My email box is full these days of messages encouraging me to attend seminars about how to leverage Social Media in my professional life. Wikipedia observes that “A common thread running through all definitions of social media is a blending of technology and social interaction for the co-creation of value.”
What of value is being created? Well, there’s quite a bit as I look it over:
- Public relations – social media permits just about anybody to raise awareness about just about anything
- Information resources – millions of people are creating billions of resources, on Wikipedia and innumerable other places on the web
- Relationship facilitation – social media facilitates the maintenance of social relationships by giving people numerous opportunities to contact one another, sometimes with no more effort than a click of a button
- Creative outlets – musicians, writers, filmmakers and photographers, amateur and professional, can all publish their work for the admiration of friends or the entire world
- Entertainment resources – this wide array of creative output means there is more content to consume than anyone could possibly manage to view/listen to/read in a lifetime.
Since I’m not in the entertainment industry, factors 4 and 5 figure mostly in my off-hours time. Only 1, 2, and 3, really have professional relevance to me.
To read my email, you’d think the value being created for professionals is almost entirely in the public relations sphere. I should apparently be spending WAY more time building my personal brand with my tweets and status updates, or perhaps with videos of my work? (Thrill as she SSH’s into the server to check that log! Marvel as she skypes the development team and the sysadmin team AT THE SAME TIME! Listen raptly as she guides a client through thinking about their next learning initiative! Be amazed as she posts spectacular insight onto this blog!) People are lined up around the block to tell me how to perform this apparently critical function more effectively.
Honestly though, much as my employer encourages me to build a reputation in our industry using any and all tools available for that purpose, he seems to think I should be spending most of my time actually doing my work rather than reporting on doing my work. So for me, the value in social media is much more in its capacities for serving as an information resource and for relationship facilitation.
Being able to google up the work of complete strangers who have faced questions similar to mine has saved me a lot of time and aggravation over the years. But now we’re hearing that Google is on the run, because the capacity to do “social search” yields much higher quality results. What’s “social search?” It’s the time honored practice of asking your questions of people you know! The new social networking tools make it easier than ever to access just a few places where many the folks we know check in from time to time, and then ask them stuff all at once. Since they know me, they may be willing to take the time to tell me what they know, or refer me to someone they know who is likely to know. And since I know them, I have a sense of the extent to which I think their answer has some authority.
Just as a face-to-face introduction goes a LONG way toward facilitating work relationships with colleagues, and a little small talk at the beginning of a telephone conference helps to smooth the work-related conversation, sharing bits of off-topic conversation with colleagues via skype or web forum keeps us connected in a way which makes it more pleasant to deal with the work-related requests that pass back and forth between us.
You probably won’t see me doing a lot of self-promoting tweeting any time soon. And I think I’ll pass on those seminars that want to help me get better at it. But I probably will be spending a bit more time trying to be helpful in the forums I read and experimenting with asking my questions on Linked-in before I check out Uncle Google. Because that’s where I see the real power of social media – in its ability to put me and keep me in touch with the folks who know, and those who need to know what I know!