Breaking Out of Your Shell: How to Overcome Social Media Shyness

604239_sea_shellUsing social media tools seems to be a must in every knowledge worker’s life — whether you’re a remote worker or not.

But not everyone finds it easy to make new connections through these tools. For example, a designer I work with told me that she doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile, and although she signed up for Twitter, her account is inactive.

“Don’t clients ever ask to connect with you through these tools?” I asked her.
“Yes, but I’m too shy to actually use those things,” she replied.

I know how she feels, because I felt the same way a year ago. While it’s possible to maintain a healthy career without using social media tools, they can help to give a new dimension to professional relationships. If you feel that you’re too shy for social media, how do you get past your hesitation?

Working Around the Issues

First, you have to figure out why you are hesitant to try social networking in the first place. Do you find the tools intimidating? Do you feel like you’re not at the same level as the experts you’re trying to communicate with? Learning the reason behind your social networking shyness usually makes it easier to overcome.

The good news is that whatever your reason may be, online communication is usually less intimidating than face-to-face interaction. Also, you’ll find that most of the people you want to communicate with are approachable and helpful. Most of the active users on social media sites are excited about sharing ideas, meeting new people, and receiving feedback. Even when you try to contact established experts or authority figures, you’ll find that most of them are willing to help.

Getting the Hang of It

Like anything else, becoming more active in social networks requires practice. It helps to start with people you already know. For your first steps, add friends and online acquaintances to your contact list. It helps to do this before adding the ones who have never heard of you before. Apart from the fact that it’s easier, the activity you generate during this initial stage gives future contacts an idea about your personality and what kinds of people you interact with.

Once you’ve made a few connections, you can announce that you’re new to social media. Make a publicly visible post asking others for advice: “I’m new to this. Can anyone tell me what this feature is for?” Apart from receiving practical tips from experienced social networkers, you’re also forging new connections by asking for help.

You’ll also feel more confident if you learn the etiquette, both through experience and by reading about it. By being familiar with the established standards or rules, you’ll know whether certain actions or comments you’ve made are seen as awkward.

If you feel the pressure to say something smart or monumental, loosen up by making candid replies. This lighter task will allow you to get into the rhythm of writing. Also, you’re building on something someone else initiated, taking off the pressure you feel about saying something original. You can do this by sending @replies on Twitter, as well as status replies on Facebook. In a previous post, Meryl offered several suggestions on how to do this via Twitter, although her advice is applicable to other tools as well.

One thing that has worked for me, especially when connecting with other bloggers, is that whenever I want to compliment them on their latest work, I do it via a social networking tool rather than through the comments section of their blog. Doing this makes it easier to establish a two-way connection, and, before I know it, they’re adding me as a contact via other tools as well.

Remember that whatever happens, you have nothing to lose. Don’t take it personally if you have few followers or if some people don’t want to add you to their contact list. Focus instead on providing value to those who are happy to interact with you.

Do you find it easy to make new contacts via social networking tools? Do you have any tips to share with those who are experiencing “social media shyness”?

Image by ftibor from sxc.hu

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