What does it mean to “use social media”?

You’d have to be living under a rock to be unaware that the use of social media is considered to be THE hot skill effective knowledge workers must master. What you might not realize is that you are probably already a pretty effective user of social media, even if you do not yet have a twitter account. Let’s take a look at how:

1. Search!

Just who do you think makes all those resources that show up on google search? Those would be people, though likely people you don’t know. Search is often the first place we go to find resources published by other humans. And if the thing you find which has the answer you are looking for is something which puts your mind in touch with somebody else’s thinking, it’s profoundly social. So think about the places you search and how often you search them —

a. Google and other Internet search engines
b. Local disk drive
c. Shared organizational disk drives
d. Shared organizational resources
e. Shared commercial resources (Lexis-Nexus, etc.)

2. Personal Inquiry!

a. Asking the folks you know who might know, calling, dropping by the office, or shooting an email to a colleague
b. Posting to a forum where the topic you need information on is under discussion (often found using search, above)

3. Crowdsourcing! –  asking  a question of “Everybody” (for values of “everybody” which may exclude the folks you really need to contact)

a. Everybody following you on twitter
b. Everybody following a certain hashtag on twitter
c. Everybody following you on facebook
d. Everybody reading your blog
e. Everybody following you on linked-in
f. Everybody following your group ‘s discussion on linked-in
g. Everybody following you on Google+

There is a reason why crowdsourcing as a strategy is not as ubiquitous as search and personal inquiry are, and it’s the same reason that things are always in the last place we look – once we find it, we stop looking!

Most of us can find most of what we need most of the time through channels one and two. And for those of us whose jobs require us to locate proprietary organizational information, that stuff isn’t out on the open web, anyway.

In some fields of endeavor, the careful curation of contacts and followers on Twitter, Linked-in, Google+ and/or Facebook brings rich rewards (often, the addition of folks to one’s list of people to make personal inquiries of in the future!) But in others, the minds we need to touch just are not out there in the crowd hanging out on social media sites, and sifting through the responses offered by well-meaning folks who can’t really know the context within which our answers have to work is awfully expensive in terms of time. We need to find the right people where they live, which might be in an organizational knowledge base, or in the company directory.

Highly productive organizations develop a wealth of information on their “secret sauce” approach to answering tough questions. Forward-thinking organizations are finding ways to use social media tools to put their folks in touch with that store of info, and with subject matter experts within and outside of the organization. I’d argue that one measure of success in that enterprise will be the extent to which workers can find the organization’s answer to any given through search and personal inquiry, without ever having to turn to the anonymous crowd.