Using Social Media to Build Professional Skills
If you think of social media as the sole province of vacation selfies and muffin recipes, the idea of using it for genuine professional development may seem absurd. But there are plenty of ways you can use social media to build professional skills, knowledge, and relationships, without getting overwhelmed.
To get real learning value out of social media, ask yourself these three questions:
What do I want to learn?
Want to learn more about your industry? Follow smart industry leaders on LinkedIn and Twitter to see what they’re reading and what they’re thinking about. From that you can learn key industry hashtags on Twitter to discover great new resources. Seek out the best blogs and podcasts in your field by reading or listening further when you find an interesting story that a colleague has shared online. Think about the specific subfield or topic you want to learn about next, and focus your reading in that specific area so that you develop expertise instead of just learning a tiny bit about a lot of subjects.
Think about your skill gaps, too. If you do a lot of presentations and are getting tired of those boring old Excel pie charts, start looking at infographics on Pinterest to get inspiration for how you can do a better job of presenting data. If time management is an ongoing issue for you, follow a list of productivity experts on Twitter to get their latest tips.
Using social media to work on areas like these will not only strengthen your professional skill set; it will also help you broaden your network. By re-sharing the useful resources you find on LinkedIn and Twitter, you can find others who are interested in the same topics as you and build a community of learning (more on this later).
When do I have time for learning?
Social media can be an effective way of pursuing professional development because it fits easily into your daily life. Yes, you can get a lot out of attending a few conferences a year—but there’s nothing like an ongoing learning process to get you fired up and thinking in newly creative ways. Put some thought into when you have time and mental energy for learning, and what formats would work best for your schedule. Then use your social networks to find the information you want in the format you need.
For instance, if you want to work on self-development while working out, doing household chores, or commuting, that’s a great time to listen to the podcasts you’ve discovered. If you commute by public transit and can read while you ride, set up an RSS reader like Feedly, which you can use to subscribe to blogs in your field.
You’ll be able to get a lot more learning in if you spend your time actually reading or listening to the sources you’ve unearthed instead of skimming the latest headlines.
Whom do I want to learn from or with?
Many of us learn best when we’re part of a learning community. This is where social media really shines: because social media is all about being able to share ideas with other people, it’s a great way to engage in active learning, with a community of people who want to hear your ideas and insights in addition to sharing their own.
There are a lot of ways to find or form a learning community online. If you’re looking for a community of practice — a group of fellow professionals in your field, sharing the inside scoop or best practices with one another — you can find those communities on Facebook, LinkedIn or even Slack.
To find a group that works for you, ask friends or colleagues whether they’re part of any learning or professional communities that could help you in a specific field or area of your working life. The clearer you are about what you want to learn, and the types of people you want to learn from, the more likely you are to find the right community for you.
In my experience the most valuable groups are smaller, invitation-only communities in which every member knows at least one other person in the group. That creates the level of trust necessary for people to share difficult experiences and inside tips, as well as to ask questions they might not feel comfortable asking in a more public setting.
Setting your learning intentions for what, when and who you want to learn from can turn social media into a powerful and timely resource for your ongoing professional development. Yes, there’s still room for snapping photos of your breakfast foods — but when you’re ready to settle down to work, remember that social media can help you with your next career goal, too.