Monday, October 12, 2015

5 reasons for integrating social media into your professional role

I have just been asked to comment on my use of social media in my professional role as Professional Officer at the Australian College of Midwives for a Japanese magazine, of all things! This has got me reflecting on my professional use of social media, and what lessons I have learned that I would like to pass on.

I have significantly altered my use of social media since taking on this visible, national role especially compared to when it was my job to promote the use of social media in education previously. To be honest, I am not half as open as I was because of the issue of professional online identity. Nonetheless, I believe social media can be a very effective tool in the working life of professionals including those who work at higher levels in companies or organisations, or have very public profiles.

Here's 5 reasons why I use social media in my working life, in no particular order.

1. Carry out environmental scans
I find it very useful to carry out a scan of social media because I pick up on the latest news and trends, and find out what issues are being talked about often before they have hit main stream media. This is especially useful when I am trying to find out what our members care about.

Environmental scanning also means there is the potential to pick up criticism of the organization I work for, or the work we are doing. This can be quite confronting and it is very hard not to take personally. But it does allow me to reflect on what the organization and I are doing and make changes accordingly, which hopefully improves people's understanding and engagement with our work.  

I know this sounds a little sneaky, but online environmental scans also allow me to see what other organizations in the maternity space are doing.  This may show up potential opportunities for collaboration and joint work. It may also give me the heads up about issues that we are falling behind on and need to address.

2. Network with influencers
In every day practice, it is often not possible to meet and talk to key people that influence thinking, policy or outcomes that impact on the organsation or profession. Politicians, policy advisers, journalists, senior executives can all be difficult to access for one reason or another. Following and engaging with these people via social media can be hit and miss at times, but at the very least I can see what they are interested in which may give me clues about how to focus my interactions with them. And if I am lucky enough to have them follow me, I can be very strategic about what I post in order to inform them about issues I want to highlight.

3. Make individual connections
In my role I am expected to be outgoing and talk to people about the College, midwifery and so on. But I am not a naturally extrovert person in the face-to-face setting and sometimes I do find it difficult to start up conversations with complete strangers. What I have experienced is that by posting personal information about me, people see my "human" side which makes me more approachable. This gives me a hook into conversations with people which I  use to make personal connections before I progress into discussions about professional/business topics. For example, I have been posting on Facebook lately about my poor gardening skills, and at the recent ACM conference I had people come up to me and ask about my tomatoes which has been a fabulous ice breaker for us both.

4. Access the crowd knowledge and skills
One of the most exciting use of social media in my job has been crowd sourcing ideas, information, resources and volunteers to become involved with College activities. We do use more traditional methods of recruiting volunteers for projects that are successful but social media facilitates immediacy of response and is a lot less bureaucratic. It's when I am doing work like responding to a submission, that has to be submitted yesterday, that I find real advice or information so useful to glean via social media. And we've even had people join the College to do projects that they've heard about on Facebook etc - doesn't get any cooler than that!

5. Reduces professional isolation
There's much talk in health about the isolation of health practitioners working in rural and remote areas. But I think practitioners can feel equally as isolated living in urban areas, and that geography isn't relevant in some cases, but rather it is the role that can make one feel isolated.

In my case, there are not many midwifery  policy advisers in Australia so I have to look further afield for the support that I may need that is specific to my context such as the #WeMidwives community. Or, look at connecting with professionals with similar roles but in other industries in LinkedIN.

Do you use social media in your professional role? What tips would you pass on about integrating SM into your work?   

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