Social Media 101 for professionals

An article I wrote for TISS’ magazine Kausthubham magazine

Professionals need to understand “social media” might be a new term, but what it signifies is not really new. Ever since the advent of the internet, people have connected with each other in a public system (via Usernet, Bulletin Boards in the 1990s) to discuss and share their views and opinions. It’s just that social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have emerged at a time when internet penetration is growing exponentially in our part of the world.
So what does social media comprise of?
When most people think of social media, they think about “networks” – and the biggest three names are of networks. Social networks like Facebook (Friendster and Orkut earlier), professional networks like LinkedIn (and Ryze earlier) and information networks like Twitter are all networks.
The networks are people-centric. My social network comprises of people who I have known, but might not know each other. 
The other aspect of social media is “communities” which are virtual places where people who have a common interest gather to share and engage about that subject. These can range from communities of practice (where professionals interact) to hobby communities (photography or quilt weaving, for example)
The principles that drive social media adoption is when people start sharing information and creating content on networks and communities. According to an oft quoted thumb rule, a minority of the people “create” content. Some more people “curate or comment” on the created content and the majority of people “consume” content. As a person gets more and more comfortable – they start to curate and create too.
These sites have also added design principles that encourage people to move from the “consumption” default. There are two main ways they do that. One is to reduce the effort to curate. This is what the “like” and the “share” buttons on Facebook and the “favorite” or “Retweet” buttons on Twitter do.
The other thing many communities do is give recognition in the form of levels and designation to people who contribute. So as they contribute more and more and other members find their content useful they move from a beginner to an expert level. They also publish leaderboards two drive peer based competition so that others are motivated to rise up the ladder.
What professionals need to do is understand how to leverage these communities and networks.
  Leverage these communities and networks to gain insights
a.       This is basically using the conversations that are happening to get business insights that one can use in work. What do people feel about your companies’ products, services, leadership? What are they saying about your competitors? These communities are like large undirected focus groups. Irrespective of what function you work in – feedback that you share within the company shows your initiative and understanding of this medium which is always a good thing.
b.      The other aspect of insights is to study the demographics your company addresses and understand what are their other shared passions and interests. This is very useful if you are working for a lifestyle brand.
c.       Tools that help you do so:  From free tools like Twitter search and Google search to more complicated tools like social media monitoring tools that have licensing costs (but can use for free for a certain time frame).
2.       Use social media to help you do your own job better and faster.
a.       Once one is part of a community it is easier to ask the community for suggestions on how to do your job better. Asking suggestions on “how to” do things can give you insights that you never might have considered.
3.       Use social media to share your learnings
a.       Without sharing confidential company information you can share the learnings you gained to provide value to the community and build one’s social capital.
b.      Sharing your insights and knowledge also positions others to learn from you and be seen as an expert – helping you build your own personal brand – that helps you in hiring team members in the future.
4.       Use social media to learn
a.       With the rise of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) from sites like Udacity, Coursera, EdX to learn anything from the best professors from the best university and a global classroom of thousands.
Since many people are aware of Facebook and LinkedIn here are some other communities and sites that I thought would be useful to know about.

Google Plus

Google Plus is Google’s answer to Facebook with the promise that you can share your information with specific people and communicate with them. One of its biggest features is that you can have video conference with 9 other people, without installing any additional software.  The chats also get integrated with Gmail chats.


Slideshare can be described as the YouTube of slide decks. It also has the ability to upload documents too. By nature of its content, Slideshare seems a very “professional” site, and businesses have found it useful to showcase their reports and viewpoints easier through this than video (which is expensive and harder to get right) Professionals also use Slideshare to showcase their expertise and build their own personal brand. After the acquisition by LinkedIn, Slideshare integration is seamless with LinkedIn profiles


Quora is a “question and answer” site where people ask questions in various topic areas and others answer them. People who read answers can them vote on them, causing the most useful answers to rise to the top. So people can discover experts who share their knowledge in areas as diverse as Engineering to Management to Photography to Mythology to Economics. Since Quora originated in Silicon Valley the topics of startups, entrepreneurship are specially rich and detailed. A lot of entrepreneurs, VCs (like Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia and Craig Newmark of Craigslist) are active on the site almost on a daily basis.

So what does this all mean for HR

Content is shaping how people find and connect with each other. Organizations now have to become content creators themselves to remain relevant. They cannot rely on external media (paid, like advertising or earned, like being mentioned in mass media) alone. They have to invest in creating “owned media”. For an employer brand that means media that showcases the organization’s culture in the form of articles, presentations, videos. This is necessary as otherwise employees and alumni are rating and reviewing all aspects of an employer (from culture, to salaries, to interviews) on sites like Glassdoor and JobsBuzz
It also means that HR needs to “listen” to conversations on the social web about what people are talking about it, its leadership and even its competitors. This can be as simple as doing a search engine search regularly, or using sophisticated tools that track large number of conversations and can even judge the sentiments of the conversations.
Within the organization, it means HR (along with IT and other functions) needs to get the organization ready to deploy tools that enable employees to use the principles of “participation for a purpose” to engage the next generation workforce with the larger organization. These tools can be deployed from the cloud (via the internet) or installed on company servers too. Most larger ERP service providers also offer social networking softwares these days. These tools help in employees to connect across geographies and silos to discover and collaborate with other colleagues. These are also a great tool to engage the larger workforce in larger change initiatives or communication when they are rolled across the organization.

To do all this HR people have to embrace and experiment with this new medium and grow comfortable with it. It is time to stop talking about it, and to start doing it.

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