Antisocial media

This links to an interesting post about managers who don’t use social media:

http://bit.ly/NS6JJc

I found the account of the CFO fascinating – the one protesting that he couldn’t use social media professionally because of the ‘risk’. Financial people – you’ve got to love them. I used to work with a mid-level manager who wouldn’t touch social. She was quite proud of it too. Above it perhaps? Let’s see if she’s above being employed in 5 years.

So should we or shouldn’t we use social media as professionals?

We’ll deal with the downsides to start with.

First of all, people know your business. My parents’ generation and generations prior to that guarded their personal business fiercely. Knowledge was power so you kept it to yourself. Besides, everybody was out to get you. Everybody! Trust no one.  If it’s not the communists it’s the capitalists. George Orwell warned us that Big Brother was watching. Patrick McGoohan would not be “pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered”. More traditional institutions (banks) still implement military grade security around their customer service portals – passwords to access passwords that allow you to log in with a password…and time you out 6 seconds later. Safe, yes. Intolerable for customers.

I am of the inbetweener generation. We are not our parents, but we also remember a world before t’Internet. And so a little of that skepticism of the oldies rubbed off. If you’d pitched facebook to me 10 years ago, I am a little ashamed to say that I would have poo-pooed the idea in a heartbeat. What sane minded individual would willingly share personal information, family photos, and private opinions in a public forum for crooks, authorities and the unwashed masses to scrutinize, exploit, judge and refute? Poppycock! Ironically, today I’m a veritable social butterfly, as are the vast majority of my contemporaries. Over a quarter of facebook users are 35 years old plus.  Go olds.

The second big issue about using social media is that you might say something stupid that could jeopardize your career. Who hasn’t heard those woeful tales of employees getting the heave-ho because they were caught bad-mouthing bosses or partying like Keith Richards on facebook? Joshua Waldman warns us in his post that the FTC approved social media content as a legal basis for rejection of job candidates in 2011. Another daunting fact to spook the accountant types. Boo! But for anyone who relies on the creation and expression of fresh ideas to make a living (creatives, entrepreneurs), then yes, we are in danger of saying something that could come back to bite us on the arse. And that’s OK, because challenging convention and being bold is the fuel of progress. The alternative is never to do anything that moves your organisation forward and grows your business. That might work if you’re a financial controller, lawyer or civil servant, but if your job requires you to be enterprising then you will have to stick your neck out on occasion, take a leap or ruffle feathers, otherwise nothing positive ever happens. And every now and then you’ll have to take the consequences on the chin, so it helps if you have one.

Now the upsides of using social media as your soap box.

First of all, people know your business. Today we live in a society that embraces the sharing of personal information, online communities and self-publicity. Technology changes but human nature doesn’t. Just as before, those that succeed tend to be those that make the most noise (yes, I know that sucks). Only the platform has changed. These days the noisy ones can make more noise than ever before. Social media empowers us to become self-professed industry leaders and build huge networks of relevant contacts. This means that if you’re not banging your drum and blowing your horn online you’re more likely to be overlooked. That’s the first bloody nose for your career.

The second bloody nose for your career (or more of a concussion blow to the head) will come when you realise (or worse still, your employer realises first) that you can no longer communicate and function in your work environment. It won’t be long before social media is standard MO for the internal and external communications of all organisations. It’s inevitable. It’s as intuitive for today’s school leavers as sending a fax was for us. Email will go the way of the fax. Certain professions (finance?) and senior managers may still frown upon the use of social media in business today, but this antiquated attitude will be swept aside by a new generation of leaders that know no other way. This is inevitable, given the potential of social media to enhance the flow of knowledge and speed of communication in business, making companies leaner and more competitive (see my earlier post on social media at work).

So, the question of whether or not you should be using social media comes down to whether you think it’s better to be visible or invisible in your career . How would you like to come across in a management meeting or a job interview? How would you like your clients or potential employers to view you? If being seen scares you then maybe you should become a secret agent…or an accountant. As Joshua Waldman points out in his post, if an employer is considering you as a potential candidate ‘you will be googled.’ Probably best to be in when they come a calling.

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