Monday, July 2, 2012

Social Media Fun House

Cedar Point, the great Ohio amusement park, used to have a Fun House that was scary, good fun. Along with the standard Room of Mirrors, black-lit ramps and undulating floors, it had a rubbery floor which made you feel as if you were walking on the stuff they used to fill Stretch Armstrong! There was also the darkened section where some panels were fixed, while others gave way to new paths or nightmare-invoking clown bobble-heads. As a non-risk-taker, the Fun House was one of those places where the fears I wrestled at the entrance were overwhelmed by my sense of adventure and pride, as I held my breath, ducked my head and pushed my way in. It was an attraction that gave me many sensations I really didn’t like, but ones which I couldn’t resist.
This memory came to mind this weekend as I assessed my stance on social media, in light of Saturday’s Social Media Day. The commemorative day debuted in 2010 when Mashable introduced it as a way to recognize the digital revolution happening right before our eyes.
I have experienced and read of the wonders of social media for small business. These tools level the playing field for the smaller players, enabling us to directly connect with industry experts, capture attention of global vendors, gain notice from target audiences and critics, and reach into buyer homes we never before could access. With social media, spare bedrooms can be transformed into home offices capable of offering products and services with an expertise level on par with the industry experts. Dining room tables can become Command Central for small businesses whose online presence explodes overnight.
The Internet and social media tools enable us to know our new customer or boss before she or he steps in the door; qualify leads in an hour when it used to take weeks; become a thought leader as our creative posts gain traction; reach across continents and oceans to find the experts we need to take the next step in our business and/or professional growth.
The positively charged power we are given to expand our presence with social media tools comes as a package containing the risks of receiving negative (however warranted), viral feedback, and managing those experiences publicly, with composure and realism. I could use the House of Mirrors as an easy analogy to the social media experience where the potential for distortion and surprise dead-ends is perceived as too risky. It is true that some control is sacrificed by putting ourselves out there for public consumption. But the potential outweighs the risks. And businesses that wait outside the social media “Fun House” because the perceived risk is too high will be left behind.
From a personal standpoint, social media brought my far-flung family and friends to my fingertips through Facebook, enabled old school friends and business colleagues to find me on LinkedIn, and gave me a vehicle with which to spread my thoughts and ideas through blogging. As these tools became accessible to me, so did the tools and social games become accessible to my children – the flip-side of the fun being the serious, constant job of policing my children’s access. There are too many choices – some taken intentionally, some taken with a complete lack of understanding. What starts out as fun can turn dark in a flash, private info can spread to an incomprehensibly large audience, bullies are given a vehicle for destruction, and predators are allowed unprecedented access.
This personal piece of social media is what most distinctly reminds me of the Cedar Point Fun House – the kids march through with their hearts in their throats and the bravery of an explorer, hit a panel that takes them off in a different direction, and what opens before them is unbridled access to worlds we do not control. Society pulls us in to social media, as wary parents hold off allowing their 'tweens access to Facebook, until they realize that is how the coaches communicate with the players. In we go.
Social media has been blamed for making us more disconnected and distancing ourselves. I see this perspective and recommend that we respect it in order to effectively execute a social media strategy in business. But I stand in the camp that sees social media’s great value as a connector – professionally, politically, personally, and culturally. I also strongly believe that no amount of technology will ever take the place of the value gained from live, in-person, face-to-face connecting. 

So don’t pass up the opportunity to foster or cement any relationship with a face-to-face meeting.

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