Dear Friends and Clients,

At a charity event, I bumped into a lovely neighbor and greeted her with thanks for recently “friending” me on Facebook. “I’m just learning how to do this,” she said.

A stranger standing nearby volunteered the comment that someone had created a Facebook account for her. “But,” she said, “I made him delete it, because I’m a curmudgeon.” As the second woman elaborated on her unwillingness to try Internet tools, I was struck by how proud she seemed to be of her Luddite resistance to technology.

Although I’ve enjoyed my modest foray into the Facebook world, I can think of a number of reasons why you might choose to not devote time and energy to this and other social networking sites. Concerns about time and privacy are big reasons to proceed with caution.

But I would urge my clients not to reject networking tools without giving them some thought. Ignorance isn’t something to be proud of. The fact is that your network is a key to professional success and is vital when your career falters. To maintain a vibrant and growing circle of friends and business contacts, we must be willing to meet people where they gather. And increasingly many of these folks are convening on the Web.

I think that we should at least try to keep up with the options, and make informed choices when we elect whether or not to use the new tools. These technologies are way out of my area of expertise, so in this issue I’ve sought help from an expert, digital media consultant Randy Rieland. I’ll share his thoughts on why we should be open to networking tools, and how we might want to begin.

Warm Wishes, Bev

Try New Tools As You
Manage Your Network

October 6, 2009 * Number 112

When I met Randy Rieland in the ‘70s, he was a talented young journalist, looking forward to a long career in newspapers or magazines. He changed gears in 1995, however, to develop Discovery’s prize-winning Websites and today he helps organizations build their brands using digital media.

Relying on our long friendship, I asked Randy to explain why he thinks that it is worth the effort for ordinary professionals to spend time on social networking. And I asked him to keep it simple and to suggest some good starting points.

In today’s workplace, Randy said, “We will need to view ourselves increasingly as brands, but not as brands that can be promoted with million-dollar marketing budgets or celebrity endorsements. No, our capital will be the relationships we build through social networks. There's no question that social networks, now with hundreds of millions of participants, allow you to expand your professional connections exponentially and geographically. You can now develop connections, collaborators, clients, even mentors around the world at a minimal cost. Why miss those potential opportunities?”

Randy mentioned a Nielsen study reporting that, by the end of last year, more than two-thirds of the people using the Internet had accessed "member communities." That's more than the number who used e-mail. “You can have a wonderfully engaging Website that you update daily, but your brand cannot thrive, or maybe even survive, by that alone,” Randy said. “You need to go where the crowds are, where they now are spending the bulk of their time online. Today, digital media is about connections, not transactions, and ideally you want your personal brand to not only be one that people trust and respect, but also one that helps people connect with others in their networks. You want to be connective tissue.”

The social network sites are emerging as important professional tools, moving right up there with cell phones and email. You may elect not to use these tools, but it makes sense to at least become educated about their potential. Here are Randy’s comments about three ways to begin:

Facebook is the most obvious component of any social media strategy, if only for its tremendous size. It now has more than 300 million active users and 50 percent of them log on in a given day. There's no question that it's no longer the great arena of adolescence; the fastest growing age group by far is 35 to 54 years old, which has jumped almost 300 percent in 2009. While most people use it as a way to stay in touch with family and friends, a lot more are using Facebook to build professional communities, promote products or services and publicize events. The key is to learn how to do this not as a traditional message, but rather as part of the non-stop conversation going on out there. That takes a bit more finesse and sensitivity, but it's a skill any forward-thinking professional needs to learn if he or she wants to build a business.

LinkedIn, by definition, is a professional network and many people now use it as a kind of digital Rolodex. It's a great way to gather all of your business associates in one place and keep them up to speed on your career. But it's become much more than that. Corporations and executive search firms now use it on a regular basis to search for talent. People considering a career change are using it to find leads. And more and more frequently, it's become the place where professionals share ideas and thoughts on the latest trends or challenges of their fields. These days you can find some pretty high-level and insightful discussions there.

Twitter may be dismissed by those who think of it as an exercise in pithy, egomaniacal self-examination. Sure, a lot of people use it that way. But you need to view Twitter as what it is...a tool that allows you to connect with people all over the world in real time. If you or your business needs real-time feedback from an audience or clients, Twitter works as well as anything out there. If you want to see what people are talking about now, Twitter's your tool. If you want to spread your message through some of the more effective influencers on the social web, Twitter can be a great option because it tends to attract those types of people. Some people have gone so far as to describe Twitter as the new phone company.

Randy offers a cautionary note. “All of the above require a serious commitment. That's the challenge of the social Web. Once you put a ball in the air, you need to keep it there. And you need to stay focused on your mission. Everything you do on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter should be done in concert. You're not out to complete a checklist, you're out to build a holistic strategy.”

Want to join Bev’s professional community? Join her professional network on LinkedIn. Or follow her on Twitter.

Bev’s Tips for a Better Work Life is published on the first and third Tuesday of each month by Beverly E. Jones of ClearWays Consulting, LLC. Bev is a lawyer and former executive who now coaches accomplished executives and other professionals to bring new direction, energy and enjoyment to their work lives.

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