People are naturally scared of that which they do not understand.
I noticed a great deal of fear about social media among executives attending my talks during my speaking tour of Australia over the past two weeks.
To give you a sense of what I heard, consider the Sydney Morning Herald story that ran while I was in Australia: Reputation wrecking: social media alarm sounds
The SMH story cites a research study of 446 major Australian corporations and public sector organisations by global consultancy firm Aon that says the number one concern raised in the Risk Management Benchmarking Survey was "brand and image" and social media was singled out as a key risk.
Huh? Social media are not a risk. They are an amazing opportunity to communicate! Social media only become risks for those organizations that do not participate.
Contrast that fear with how GM Holden has embraced social media as a fantastic way to reach customers. In my video interview with Andrea Matthews, she explained the benefits of Facebook and how she can now communicate with over 180,000 Holden fans via Facebook.
Many company executives trace their worries about social media to their belief that "people will say bad things about our company" via social media.
They trot out the same dusty old examples to justify their fear such as the Kryptonite lock example cited in the SMH article, originally dating from 2004, as evidence that social media is somehow bad.
This fear leads them to ignore blogs and online forums and to prohibit employees from participating in social media. In every discussion that I've had with employees who freely participate in social media, I've confirmed that this fear is significantly overblown.
Sure, an occasional person might vent frustrations online, and now and then a dissatisfied customer might complain.
But the benefit of this kind of communication is that you can monitor in real-time what's being said and then respond appropriately. Employees, customers, and other stakeholders are talking about your organization anyway, so unless you are participating online, you’ll never know what’s being said at all.
The beauty of the Web is that you benefit from instant access to conversations you could never participate in before. And frequently you can turn around impressions by commenting on a "negative" post.
Banning what we don't understand
I’m always amused when company executives want to ban social media but are perfectly happy to arm employees with telephones, email addresses, and Blackberrys or iPhones.
We're in the midst of a communications revolution.
More than half the world's population has access to the Web, and a Google search returns posts from millions of blogs. 700 million people worldwide are on Facebook. There are billions of videos on YouTube.
Your customers want to communicate with you using social media. If your company doesn't adopt social media as tools, your competitors will -- and beat you out for business.