Jeff Barrett: Don’t Be Afraid to Use the F-Word in Social Media

Image by Hans Gerwitz via Flickr
Image by Hans Gerwitz via Flickr

We all tiptoe around the f-word. Failure, that is. Though, if you haven’t failed in business, you haven’t tried.

No one starts a business thinking about how they will fail; they think about all the ways they will succeed. It is the excitement about potential success that creates hope and motivates entrepreneurs.

80% of businesses fail in the first 18 months. There are a variety of reasons why a business doesn’t work. They run out of capital, the business model isn’t sound, they move on to another idea, they meet unexpected competition and more.

Failure doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can’t be avoided. It can be learned from.

Social media breeds self-promotion. Whether it’s personal branding or humble brags, people want to put their best foot forward. That makes perfect sense. There is nothing wrong with that.

Though, that means we never talk about our shortcomings. Some of us rarely think about them. Yet, we all have them. Those who are successful on social media (and otherwise) address them, learn from them. When they start a business they don’t just think of all the ways they will be successful. They think about all the ways they could fail.

We all know that person who talks about all the things they will buy when they are successful. That person rarely becomes successful. It is the person who focuses on the details, addresses all their points of weakness that becomes successful.

I’ll be speaking at Michigan State University this week about failure. Failure Lab, is a speaking event that aims to eliminate the fear of failure and encourage intelligent risk taking. Think of it as TED in reverse. In this speech I will be sharing my own personal and professional failures.

When I first started my business, I focused on all the things I did right. When I talked to colleagues or mentors I didn’t try to become better, I tried to prove I was better. When I discovered shortcomings, I didn’t address them.

It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help, to admit you don’t know everything. My business didn’t start succeeding until I started asking people I trusted (mentors, colleagues, even competitors) for their insight. This is how I became better at what I do, how I learned to start connecting dots, how I started providing even more value in relationships. I learned from them and learned that I could also share what I did know well with others. Every time someone approaches me asking me for my insight, I provide it.

Like some in my generation, I have a strong case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I’m the last person you would expect to preach moderation in social media. In the last three years, I have produced more tweets than miles on my car.

Still, there is a balance in social media. Creating attention is good. Craving attention isn’t. I’m guilty of the latter sometimes. I’m sure I’m not alone.

The goal of social media isn’t how much attention you can get on social media. It’s how much attention you can get outside of social media. Social media efforts should always lead people to an action whether that be in commerce or connections. It’s easy to lose sight of that sometimes.

We all fail. Those who succeed, aren’t afraid to fail. They aren’t afraid to admit they have.