Your children or younger colleagues have been gently prodding you for years to join Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms. They want to stay in touch with you, and they want you to participate in the fun. You’ve always said, “I’ll join later,” if you haven’t scorned virtual networking altogether.
Now, perhaps prompted by a job loss, or a change in attitude, the time has come. You’re staring at your computer screen wondering where you should start. Will joining social media help you, or will this end up being a waste of time and effort?
I think social media is useful and can offer returns far greater than you might imagine.
If this is your initial foray into social media, I suggest starting with a professional networking community like LinkedIn. Most of your colleagues are probably already using the network, and they would be thrilled to add you to their list of connections.
Setting up your initial profile might take a couple of hours at most, and a lot of it can be accomplished by pasting your résumé into your profile. (Here’s a great chance to update your résumé, if you haven’t recently!) While that’s probably not how you want your profile to look permanently, it’s always easier to change things later. Also, don’t forget to add a professional-looking photo of yourself.
Now people will be able to find you quickly, learn about your remarkable career, and get a sense of your interests. Connecting with people (by inviting people to connect or by accepting their invitations to connect) seems like collecting people as if they’re baseball cards, but I think of LinkedIn as a Rolodex that can’t get lost or soaked in coffee. Once you’ve connected with someone on LinkedIn, finding people and their contact information can be easy.
After LinkedIn, what next? It’s up to you. These days, there are so many different places where you can express yourself and your professional identity online. If you have always wanted to practice writing, you might consider starting a blog. Your blog will be slow to attract readers, but that shouldn’t be your end goal. Rather, your blog is a space to tell the world about your career path and explore your thoughts about work.
If staying up late and writing about your job doesn’t sound like fun, you could use Instagram or Facebook to post (nonproprietary) pictures of your work. Or you could try my favorite social media platform: Twitter. Twitter is a microblogging service that allows you to broadcast short messages (280 characters), links, pictures, and videos. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know chemists all over the world, seeing and hearing about their triumphs in the laboratory, the different ways that people learn chemistry, and the different barriers (seen and unseen) that they have surmounted. Despite what you might imagine about Twitter, I have found encouragement, humor, and friendship on the platform. For me, Twitter has been endlessly fun, engaging, and useful for discussing ideas, sharing job opportunities, and staying in touch with people.
The most important aspect of social media is that it needs to be something that you enjoy and can sustain over a long period of time. I have been blogging since late 2008 and posting daily since the fall of 2010. Of course, it’s partly about “keeping the streak going,” but more important, I enjoy the online engagement enough to keep doing it at a sustainable pace. This has often led to valuable real-life interactions at scientific conferences and other meetings.
When I see advice for people who want to get started in social media, it’s “you need a Twitter account” or “you need to be on Instagram!” I feel that’s wrong. Rather, you need to find something that you enjoy and that will allow you to build community, help people whom you’d like to help, and have fun. The adage “Do what you love and it will never feel like work” is too simplistic, but I think it’s true for social media. Find the social media platform that suits your personality and that you can navigate with ease. Do that, and the journey will be a joy.
Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS..