I originally drafted this list of “excuses” for not engaging in social networks back in 2010. That was back when Twitter was barely five years old, Facebook only had half a billion users (1.5 billion and counting by 2015) and Google+ was merely a glimmer in Vic Gundotra‘s eye.
Back then, business professionals might have been excused for not paying attention to the 90 million worldwide users on LinkedIn. But these excuses are harder and harder to accept as 115 million American and 11 million Canadian business people now use LinkedIn to prospect, sell, recruit and generally manage their business relationships.
Nevertheless, I still hear the same excuses. Here’s how I respond to each one:
1. “I don’t have time for it.”
Really? I have yet to meet a business professional who doesn’t acknowledge that their business network is one of, if not THE, most important tools they have in business. It’s who you know, not what you know, as the old saying goes. Online social networks are one of the most time-efficient ways of listening to your network and staying informed, while reaching out and adding value to key people. Successful business professionals make time for priority activities, like building their networks – even when it seems like there is no time.
2. “It’s not where my clients are.”
Well, at least this excuse recognizes that social networks are precisely for engaging existing clients and not just prospecting for new ones. If you’ve actually surveyed your clients and know that most of them do not use social networks – in other words, if you are not projecting your own disinterest with social networks onto your clients – then you need to decide whether you can afford to neglect the portion (5% or 50%?) that do use social networks. You can be sure that if you’re not engaging these clients online and nurturing your relationship with them, someone else is going to be trying to.
3. “My firm’s compliance department forbids it.”
For many regulated financial professionals, this so much less true today than ever. Yes, there are compliance restrictions in many settings, but the regulatory environment is nothing like it was in 2010. Social networks are emerging as places where people talk with each other, grow their networks and follow industry news. Even if you are operating in a more restrictive compliance setting, nothing is stopping you from personally using social networks and honing your own digital communications skills and awareness.
4. “I can’t see a clear return on investment.”
It wasn’t long ago that every conversation about social media was about return on investment (ROI). Then people started to realize that social media wasn’t all about marketing and selling, as it had appeared in the form of consumer brand social media. Business-to-business (B2B) sellers and providers of professional services need to focus on using online social networks for educating, engaging and adding value – for NETWORKING, not marketing and selling. When we realize that the best social networking strategy is not short-term lead generation, then our need for quantifiable short-term ROI diminishes.
Some excuses are better than others
Not all excuses are all bad. Some betray a truth that must be addressed.
5. “I don’t know what to say.”
In many ways, this is one of the most honest excuses. Digital non-natives (those of us that didn’t grow up with iPhones) can feel challenged and a bit disoriented by the hyper-sharing information landscape we now inhabit. What to blog about, what to share and why to do it is not obvious. What I say is this: People trust your knowledge and expertise, so share it with them. They want to know what you read and what you think about it – so share that kind of stuff. At the end of the day, people do business with people they know, like and trust. You need to be sharing things that reflect your unique perspective on the world, things that people can relate to.
6. “I don’t have anything unique to contribute.”
This is the most baffling excuse I hear: Successful business professionals with years of education and training and practical experience telling me they don’t have anything unique to say? And they genuinely think that. The best way to overcome this feeling is to realize that everything you know and do is unique to you because it is framed through the lens of your experience and personality. Your clients have chosen to work with you because of this uniqueness and the connection they feel to you. Your unique contribution is your perspective on the world. As Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Show people WHY you do what you do.
7. “I don’t understand social media.”
I wish I heard this one more, but most people use the other excuses in order to avoid this admission. Social networking is evolving rapidly and, in turn, changing how and where we interact with each other. Acknowledging what we don’t understand is the first step to learning. We all need to become students of social technologies because they are fundamentally about how we communicate.
Social networks are not for everyone
There are many people for whom social networks are just not a good fit. I come across these people all the time. And there’s nothing wrong with it.
I wanted to summarize a few of the best reasons that I’ve heard for people not getting involved in online social networking:
8. “I don’t plan on being in business for much longer.”
Social networking and related digital technologies are evolving rapidly. Looking back on how much has changed in the past 5-10 years, it’s hard to imagine how much more will change in the coming 5-10 years. What I tell people is this: If you have a 3-5 year time horizon before you exit an active business role, go ahead and ignore social networking innovations.
9. “My business caters to people who do not want a digital experience.”
As digital technology envelops us and transforms our interactions with each other, niche businesses will develop based on serving people in more traditional, non-technological ways. And the demographic bubble of the Boomer generation will ensure that there is demand for some of these traditional approaches for some time to come.
10. “I’m just not comfortable communicating online.”
If you were born in the late 19th or early 20th century, you could be excused for preferring travel by train or ship to commercial airplanes. Just as, if you came of age hand-writing your communications and perfecting the art of the face-to-face meeting, you could be excused for not embracing digital, asynchronous communications technologies.
It’s alright to be uncomfortable or unfamiliar with digital communications. But let’s agree to stop making excuses.