Americans’ infatuation with smart phones, computers and social media shows no sign of stopping, yet some recent studies are finding that many companies still fear social media.

While some participants in these studies see the value of using social media to promote their businesses, many shy away from the idea of deeper interactions. One study that sparked discussion came from the Harvard Business Review’s Blog Network. More than 250 organizations took its Social Readiness Assessment. While 50 percent of the respondents exhibited a positive attitude toward social media, the other 50 percent was torn -- 14 percent doubted social media’s potential to produce results, 1 percent saw it as folly, and 35 percent were fearful of it.

Facing your fears

Enter Tom Martin, a business consultant specializing in working with companies that are digitally challenged and fear they are falling further behind the digital knowledge curve. He says the two biggest fears, or hesitation, for using social media are as follows: (1) Business owners worry about content marketing, thinking they can’t produce enough content and/or they are afraid they don’t have enough staff or the money to hire an agency – and they don’t want to do it halfway. (2) There’s also a fear of going on Facebook or Twitter to sell. They don’t know how to do it and are concerned that they’ll look foolish. What should they tweet?

Such thoughts run through the minds of many business leaders, says the founder/principal of Converse Digital, based in New Orleans. To help them overcome their fears so they can become adept at using social media to benefit their companies, Martin uses a combination of technology and principles.

To explain how that works, Martin says a lot depends on propinquity. It means “nearness” in Latin, and is defined as nearness in time or place, or nearness of relationship. “Propinquity underpins how relationships form,” he explains, noting that an MIT study in 1950 showed proximity helps strong friendships form. Two students living on the same dorm floor have a higher propinquity than those living on different floors. Likewise, two people with similar political beliefs have a higher propinquity than those whose opinions are very different.

How does that translate into the business world? “If you’re going to use digital content to market your company, you must be in lots of places, not just have a blog or a website,” Martin suggests. “Go where your target market goes for information and entertainment, and make sure they frequently bump into your brand. It creates ‘top of mind preference’ rather than ‘top of mind awareness.’ You need them to prefer you. That’s the primary principle. Find out where they are – and that’s where you should be, too.” In other words, cultivate propinquity.

That can be done at popular social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. Martin notes approvingly that the pool/spa industry is using Houzz and Pinterest to its advantage, joining in the posting and sharing of photos of great pools and spas on both websites. “They’re the perfect places for pool and spa companies to be,” Martin notes.

Another reason it’s so important to have a presence on sites visited by your target market is because consumers like to research online before making contact with a business, especially if they’re considering high-ticket items. Martin calls this type of consumer the “Invisible Buyer” and you won’t know they’ve been checking out your company until they call or visit you, but that won’t ever happen if they don’t know about you.

Word to the wise

“Social and digital selling technique is more relational than transactional,” Martin continues. “The prospect must be willing to buy – it requires more patience and elegance. I say it’s more like a seduction.”

Indeed, he says the single biggest mistake salespeople make is lack of patience. Ever the word painter, Martin offers another, final image for sales professionals hoping to hone their social selling skills:  “They aren’t patient enough to reel the person in; they want to go to the close too soon. I like to say it’s like trout fishing: You’ve got the bait; now present it perfectly, then the fish will bite.”