Monday, February 27, 2012

Which Social Networking Sites Should You Use for Your Professional Profiling?

Let's get over the debate about whether to use social networking or not. There are still people holding out who will never join a social networking site - usually quoting reasons around privacy and security, and then there are the rest of us, many of whom have just jumped in and tested the waters and then stayed.  Which ones work for you? Which ones don't? What are you missing out on?

The good people at Ebiz - the MBA Knowledge Base web site, claim that (at February 20, 2012) the top five (in order) are 1) Facebook 2) Twitter and 3) LinkedIn, 4) My Space and 5) Google +.

Image from Renjith Krishnan
The Facebook craze looks like it is still here to stay despite some reports claiming it is 'slowing down'. It is largely still used primarily for socially connecting, but more and more people are using it as PR or a front for their professional lives or businesses as well.

Today blogger Brian Solis had a look at the State of the Twitterverse, explaining that aside from social connections, Twitter is staking major claims in the media world with information sharing and news breaking being core activities. What is heartening about Twitter, is that apparently the presence of interesting content is the number one reason someone follows another on Twitter. Perhaps making Twitter the network for thinking people ...whatever it is that tickles your fancy to think about.

It is LinkedIn at third place that is worth your consideration at a professional level.   Most people get invited to LinkedIn by someone already using it different to most social networking sites ...however the focus is on you, your career and your business. While it is initially often used as a professional profiling tool, once on board people are finding many other uses.  Uses that impact positively (if used well) on their career and hirability. There are at least 101 Uses for LinkedIn that will help meet professional goals.

So even when faced with just the top three or five, how do you choose which ones to join?  The answer most often depends on your goals. This post is about professional profiling - so using the more social based sites like Facebook and MySpace need to be considered carefully. You need to check your content from a customer or potential employer's perspective and carefully guard what you post, tag or like. Humans are fickle creatures and judge quickly. There is nothing like your personal life to get in the way of your professional one! Google + goes some way to assist with this, with it's 'circles' allowing you to place people in relevant networks so you can better control who sees what, about you.

Twitter, as discussed, is more and more about sharing information and news in your area of expertise.  Once started, you can follow others 'in the know' and be followed when you Tweet relevant content. It uses the approach that by putting in to the network you can receive even more. If you contain your Tweeting and people you follow to your key areas of interest you can quickly expand your professional circle - one which is easily maintained by simply sharing useful information you have access to, with no need to say what you had for breakfast or if your sick cat is getting better!

For purely professional networking you would be hard pressed to go past LinkedIn, with it's good following providing a potentially large network for most people. All you need is a few people to get your network started and LInkedIn will constantly remind you how many people you are potentially associated with - much like the old six degrees of separation. You can join professional groups as a way of meeting others and taking part in relevant discussions. You can recommend others and have them recommend you. You can tailor your public profile to suit where you are at professionally at the moment.

This brings us to choice. There are literally hundreds to choose from. You really can't know what works for you without trying it first (and all the consequences that go with this). In short though, look for where there are already a good number of contacts in your field (or potential field) - for there is little worth without numbers in the first place. This may lead you to profession specific social networking like for academics. Consider the privacy and security features of each and then work carefully to understand the particular cultures of netiquette which come with each one. Most importantly, watch how YOU look to others on line with your profiles, pictures and intelligent postings.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Beat Social Media Distractions Without Cutting Off - Or "What's a tomato got to do with it?"

Image by: Digitalart
You probably know people who have sworn off Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest in order to get their life back on track, to stop 'wasting time' and achieve a few things - non digital activities usually.  I've even thought about it myself. A read of Susan Maushart's 'Waldeneske' Winter of Our Disconnect reminds us how reliant we have become on so many gadgets to keep connected to the people and world around us.

The distractions of social networking sites and the gadgets we connect through,  are at one extreme dangerous (see Blog Entry Don't Die While Communicating), and at the other extreme, simply a banal distraction from boredom. For many of us though the distractions can get in the way of getting some serious uniterrupted time to work. That old 'quality time' we all require sometimes.

Earlier this year Blooger Alexandra Samual wrote about "intention span" , the time between thinking "I must do xyz" and actually commencing it. She blogged about the impact of social media in expanding intention spans- that issue of not even getting started on important work becasue of the call of a social media distraction.

Then there is 'notification distraction'.  Pop up messages or sounds indicating new email, Facebook messages, a Skype contact or Tweets are a-beckoning your attention.  Not unlike the demands of an unanswered telephone, some people don't turn these off, even though they know they are unable to ignore them to get a work task completed first.

Add to this other internal distractions (coffee, snacks, bathroom breaks, desk cleaning and other 'essentials' that seem so demanding when you are on deadlines) and external distractions (any interruption from others - desired or otherwise) and it's a wonder we get anything completed some days.

Self discipline and motivation to continue on critical (and sometimes boring) tasks is a skill in itself. Total disconnection isn't required to get some semblance of order and lower your distractions though.  For many of us, our social media are part of our work, and can be as important as other tasks. Somehow working out how to work with the least interruptions, but still have some variety in our work, and balance in our activities is the key.

The Pomodoro Technique might just be the answer. I have had a few colleagues and students swear by it over the years, and I avoided it because it sounded almost cultish the way they were describing the technique with such passion. But having trialled it, I now understand the passion, and thought it was time to share.

The technique is as basic as having a ticking kitchen timer (yep - annoying at first, but motivating once you get hooked!), a blank piece of paper to pop notes on (or a app for notes and 'to do' lists), and 25 minutes.  Working in 25 minute lots, to meet set goals, and then being rewarded with a break at the end to do whatever you like (read - 'check that Facebook update from your girlfriend'), sounds a little too simple doesn't it? But like most simple things, the lessons run deeper. You learn more about your interruption patterns (internal and external) so you can do something about them; you learn what you can really achieve in 25 minutes (I have been totally ssurprised at my own outputs I might add); and you build your concentration.  But don't believe me ... try it for yourself. Oh and the reason I'm not thinking it's cultish anymore is that the resources and book on the Pomodoro Technique (and associated apps) are all free!

So if social media is distracting you from getting on with some great work - try a tomato technique at Pomodoro Tehcnique.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Greetings and First Impressions

Image by Simon Howden
Do you use letter writing salutations in your emails?  When you commence - is it "Dear ...." and when you end do you sign off or just leave your automatic signature to complete the job?  What message are you giving out about yourself when you do or don't?  Does the presence or absence of a cheery salutation and appropriate sign off affect how you read an email when you are the recipient? Does it change your perception of the author?

While sending an email to a friend may have a casual tone and thus have a greeting such as "hey there" and a sign off such as "see you later", the professional email, the one sent in a work setting, requires a different approach.

Email itself has replaced (or become a substitute for) the more formal written inter-office memo or letter. Its originators (four decades ago!) created the To, From and Subject headings for ease of transmission and digestion by receivers.  They were never meant to replace an appropriate personal greeting and a clear opening sentence to direct the reader to the purpose of the email.  Somehow, the casual and immediate nature of emails has impacted on what is seen as basic manners in some professional settings.

Like any correspondence, the formality of the greeting and sign off will depend on the situation and the relationship you have with the recipient.  In most workplace settings, it is best to remain more on the formal side until a relationship is established - some netiquette gurus go so far as to say you should remain formal until the recipient reduces theirs.  Remember that your greeting and sign off are part of your identity construction online- and if you have no face-to-face relationship with the recipient this is even more important to the first impressions you may be giving off.

It takes but a few key strokes to add "Dear" and finish with "Thank you" or "Sincerely".  Remember that without the advantages of body language, your words are all you have when emailing!

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