Dangers of Social Media – ask, experience, measure, understand or feel?

This is a personal insight as a social media trainer. I hope you can gain some enlightenment from it.

As the world of social media has accelerated in the past few years, we have been begun to see what I refer to as the ‘wisdom of fire.’

To begin to analyze social media and derive value from the metrics being generated- you have to understand all of the invisible things happening right in front of you.

You also need to understand the inherent dangers of social media.


When I was child I was a firebug. I loved the methodology and persistence of a strong flame, while I also questioned the fickle nature of how a weak flame tried to find fuel.

As I grew up, I spent a few months volunteering on a wilderness fire team in the thick pacific northwest forest. I had the opportunity to see fire at a scale few people have a chance to. I saw flames consume hundred year old timber in a second, burning with such intensity it was both painful and breath-taking to watch. I experienced the lethality of of fire in-person, having memories of human suffering I’ll never forget.

Until this experience, I was under the flawed assumption that I knew the right questions to ask about how fire behaved.

After this experience, I began to re-frame the reality of the measurements I needed to ask about. My assumptions were now rooted in a massively scaled experience.  The questions that had previously led me to one set of answers were inherently flawed.

Core concepts shifted. Fundamental building blocks changed shaped.

It is at this time I began to understand fire. Note I said “begin”
Like many things, one never fully understands the fickle nature of fire.

This progressed into working within a variety of projects that worked with all forms of things that usually end up with flame (ranging to gun-powder, fireworks, lazers, and even fire-dancing.)
Through-out thousands of different experiences involved millions of different variables, my understanding of fire shifted into a feeling of fire.

Feeling it meant that I had developed an intrinsic, subconscious mental and physical reaction to the things I knew where going to happen, but that hadn’t happened yet.
This is when you start reacting to things that are going to occur, instead of waiting to witness what is occurring.

The Dangers of Social Media

How Social Media has a flame

As innovation causes the social media channel to shift on a daily basis, it is an extremely difficult endeavor to learn social media without experiencing a trial by fire.

Unfortunately the trial by fire concept usually comes with a kumbaya statement of “just do it.”

Yet in the business world, the “just do it” attitude can be jeopardizing countless dollars and people’s jobs.
In worse case scenarios, using social media incorrectly can jeopardize lives.

Did I mention we are talking about inherent dangers of social media?

  • I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it. You should.
  • I’m just saying you shouldn’t play with matches.

As children most of us experience getting burned a few times.
After a few times, our brain kicks in and tells us how to avoid getting burned in the future.

The Dangers of Social Media

Why this is different.

While there are dangers of social media, there are also inherent benefits for social media.

Just like fire, a controlled spark can light an engine and send an airplane of people flying through the air.
The same spark in your home is something we all fear.

I just told you not to play with matches.

Unfortunately there is an army of children playing in your back yard doing just that. They brought everything from magnifying glasses to flamethrowers to experience being a kid again.

No one has educated them on the risks and ramifications of what they are doing.

  • Some of those kids are in your family.
  • Most of them are just curious.
  • Most of them just want to play with the other kids.
  • A few of them are spoiled kids. They just want to burn things.

When you realize this is your professional backyard that is connected to your business and your career, it probably doesn’t take a huge leap of logic to understand you better think about


While there are plenty of resources out there to train yourself on the nature of social media, we all have to realize that in this instance we are the parents who need to pass along critical educational lessons to our employees, families, and friends.


It is a common misconception that ‘everyone gets it’ and understands the ramifications of pushing button XYZ or what happens when a group of people sign on to a new website using personal credentials.

As you experience it yourself, try to pass along the most painful parts of your learning experience. These are often the hardest to share points, yet they are the most helpful and useful bits of information that will help someone else from getting burned.

So if you have a moment, help keep everyone safe.

Please share what you see are some primary dangers of social media in the comments below, on twitter, or your own blog.


1 thought on “Dangers of Social Media – ask, experience, measure, understand or feel?”

  1. Interesting stories and analogies.

    I was reminded of some recent books I’ve read, which may or may not be on-point with respect to your intended analogies here.

    One was How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer, in which he talked about the way experts can come up with insights through, in essence, compiled experience. The example that comes to mind was also described in a 2008 New Yorker article on The Eureka Hunt:

    On August 5, 1949, a firefighter named Wag Dodge survived an out-of-control fire in the Mann Gulch, in Montana. In a moment of desperate insight, he devised an escape plan by igniting the ground in front of him and laying down on the smoldering embers, inhaling the thin layer of oxygen clinging to the ground. There is something inherently mysterious about moments of insight.

    I also recently finished Empowered (by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler) and The Power of Pull (by John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison), which talk about the importance of empowering employees through the use of social media, and the entirely new ways of thinking and doing this kind of shift can bring about … and which may explain why in the context of this post, at one point, I found myself thinking about Rabindranath Tagore’s observation “Evidently, the only way to find the path is to set fire to my own life”.

    As to your question, I think the biggest danger in social media is that it tends to draw us out to the edges, into the open, where we are more vulnerable. But as poet David Whyte is fond of saying, we were meant to hazard ourselves in the world.

    I’m generally a big fan of safety, but I don’t think one can take the plunge into social media without some element of risk … and I also believe that the best way to learn something is to make mistakes, though with the proper guidance, the negative consequences of mistakes might be more effectively constrained.

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