right way and how Social Media took companies down or damaged them deeply, like the dominos pizza video incident or the KaffePartner example (the later one is widely known in Germany & Austria at least).

The good

And now think about them again. Consider that you are new to Social Media. Look at these examples closely. The first two are quite abstract: Most companies don’t have the size of dell, won’t make millions using Social Media and barely anyone seriously believes to will become president of the United States in the foreseeable future. Besides, behind both campaigns stand big piles of money, money most of our listeners simply don’t have. But what makes them appear unreal is the size itself. It makes it hard to picture which actual actions and small steps caused such a success. There are so many of them that we leave them out most of the time and only speak about the basic concepts behind it. Making these examples look even more abstract than they already are.

The bad

So the only examples most people are able to understand are the unpleasant ones: When we talk about the power of Social Media taking companies down or damaging brands for years. They almost always start with one tiny action by some person in the community that gets spread all over the place without the company having any control about it. This is so fascinating that in such an occasion we do speak about the actual cause of action, talking about how few time it took them to set it up and how much damage they made with it. All of this makes the image to the listeners even more vivid: The rather small and mid-size businesses taken down by some nerds with just a blink of an eye.

The ugly

Looking at it from this side, which example do you think is it your listener will have in mind the next time someone talks about Social Media? Their brain will connect to the more vivid examples, those fitting their businesses more than others: they’ll see how Social Media is threatening their business. It has the power to bring everyone down. No matter what. That is the lesson they’ve learnt. So they get scared and rather not interact with Social Media at all instead of doing something wrong and loosing their business. But we both know that is the totally wrong approach. But they taking this road is our fault, yours and mine! Because that is the way the communicated it.

Proposal: emphasize the right thing

But what can we do about it? I think we have to change the way we present the problem. Yes, it is fascinating that Social Media can tear down big business. But there is a reason before that. Social Media is not able to do that on its own. Each of the bad examples has a pre-story. In case of KaffePartner one can simply say that they had (have) a bad product, bad contracts with awful conditions and in this particular case a broken product with really bad customer support. That is what the person made mad in the first place. People don’t want to rant about a company for the sake of it. They first look for solutions, you wouldn’t be taken seriously if you didn’t try anything possible before posting a blog article anyway. So they tried their best but were not able to find a solution.

And that is where the real reason is; They were not treated with respect from the company, the company offered bad service or none at all, so in the end they didn’t see any other solution than going nuts on the internet. This is what we should emphasize when telling these stories: The one that got tore down was the one with the bad product and awful service. If a company has a decent product and really cares about its customers, their customers will value it and there is no reason to rant about. Therefore Social Media isn’t a threat to this company at all.

There is a similar lesson to learn behind the dominos pizza video incident as this great article points out: teaching ones employees about these tools. It is not enough to “create a Social Media Department” in a company. Social Media is accessible to anyone and no one will be able to prevent his employees to playwith it (instead: one should encourage it!). But what one can do is teach them how to use it and make them understand what their actions could cause. In most cases something bad happened because people didn’t know about the damage they were causing. And after they’ve learnt the lesson the hard way they are deeply sorry. Teaching ones employees about Social Media allows them to foresee the possible outcome.

What I already said about customers is also right for employees. They barely want to harm you, they do it out of accident. They understand if the company goes down they will, too. And no one likes to loose his job even if it might not the best one they ever had. What companies have to do is teach their employees about Social Media, make workshops and encourage them to use it. But as there might certain things companies don’t want their employees to talk about, like business secrets. Therefore a company should discuss (not dictate!!!) rules and policies for Social Media usage with its employees. If the company approaches the employees correctly and treats them with respect they will understand the companies concerns making it even easier to follow the rules.

How to cure the scared?

But for some reason you are faced with a company already being scared. Might be caused by yourself and the missunderstandable way of communication you or mass media did. Don’t worry, they are not lost yet! You just have to emphasize what I just said above. Besides there is also another important lesson to learn from the article mentioned: one should always be aware of what is going on. If people are scared about Social Media looking into the opposite direction doesn’t help them. If something bad is going to happen then it will. And it is better to know about it to be able to react to it. Of course telling them this will scare them even more first, but they will get the point. And as you will to explain them how they should address such a bad situation (if it ever happens) and offer your support right after, they won’t be that scared anymore.

And we both know: After they started using it, it won’t take to long until they understand there is no one wanting to harm them. They just need to get wet, soon they’ll like to play in the water.