Last week, I did a talk for SLA Europe on “Engaging with social media for fun and career success”, alongside co-panellists Meghan Jones and Neil Infield. It went pretty well, I think – and was filmed, so will be available to the wider world fairly soon! Eep…
In the meantime, here is, more or less, what I said…
I’ve used social media for a long time in a personal capacity, but probably only started using it for professional stuff within the last five years. I thought I’d talk a bit through my personal history of social media, just to outline how my use of it has changed over the years.
I am just about old enough to remember the beginnings of social media. As a teenager in the late-90s and early-noughties, I was active on a few of the early sites – all of which I’m pretty sure have now vanished from the web (anyone remember Bolt?). I used them all for fairly trivial purposes, of course, but thinking back I’m not sure my use of them was really so different from the way I use services like Twitter now. Then, as now, it was a chance to widen my social circle outside of the people I saw every day. Now, it’s to network with other professional contacts besides my colleagues, back then it was to make friends with people other than my schoolmates.
I kept up my use of social media through my teens and early twenties, moving from Bolt to MySpace, from Facebook to Twitter. I’d deleted my MySpace account by the mid-noughties, but I do still have a Facebook profile – although there’s not much on it and I rarely log in. My current network is mostly on Twitter, so that’s where I’m the most active – I mainly use Facebook for keeping up with old friends and family members that I don’t see much in person. I don’t find Facebook at all useful for professional networking.
The site that really got me in to professional networking was Twitter. I joined at the start of 2009, while I was in library school – so I wasn’t quite an early adopter, probably more like early majority. I joined primarily because, at the time, every other blog post from Phil Bradley was extolling the virtues of Twitter and how great it was for librarians to network! I quickly found that to be true. At the time, I was just finding my feet in the world of librarianship, and I really valued being able to reach out to a wider network than just the people I worked with, to get a greater idea of what the sector as a whole was all about, and to actually make a few friends in the process. I imagine it might be different now for someone just joining Twitter – there are far, far more librarians on there now, so you’re immediately joining a much bigger crowd – but at the time it felt like a really nice, close-knit, friendly community. The reason I find Twitter so much better for professional networking than Facebook is that there isn’t that barrier of needing to know someone before friending/following them, as there is on Facebook. Twitter is much more like a post-conference networking event in that respect: it’s perfectly acceptable to approach a complete stranger, glass of wine in hand, introduce yourself and ask them a question.
A few months after I joined Twitter I started blogging, and that’s still my other main form of social networking. I started my blog a month before I went to the SLA conference in Washington DC in 2009, on an Early Career Conference Award – that was how I first got involved with SLA Europe – and have continued it to this day. The timing was actually quite fortuitous, although I didn’t plan it like that: attending the conference gave me months worth of blogging material, which stopped my blog from fizzling out early due to lack of momentum. That’s what I credit with keeping it going for this long really, and that’s the advice I’d give to any new bloggers: try to find something, at least in the early days, to hang your blog around and give you some guaranteed content.
In terms of what I use now, my main social networks are my blog and Twitter. I’d like to talk through each of these in terms of how I use them and what I get out of them.
I cannot overstate how useful I’ve found Twitter for my professional development. Twitter allows me to find other information professionals around the world with similar interests and ideas – and, indeed, wildly different interests and ideas! I’ve talked to librarians in countries I may never visit, in sectors I have no experience of, in organisations that I didn’t even know hired information professionals. There is no comparable real-life network: even SLA, through which I’ve met dozens of professional contacts, cannot compete with Twitter in terms of sheer numbers and the ease of networking. Twitter is also invaluable for conferences and other events: I can follow from a distance if I’m not able to attend, or I can tweet from events that I’m at, and make notes at the same time as sharing key insights with my followers.
I’ve also started using Twitter recently specifically for work. I’ve always used Twitter really for my own professional development, but it’s never had that much relevance to my day job, so it’s quite nice that now it has! My firm now has a social media strategy, and is actively trying to encourage the lawyers to tweet, particularly the partners, as a way to raise their profile among journalists and the commercial world as a whole. There is a key partner in each of the firm’s market areas who is trying to get their profile raised within the industry media. As I’ve been using Twitter for some time and know it quite well, I’m part of a media panel at work that monitors twitter in various key sectors (mine is property), suggests people for the partners to follow, picks out breaking news for them to comment on, and suggests and helps compose tweets. As you’d expect, some of the partners are not especially social media-savvy, so the idea is that we help them navigate what is, for them, an entirely new form of communication, and hopefully help them get it right without making any embarrassing mistakes along the way.
The legal tweeting project is going really well, and has already had some benefits in terms of media attention. However, it has highlighted for me one of the ways that I see so many newcomers doing Twitter wrong. Among the property industry experts I’ve started following for this project, there’s a very obvious split between those who’ve been there for a while and are comfortable with using Twitter as a networking platform, and those who are new to it, and haven’t got the hang of it yet. The way you can tell who doesn’t get it yet is they’re the ones that only tweet about professional stuff. They’re quite dull to follow, as you really might as well just be following an RSS feed of press releases. The ones who know what they’re doing mix in some personal stuff as well: they’ll tweet about a big property deal, and then mention something about the football team they support, or their plans for the weekend.
I honestly think Twitter works best if you take a “profersonal” approach, blending personal and professional. I share quite a lot of personal stuff on my Twitter account, some might say too much, but I also tweet about law librarianship and other things that interest me. I’m quite comfortable with that balance. Other people manage the balance differently, and I know lots of people who have separate personal and professional accounts, but that’s never really worked for me. I’m not really interested in following people who only tweet about what they had for lunch, but I also don’t like following people who only tweet about their work. Personally, I think a good mix of interesting work-related content, along with enough personal content that they look like a real person, is what makes someone worth following.
My other most-used social/professional network is WordPress, where my blog is hosted. I know not everyone considers blogging as a form of social networking, but I do. Blogging, if you’re doing it right, shouldn’t be a one-way broadcast – although, sadly, that is the way a lot of people use it. To get the most out of blogging, you should consider it as much a conversation as Twitter is.
One of the things I love most about blogging is that it allows you to build a mutually beneficial learning network. If it’s working well, the process goes: I blog; other people read and reply, either in the comments or on Twitter; people add things that I hadn’t thought of; other people with more to add jump in – and everyone involved benefits. If I’m really lucky, sometimes someone else goes off and writes their own blog post expanding on their perspective, and the whole thing starts again.
Blogging also works really well for me in terms of building a profile. I’ve gained so many opportunities from blogging that wouldn’t have come my way otherwise. I’ve received numerous invitations both to speak and to write articles on the back of blog posts I’ve written, and I’ve got involved in projects I wouldn’t have got off the ground without my blog: the Library Routes project, the Echo Chamber talks with Ned Potter, and the Yorkshire-based networking group LIKE North are all good examples of this.
So, that’s my social media history. To wrap up, these are my top three tips for engaging with social media for fun and career success:
- Be open! Try out new things, see what works for you. It’s not about learning one tool – Twitter won’t be around forever, so you need to be prepared to explore new networks as and when they arise and see what works for you
- Be interested! Social networking is as much about what you can learn from other people as what you can broadcast yourself. Reply to people on Twitter, leave comments on blogs, and join in discussions on LinkedIn – make it a conversation.
- Be yourself! Having a professional persona is fine, but don’t be afraid to inject a bit of personality in it. People will be more likely to engage with your insightful tweets about knowledge management if they also know you’re a keen amateur taxidermist who loves 80s music!