This post is adapted from my new book, Can You Hear Me? How to Connect with People in a Virtual World, out today on Kindle, and on October 30 in hardcover. Today, I’m celebrating the virtual version with this post on using social media at work. If you get a chance, please go to Amazon and buy the book and help support this long-running blog.
Facebook has come under scrutiny lately for some of its less-than-above board policies and positions. But it’s still an overwhelming world-wide favorite in the social media sweepstakes, with something like 2.23 billion active users currently. That’s almost a third of all the humans on the planet.
What does that mean for employees? Should you be using Facebook at work, or is it as the general perception has it, a distraction for the more boring moments of your job?
Recent research suggests that you can’t get along without it, or with Twitter, or LinkedIn, or at least some form of social media. It turns out that you’re less likely to be laid off, and you’re more likely to be more productive, if you are also networked socially at work.
Especially if you’re a remote worker who doesn’t come into the office very often, the virtual equivalent of face time with the boss and your colleagues becomes even more important. Think of it as helping to establish your social capital at work. And now that work is half face-to-face, and half virtual, you need to pay attention to the virtual part too. That is, if you want to keep your job.
Given how important these online tools are becoming, then, how can we refine them to make them more than the crude instruments for distraction that—all too often—they are seen as now? How can we give them the weight they seem to deserve—and develop for ourselves the connection and commitment we all crave? Following are five ways to increase your useful social media capital.
First, use them authentically. You have to be in it for the long haul, so it really, really helps if you are actually talking socially about stuff you care about. Don’t just use social media to kiss *ss. Instead, find causes and topics that you have some passion for and make your social presence a joy to behold.
As a footnote to this point, think very carefully about making your social media presence political. If that’s what you’re passionate about, go for it. But politics in many countries is so divisive right now, that you’d better be prepared to take a stand on your positions – even to the point of putting your career on the line.
Second, use social networking at work to stake a claim for thought leadership. What about your work really matters to you? Can you develop a genuine expertise in that area? Can you become the go-to person in your organization or industry or field for that subject? That kind of expertise is invaluable for making yourself indispensable, and social media can be the way to let the world know about it.
Third, when you make a mistake, embrace it – be vulnerable. The research shows that we like you better after we get to forgive you for making a mistake. The great lexicographer, Samuel Johnson, was taken to task by a critic who found a mistake in his famous dictionary, which he had labored over for so many years. His response? “Ignorance, ma’am. Damned Ignorance.” Vulnerability shows you’re human, and we all need to be part of the human race, last time I checked.
Fourth, use social media at work to give us a glimpse behind the scenes. Chefs used to be cooks, and nobody much cared. But then came Julia Child and James Beard and Anthony Bourdain and we started to care very much. Giving people a peek into how complicated and sophisticated and interesting your work actually is turns out to be a great way to create celebrity status for your field – and the people in it. Be generous and start by talking up other people’s achievements, and you’ll create a happy circle of reciprocity as well.
Finally, exercise your funny. Humor creates fans and disarms potential criticism, so don’t be afraid of humor. You’re at work, so do be afraid – very, very afraid – of inappropriate humor. It’s a firing offense. If you’re a lawyer, you can tell lawyer jokes. But don’t make anyone but yourself the foil of your sharp wit. Humor, used correctly, can rocket you to stardom. Used incorrectly, it can take you down just as fast.
Social media is now an integral part of our giant, unregulated social experiment of the last decade, of taking half of human experience and making it virtual. As I note in my book, out today on Kindle, and in a couple of weeks in hardcover, it’s an experiment with a surprising downside. But you can use social media in the workplace to create an impressive upside for yourself. Don’t neglect it. Be careful and get it right.