The topic of this month's newsletter is social networking and social media. This is a slight departure from what I've done in the past in that I am by no means an expert in this area! For me, the computer has always been a place to be a little anti-social. However, as I continue to build my HR consulting, Leadership Development, and Business Coaching practice, I have found it useful to take the plunge into social networking and social media. I'd like to use this newsletter to share some experiences and some tips for those of you who might also be new to this.
Before I begin with this topic, I would like to ask for your help. One of my goals for the year is to expand my own professional network by adding to the readership of this newsletter. If this is something that you enjoy reading or find useful, I'd appreciate it if you could take a second to use the button below to forward this to friends or colleagues who may have an interest. They will receive this email, as well as a link to subscribe to upcoming editions.
As always, past newsletters are archived at www.jamesbowles.com/newsletter.htm.
First, let's talk about networking. The best definition that I've seen for networking is "building trust and positive association with others." By taking an interest in other people and providing them assistance, you build a loyal following of people who will listen when you need help - and if they can help, they will. I have friends and past associates from current work, past jobs, and even school as far as grade school who I would help in a heartbeat if I knew they needed it. I also know that they would do the same for me.
I have discussed in past newsletters that just meeting with an individual is really not effective networking. If you really want to network, find a way to help that person with something important. Networking is more than just collecting business cards - it's collecting advocates.
Keeping up with your network has traditionally been very difficult. As people enter and leave our lives, it takes a whole lot of effort to keep in touch. This is true both personally and professionally. It is very difficult and time consuming to keep up with personal relationships as time goes on. We usually manage to keep up with the closest friends, but it's hard to keep in touch with everyone. Professional relationships are even harder, as business contacts move on to other endeavors. Professional networks tend to consist of current coworkers, suppliers, and customers.
Even if we manage to keep up with the comings and goings of our network, communication to and from that large group can be challenging. Flexible work schedules, frequent movement, and travel make it hard to keep up with even what your closest coworkers are doing, not to mention your entire professional network.
So that's where I have found social networking and social media to be an amazing concept.
Social media is the grouping of Internet-based tools that make it very easy to start online conversations that can blossom quickly into a multimedia proliferation of reaction and feedback from a few contacts to thousands of anonymous, yet interested participants. Tools include those you've probably heard about and may already use, like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
These tools allow you to keep in contact simultaneously and real time with all of your personal and business contacts. It's a virtual water cooler with everyone you have ever had a relationship with, or with the general public. In today's flatter and more matrixed organizations, the ability to communicate with ever-increasing numbers and types of stakeholders becomes that much more important. By "stakeholders", these include those who are engaged in and support your business, your professional network, your peers and even the interested public. Not only is the ability to communicate of increasing importance, but so is the ability to quickly tailor your communication to the channels that are available.
There are some dangers with using these new tools. There is a lot of discussion in the HR world about the impact of Social Networking on the workplace. People who were early adopters of social media for personal use are now finding that Its being "corrupted" for a business use, and are struggling with how do draw the line between personal and professional decorum. There have been issues with the release of proprietary information online. Some people have "crossed the line" with inappropriate comments or photos. Companies are struggling with the legal ramifications of doing a Google search or viewing Facebook profiles of current or future employees, and what to do with that information once they obtain it.
While these tools may seem ubiquitous, essential and fully ingrained in today's portfolio of helpful business tools they're typically used by novice business professionals in manners that could potentially drive considerable personal and professional risk, or in ways that simply don't take meaningful advantage of the opportunities they represent.
While use of social media can seem daunting or even a little frightening (from a sense of social or business exposure), there are certainly some really straightforward and immediately helpful ways to use it in your professional activities:
- Set up a Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn account. Even if you don't post anything at first, people will find you and you can start to get a feel for what is out there.
- Once you have your accounts established, spend time reconnecting with past friends and associates. You will be surprised how many are out there.
- Think about how you might use these tools in your workplace. Could your workplace benefit from a private group on Facebook or LinkedIn for sharing of ideas? Would your customers benefit from a place where they could quickly connect with you?
Considering whether or not to actually take the dive and use social media obviously depends first on your comfort with the Internet in general, and your status with respect to online social interaction. Do you regularly communicate with others on the Internet, perhaps via email? Is information or photos concerning you or your work distributed on the Internet? Do you use your cell phone for message texting or Internet access? If the answer is "yes" to these questions, using social media is most definitely a step you'll need to consider for maintaining your continued professional growth.
I am still learning how to make this all work for my business. It has been really nice to connect with many of my past business and personal contacts, and it has been nice to have a place to expand my marketing. However, I know that I am just scratching the surface. If any of you power users have ideas for me, feel free to contact me via email, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter!