The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy of Social Media Myths

"I just want to talk to you for a minute about your fascination with 20th century communications tactics."

"I just want to talk to you for a minute about your fascination with 20th century communications tactics."

The last time I hitchhiked, I got picked up by a cop who ended up racing me back to my apartment at burglary-in-progress speed—with the sirens blasting and the lights a-flashing—because there really was a burglary in progress … in my apartment.

Earlier that night I had gone with some guys I knew from school to a genu-wine honky-tonk bar in Mesa, Arizona to ride the mechanical bull and drink Coors. This was a rare treat for a Jersey boy like me because Coors didn’t ship east of the Mississippi back then and the closest thing we had to a mechanical bull back home was the bumper-car ride at Asbury Park.

 Unfortunately, after we spent all our beer money the guys thought it would be a hoot to leave the “city boy” stranded at a cowboy bar miles from the bright lights of Arizona State University. So I had to hitch a ride home.

When this young cop pulled up and told me to get in, I figured I was going to spend the night in the drunk tank. But he was cool and offered to drive me back to Tempe. We were about a mile from home when a call came in about a “burglary in progress … La Crescenta Apartments … 1029 East Orange Street ...”

“Hey, that’s my apartment complex!”

“… large white male approximately six-foot four inches, 240 pounds has kicked open the door of apartment 209 …”

“Hey, that’s my apartment!”

“That’s really your apartment?”

“Heck yeah!”

“Some bitch. Well, hang on, boy. We’re gonna catch us a bad guy!”

True story.

As it turned out, the “large white male” who kicked open my apartment door wasn’t there to rob me. He came by to kill me. Apparently, he got it into his head that I was romantically involved with his best gal, who also happened to share the apartment with me and a couple other college kids. Why he thought we were having a fling I will never know because I sure as heck didn’t tell anybody.

I bring this up as a cautionary tale for those of you who have not yet fully embraced social media—especially my friends in the ideas industry, like trade associations, foundations and other nonprofits. You may think you’re getting along just fine with your 20th century ways, but Social Media is getting ready to bust through your organization’s front door and beat the crap out of your outdated communications, membership and fundraising programs.

Here’s a quick quiz to see what kind of danger you’re in. If you answered “yes” to even one of these myths, you’re at risk of getting your metaphoric doors kicked in.

Our target audience doesn’t use social media. You’re targeting dead people?

We don’t have the manpower to get involved in social media. Yes, you do. They’re sitting right there. See that guy working on that press release that no one will ever read? He’s a hilarious blogger with thousands of followers. And that woman next to him who has been laying out the quarterly newsletter for the past two days? She posts great things about your organization nearly every day. They’d both be delighted to stop creating products that no one reads and dive into online campaigns that will yield immediate results.

We don’t have enough content to be active online. Are you serious? You’re in the ideas industry. Everything you produce is content. Everything you’ve ever produced is content. Your biggest challenge will be digging through it all to pick out the best stuff.

There are too many platforms. We can’t be on all of them. Exactly. Nor should you be. But you do need to be on some of them, preferably the platforms that you key audiences frequent.

We already have an online presence. No, you really don’t. Bringing on an intern to tweet links to your press releases is not an online presence.

Social media is hard to learn. Riding a mechanical bull is hard to learn. Social media is easy-peasy … and a lot less painful. Remember when you had to call Dell tech support to ask them how to turn on your computer? Remember when you were afraid of email? Well, look at you now.

Social media is a fad. Yeah, Johannes Gutenberg got that a lot, too. The fact is we humans will always latch onto the latest technology that allows us to most effectively communicate with the people we need to connect with. And we will stick with that technology until something more effective comes along. We never go back.

So unless you know something about social media that Blockbuster, Tower Records, Newsweek, Kodak, and two million unemployed travel agents didn’t know, you’re going to have to stop canoodling with your 20th century tactics, open the front door and invite Social Media in for a beer. You guys are going to be working together for a long time.