Wrong Mr Digital Guru, the online world is not free and easy

As a smaller business operator myself, it’s essential to get out to local business events and actually meet real business operators in the flesh rather than from behind a computer screen. Particularly when a leader from your very own industry (in my case digital communication) is holding fort.

So despite a bleak evening and a venue on a rainswept beach frontage, I ventured out to receive the pearls of wisdom one would expect of such a speaker.

Likewise, given the topic was identifying trends and opportunities in the digital environment, a smallish but still enthusiastic crowd of fellow smaller business operators turned up to try to make head from tail of the burgeoning online world.

And to some degree, they weren’t disappointed.

A brave new audience

Said speaker gave an accurate portrayal of some of the groundbreaking developments in the online space. He told us about the cloud and the crowd, the explosion in apps, about blogging and youtubing and this thing called big data. And how much we should ‘tweet’ pretty much everything we did to grow our audience.

He provided an excellent overview of the range of developments that were changing the face of doing any kind of business, let alone just that being done online.

He encouraged us all to get amongst these developments and put our toes in the water. But this is where he lost much of the hitherto attentive audience.

Easy for who?

Because it was at this point that he espoused two things: that most of it was free and most of it was easy.

“Just shoot some video and whack it up on YouTube’ he suggested. “It doesn’t matter that it’s amateurish because most of it is.

“And you’ve got to start a blog. There are plenty of free blogging sites out there, so go and trial and error. It costs nothing.”

Now I’m not one to bag professionals from my own industry. I do a lot of speaking and I wouldn’t take it too kindly if they went me in their blog.

Know thy audience

But while the speaker demonstrated that he knew plenty about the digital world, he also demonstrated that he knew much less about smaller business and their modus operandi.

Because the very notion of experimenting with these very public tools are enough to send shivers up the spine of small business operators.

The thought of putting their name to something that might be sloppy or unprofessional is quite abhorrent to the smaller business operator who has strived and invested to achieve as professional a public image as their time and budget will allow.

And even if they were to do courses and practice, the time it would take to get close to proficient is time most simply don’t have.

Pushing the boundaries of comfort

Whilst I’m not advocating that we should play it safe in a world where we perhaps need to move out of our comfort zones to be able to understand and embrace new and different ways of doing things, adding additional discomfort by going against the grain of what the small business operator has spent years getting right is not going to do much to encourage them.

Given it’s a market my business specialises in, I communicate with dozens of smaller business operators on a weekly basis.

The one message they keep communicating is their lack of confidence with the online world. It is simply too foreign to the way they are used to working and communicating. And as easy as it is to the web professional to have a ‘play’ and get their sea legs in emerging forms of communication, the time it would take most business people to learn and master is time they simply don’t have.

Dazed and confused

The feeling I garnered from attendees at the event was just that. All well and good to tell us we should all have a dabble, but spending time to work out which areas to pursue and finding time to get it right was something they didn’t really want to hear.

So instead of coming away from the event feeling informed and empowered, the atmosphere around the room following the event was one of being overwhelmed and uncertain.

Given that the speaker’s intention was to unravel the online world rather than complicate it, he may benefit from working out how business operators should explore this brave new communications world and communicate that rather than just why they should.

Such an approach would provide a positive direction instead of the despair many are feeling at the moment.

Craig Reardon is a writer, educator and operator of independent web services firm for SMEs, The E Team.

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