Is social media fear stopping your career progress? Yellow Eve illustration.

Is your fear of social media blocking you in your career?

The power of social media to connect people with opportunities has never been more profound. What began as a spark in the ocean of human interaction, took off around the world like a fireball until the flames of social media communication nipped at the heels of those still running from it.

When a global pandemic closed the world this year, humankind learned to rely even more heavily on digital communication to forge connections, share information, stay in touch and stay sane – and more us have had to get comfortable with social media to stay above water under lockdown in our professional and personal lives.

Businesses worldwide have quickly set up makeshift replacement digital services – it was that or sink – which has led to a surge in social media communications for staying in touch with clients, customers and employees. On a personal level, we’ve established virtual forums for keeping contact with our families and friends. Whatsapp groups and FaceTimes have become the heartbeat of our relationships, and we’ve embedded world-transforming new habits which may well last beyond the memory of a year unplanned.

In 2020, there has been a seismic shift and social networks have welcomed 346 million new users in the last six months. Has social media communication been the thing which has saved a population once so fearful of it?

Why professional social media is working it right now

Professionally, the significance of social media in 2020 is palpable. The sum of more businesses turning to tech and horribly huge waves of job loss has seen online networks become the axis on which our working worlds are turning. Zoom is the new boardroom, there’s now a Microsoft in ‘Team’, and LinkedIn engagement rates are up 55% since 2019*.

84% of employers now use social media for recruitment, the share-and-support culture which has taken off on LinkedIn has created a supportive space in which people can directly put each other in touch with opportunities, and tools such as the “open to work” feature have made it really easy for people to show that they’re looking for a new challenge – and for many, anxious to reenter the job market.

Why is social so scary?

Despite there being more professional opportunity to be taken from social media than ever before – proven in the way it has become a lifeline for us locked out of our offline lives – it can be a highly daunting place and an overwhelming hit on the senses.

As well as getting to grips with the technical layout and navigations, there is the feeling of turning up to a party unsure on how to behave or what to say, while watching everyone else seemingly thrive. Add to this the sheer scale and visibility of social networks, the nakedness of posting online, it stands to reason then that many people turn to social with an acute and limiting trepidation.

When you’re up on the world’s stage, the fear of flunking can weigh heavy. Fear of getting it wrong, fear of looking a fool, fear of being seen, fear of not being seen. Sadly, fear of being trolled and persecuted. In a recent social media workshop, 50% of attendees said they found social media intimidating.

While this nervousness is explicable, for many it can be a barrier to accessing an otherwise unbounded chance to connect with people, forge life-altering relationships and discover new career prospects.

Overcoming the fear

The mindset with which we approach social media is everything, and although it’s good to recognise it as a big opportunity – a global springboard which can catapult us forward –  the key is to see that as a positive, and to break it down into sizeable chunks.

Expect less and start small

The selection of channels, the variety of opportunities and the quick pace of social media can kid you into thinking you need to do it all. You absolutely don’t, and to try to can be really detrimental. In the same way that if you use all your energy in the first mile of a marathon, if you go more gung-ho onto social media than you have capacity for, you’ll likely burn out and drop out.

When working with my clients on their social media strategies, the first piece of advice I usually give them is to not try to be all things to all people, but to define their objectives and their audience, and focus on the channels which match those. For individuals, a good starting block is to take some time thinking about your own goals and how you want to move forward, then access the areas of social media which align with that.

Focusing on a precise aim and a specific area of social media will not only be more manageable for you, it will allow you to slowly build the muscle mass to stay in the race (and to realise that social media is not a race so much as a party!)

Be you

There is a misconception that you should behave a certain way on social media, that you should share every corner of yourself and be hyper active and gregarious to get along. This is untrue.

Social media is simply a global conversation, in which there all sorts of different people – and every good conversation needs that variety of voices to thrive. Some of us are loud, energetic, exuberant and expressive, while others are listeners, absorbing, observing and taking inspiration from what they see.

If you tend to bring a listening ear to a dinner party, there is no reason why you would turn into a talker on Twitter. There is room for both, and the more authentic you are online – as in life – the less effort it will demand, the more organically you interact with others and the more relevant the opportunities you’ll be take away from the wonderful world of social media.

Feel the fear and do it anyway.

In life, a little fear is a good thing. If you feel uncomfortable and uncertain that usually means you’re treading new ground, which is the very definition of moving forward.

It might appear as though everyone else on social media is confident and comfortable – they’re not. I have been at the helm of social media for more than 12 years and not a day goes by it doesn’t give me the jitters – in the same way I get jitters turning up to a party, a coffee date or any social arrangement which means I’ll be under pressure to not be a chump. Those same jitters follow me around on my social media trail, but do they stop me? Hell no! I look them in the eye, logon and keep on blazing.

Don’t try to “get” social media straight away

When we consider that social media is a whole world, we’re arriving there without so much as a pocket guide. The first time you visit a new place, you’re armed with knowledge of the climate, some basics of the language, insight into the culture – and all of these things help to paint a picture of it and give us confidence in our expedition before the wheels are off the runway.

For the land of social media, though, it’s Choose Your Own Adventure. There is no guide, there is no universal language and every day the terrain is different. You simply have to get on the road and learn as you go.

That said, there are some really useful tools and resources which can help you get started. For startups and small business owners, a social media specialist will be able to point you in the right direction if not execute your strategy. At Hannah Ruth Social I offer a free one hour consultation to businesses, because I understand that most won’t know what they need from social media without a little insight first, which makes it really hard for them to move forward or secure the right kind of support – a consultation gives me the chance to listen to their goals and make a recommendation for what they might need before they invest.

For individuals looking to take the first steps on social media or leverage their profiles for development, a 1:2:1 with a career coach is always a worthy investment. They will be able to work with you identify how you can marry social media activity with your goals – and give you the confidence to do it!

If coaching is out of reach, an affordable starting point is to join a group workshop which offers expert insight and actionable tips – there are so many out there! The workshop I run with Working Wonder focuses on how to use social to grow your network and unlock your career potential after job loss or redundancy, providing practical tools and confidence building techniques.

Social media is an ocean and your profiles are the lilypads on which you can leap along at a pace that works for you. You don’t have to swim the whole pond – like with anything new you just have to dip your toes in.

Hannah Ruth Hassack - Social Media Expert

Hannah Ruth

Hannah Ruth is a social media expert. You can connect with her here. 

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