I was at Horsham Microbiz on Saturday, exhibiting with the #SussexHour team. I am a regular host of #SussexHour, a local business networking chat on Twitter, which takes place every Thursday evening from 8.30pm. We had a ball! It was a great event, with a buzzing atmosphere.

I met lots of lovely local business people, mostly freelance and small businesses, and my opening question was “Do you tweet?”.

In many cases, this is what happened next: Furtive glances, an apologetic smile, and then:

Guilty answer A: “No. But I know I should.”

Guilty answer B: “Yes. But not enough.”

Social media is making small business people feel guilty. It landed in their marketing toolbox with a big clunk, throwing up a cloud of dust. They are uncertain what to do with it, feeling anxious about picking it up. If, in a daring moment, they have grasped it, and tried to use it, they haven’t immediately been able to establish the proper use for it. Knowing with absolute certainty how to make other, more familiar tools, effective, they’ve returned the new bit of kit to its packaging and tried to ignore it.

Of course, many small businesses have done the opposite: relishing a new opportunity, they have got behind social media and learned how it can benefit them. They are using it daily, building relationships, growing their audience, mastering its potential for raising their business profile and ultimately gaining business.

But for those who feel overwhelmed by social media, it can be a cumbersome weight on their shoulders. It gives them a guilty complex for not being ‘where it’s at’ — and for seeing only a naked body, while the rest of the business world appears to see the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’.

The cure to this guilt? Shrug it off and dive in!

Social media is not a weird science. It is talking to people. It is a way of connecting with people that are, or could be, your customers. It is a medium that you can use to demonstrate that you know your audience, understand their needs, and have something to offer them.

Like any other marketing or PR opportunity, it also presents a chance for you to communicate what makes you and your business, product, or service special. But you don’t do it by issuing statements — you do it by having conversations. By listening and giving something back.

Starting out is simple. Choose a social media channel that enables you to reach your audience best (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest etc…) — or dabble with a few to see where you feel most at ease. Follow the people you’d like to engage with — with the hope of them following you back.

Listen to the conversations they are having — and try to start engaging with them, by offering valuable, informed contributions.

Don’t forget to be ‘you’ — leave your sales pitch behind and start sharing.

Have a go. Don’t let guilt or fear paralyse you. You never know it might even be fun!