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Social Business Explained: 10 Lessons I Learned

I’ve learned a lot in the past nine years as a social media professional. For those who are venturing into this industry, it’s not all flashy as it’s made out to be. I love it because underdogs like myself make up this industry. Sooner or later, we’ll have our day to shine. You need to shift from social media to social business if you want to win. This is what businesses of all types are expecting and you need to have your head in the game.

So, to help you, here are ten lessons I learned along the way.

1. Be humble.

When I got into this industry, it was about being the hero in knowing my craft. As I got better and better, I discovered smarter people along the way. I learned that I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew. It’s real easy to talk a big game, but when it’s time to show up on the court your true colors shine. I find a lot of people talk a big game about social media without backing it with results. Push comes to shove, their lack of humility will be their demise.

Being humble means to not show all your cards. It means to listen. It means to take stock of all the personalities in a room and not let yours fill up a room. Listening before talking is key and is a challenge in itself. Realize that you might have nailed down a few key skills, but so does everyone else. Don’t let your past successes cloud your thinking so much that you don’t listen.

2. Be confident.

I’ve learned that having confidence is critical when you want to pitch a great idea. Some of the best ideas never see the light of day because the messenger isn’t clear and confident about them. I have always had issues with confidence for a variety of reasons including doubt in my own ideas. (I want them to be the best.) When you know your plan well, you are not only confident about them, you genuinely feel them. You don’t have to blink twice because you’ve done your research, accounted for ’20′ questions about it. It’s based on fact and not emotions. As a result of all this effort, you can be confident in your approach.

Your talent, expertise and insights are valuable. That’s why someone chooses to hire (or do business with) you. Take every failure as an opportunity to learn and don’t let it cloud your own best judgement.

3. Think bigger.

For many projects, you are given certain defined constants to work around. I disagree. You want to think bigger, beyond your group, beyond your own organization. Think bigger than the proposed outcome. This can often be overwhelming, but give yourself the space and permission to have a bigger impact than just your own group. Ask the bigger questions and get the bigger outcomes. For most projects, it is often expected that you don’t consume more resources than yourself. This is the wrong way to approach social business challenges — it’s about getting everyone on board with projects for the best outcomes.

4. Attack your own ideas.

It’s easy to be devil’s advocate for other people’s ideas. Turn the tables on yourself and question everything. Then solve for those gaps and opportunities in your own plans. Ask the tough questions now so you have answers and confidence later. Failure to do so will result in you making an ass of yourself.

I suggested earlier to find your adversary and get their take on your ideas. Not only will this build respect among you two, but it will allow your ideas to bake in the kiln well before being put to the test later.

5. Pick your battles.

I have found I take on the role of an underdog in most personal and business situations. As such, I am always ready for a fight. I’m ready for a debate when someone questions me. This is immature. You can’t be looking for fights every corner you turn. You do want to listen and back up your ideas. But you need to look beyond the words someone’s saying to the intent and the context to them. Size up your challengers and make concessions when needed.

I found that the better way to win battles is to squash them before they even begin. Approach people openly to get their opinion on your ideas. Get into their heads to understand what’s happening in their world before you come in to shake things up. It is perfectly natural for people to spear questions at you as a defense mechanism. Make allies and you won’t have to go out to battle.

This post is a part of my Social Business Explained blog series for social media professionals and community managers so they can create sustainable social businesses.

6. Zig where others Zag.

If everyone wants to go in a direction that all competitors and the industry is going, go the opposite. In the space of social, it’s easy for them to follow the leader. To this end, define the path, explain the rationale and assure why it is a smarter move and then go. This holds true in community management, customer support and internal engagements. There are no rules to this game. We write the rules.

7. Fight for your constituents.

I never forget about who my customers are. I don’t necessarily mean literal paying customers, but the key recipients of my work. Fight the good fight and make sure you always are keeping your customers in mind for the best outcome. Sometimes customers are not your manager, but in fact other important people. You need to keep this in mind when working your plan. I get the gift where my customers are customers, but I know not everyone has this gift.

8. Be honest.

It’s tough when you are leading on social business initiatives, especially as one person. You need to be honest with yourself to decide what you need help with. If you’re good at forming relationships with people, you can make a “withdrawal” on the relationship and ask for someone’s dedicated and supportive help. Be honest with your advocates and get their reactions. They, at one point or another, have also lacked the answer at certain times and give you advice so you can get back in the game.

I have found that it’s helpful to have a mentor. A mentor isn’t there to make you feel good. They tell you the stuff you don’t want to hear so you can get better. Your mentor would love if you counted on him or her and had the courage to ask for help when you needed it.

9. Do the hard work.

Hard work means going off the grid for a few days to intensively focus on crafting a plan. It is not something that can be done when you are doing the 9 to 5. Do the research, gather the data, conduct the interviews. You need to analyze the data, ask the bigger questions and do the homework on trying to offer visibility to the answer. It not just about where revenue comes from, but about why?

I rarely escaped the office, but when I did, amazing results happened. Give yourself the permission to go offsite and plan.

10. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.

Provided you’ve given others the insight necessary so they know what you’re up to, just do it. I have found it’s easier to get started on a project, ship it and deliver results later. Sometimes, it can be difficult to rally support early on, but once success and results are seen, key decision makers and influencers will be curious and will want to latch on to make it a great success.

One word of caution on this ideology. You want to stir up discussions from these efforts, not stage a mutiny. Invite key stakeholders on board with your plan and if they haven’t engaged, roll forward with your first iteration. I have found some success in this – but ultimately – I recommend gaining permission and most importantly, endorsement, of your social business initiatives for optimal success and less stress.

Heating steel makes it stronger.

My last bit of advice for you is to be patient. Be patient with others and yourself. It’s natural to want to see rapid adoption, but realize that you’re not just crafting a one-time marketing campaign. You’re changing the way work is done. Change is uncomfortable. Change is necessary and if you’re at the forefront of it, you’ll be championed and revered as a social business leader.

It’s not easy to change the behavior of others. It’s all about influencing it. It’s about allowing others to see how work can be done in a truly social and collaborative environment.

Photo Credit: kevin dooley; Ennor