Tell me, when's the last time you were delighted to receive constructive feedback?
I'm not asking about listening to it carefully, or recognizing its value, or being grateful for it. I'm asking about being delighted, as in, "Thank goodness! Someone is telling me I'm wrong! Oh, frabjous day!"
For most of us, the answer to that question would have to be never; I know that's the answer for me. Criticism, no matter how well-intentioned and no matter how much love accompanies it, hits me like a kick in the guts. Its effective absorption requires me to take my bruised, whimpering ego and set it aside with promises to make it a nice cup of tea later.
Given how painful this process can be, it's a wonder we would ever consciously invite it -- and yet, that's exactly what we do with social media. We put ourselves and our companies out there and we invite feedback, good or bad.
This is a scary thing to do.
If you are using social media for marketing purposes, you need to address that elephant in the room. Before social media, you'd get negative feedback while safely ensconced within the corporate walls, and you'd lick your wounds in private. You'd retrench. You'd spin. You'd restrategize. And you'd come back out fighting when you were good and ready.
Now, you get negative feedback in real time. You can't afford to go dark and not respond. You can't afford to spin. You can't afford to let that bruised, whimpering ego answer on your behalf.
So you have to be prepared, and being prepared doesn't mean having a canned answer to issues that might arise. It means being emotionally prepared to filter feedback for usefulness, to accept and respond to valid criticism, and to move on from the rest, head held high.
Being open to criticism is well outside the comfort zone for most of us. To protect ourselves, people who implement social media for companies often fall into an easy pattern: develop a weekly schedule of blog topics, tweet new posts to your core group of followers, respond to the same two people who keep commenting on your Facebook updates. But know this: when you feel like this social media stuff is easy, you have settled into your comfort zone -- and that's when it's time to shake things up.
Of course, we could just stay in our comfort zones -- but we won't accomplish much. For growth to occur in any environment, the old environment must be abandoned, and the boldest moves are the ones that put you square in the line of fire. The more polarizing or irreverent you are, the more people will object. The stronger your convictions, the more people you will animate to your cause or against it.
I work with a kids' virtual world, and the other day I had a great online conversation with one of our young members. I had recently been ice climbing, and he asked me how it went. I told him it was terrifying, but great. "How can that be?" he asked. "Isn't it bad if something's scary?" "That depends," I replied. "If someone is threatening me, then that would be scary in a bad way and I would want them to stop. But when I climb, it's scary in a good way, and then I'm happy I kept going even though I was scared."
Social media is scary -- but I encourage you to keep going. You'll be happy you did.
Note: This counsel does not apply to perfect people, like Stephen Colbert, Chuck Norris, or the Old Spice Guy.