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Why should you use social media?

In April, I’m slated to be one of the presenters at the annual ACUTA Conference to serve on a Social Media panel to discuss why and how to use social media as an IT professional.  Over the course of the last couple of months I’ve scoured the web-o-sphere looking for materials to support the idea that IT professionals should be leveraging social media.  The only problem is that most of the articles, blog posts, tweets, etc are focused on branding, messaging, and promotion.  They take a very “marketing” centric approach, whether it’s individually or corporately, and present reasons or rational of why social media is the new avenue to customers, fans, or constituents.  While I believe these references have merit and some application can be made for “joe the IT professional”, I’m struggling to find the statistics or smoking gun that confirms my position that social media is a viable community for your average IT professional.

My own indulgence in the social media arena came about because I heard others talking about twitter, linkedIn, facebook, etc.  Curiosity brought me to the table, and my willingness to try it out has kept me engaged.  In the subcommittee I serve on for ACUTA, I’ve received the moniker as the “twitter expert” because that’s a medium I’ve chosen for professional stuff.  I follow several folks who talk about IT stuff I’m interested in and I often tweet about articles I’ve read or items I’ve seen that I believe is relevant to the broader IT professional ranks.  I concede there is a rhyme and reason to my activities, but it’s more something I’ve decided upon-intentional use.  I did not read it in a “how to book”, although I did listen to others who share similar opinions in how to leverage the medium.

On the other hand, I’ve chosen to limit Facebook activities to more personal or private interactions.  Via Facebook I share with friends more than colleagues, and I’m conscious about security measures when professional contacts “friend” me on Facebook.    For LinkedIn, I try to keep the details listed as current as possible, but I don’t “live” there.  As a co-worker phrased it to me, “LinkedIn is for when you are looking for a job.” And since I’m not actively looking, I’m not there much.

So why should you use social media?  While I can’t find empirical evidence that supports my claims, I believe social media is the latest evolution in communication vehicles that keeps folks informed.  Just ten years ago, listservs function in this space.  Now a 140 character tweet that includes a link to a blog provides similar features and potentially has a broader reach because it doesn’t require a user to “subscribe” to a service.   For me, social media offers a large resource pool that includes folks, ideas, and locations that I would have never considered as a source.  Social media demonstrates the power a single voice can be heard by those who active listen.  The opportunity to tap into this vast resource of experiences, opinions, references, and ideas with little investment is simply gold.  I don’t need to a marketing genius, or a big corporation to appreciate the opportunity that awaits on social platforms.  I simply need to be curious enough and savvy enough to  work the interface to filter the content that is most applicable to me.

In my efforts to find a reason why you should use social media, the only reference I found was a tweet from an attendee of the Educause annual conference in Denver this past November.  The tweet read … “Interesting Twitter tidbit from #educause09, ’employees who use social media in the workplace (ie. work-related content) are often leaders.”  Sounded reasonable enough.

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