Is Social Media A Required Career Skill?

It is probably fair to say that in 2023, social media plays some part in all our lives.  There are certainly people out there who have willfully disconnected from the social-verse, but the truth is social media has very much become ingrained in modern society.  Social media hasn’t only altered our personal lives, it is also very prevalent in the professional world.  LinkedIn is the natural example of “social media for professionals,” but with the speed at how technology and even society is changing, the evolution of social media is constantly happening right before our eyes.

This is all too evident for me personally with the recent decision by Twitter to change their API policy, effectively cutting off my ability to use Tweetbot, a third-party app which used to be my primary way to consume Twitter.  This change got me contemplating the role of social media not only in our daily lives, but as a professional skill necessity.

My personal history with Social Media

I’m not afraid to admit that I am old enough to remember a time without social media.  I mostly say that to explain that social media has become a learned habit for me.  I have two young kids who I realize will grow up at some point with social media just being a natural part of their lives.  I’m extremely grateful that my school experiences did not involve social media.  That honestly scares me a bit for my kids and I understand that I’m not quite prepared for how that will eventually play out.

I could certainly argue lots of other predecessors, but the first site that became part of my life was MySpace.  I’ve always been “good with computers,” but my first love (and attempt at a professional life) has always been music.  I’m a drummer, and the IT gigs I had after college were mostly to pay the bills that playing in front of 30 people with my band on a Thursday night couldn’t support.  MySpace was the best way at the time to get your content out there and network with other musicians and venues.  It was a must have for amateur musicians, and certainly drove a lot more views than a personal website.

At some point I recall hearing about Facebook.  I was told that it was mostly for college kids though, and I didn’t pay much attention until suddenly everyone I knew had a Facebook account.  Facebook was my first introduction to effectively being able to keep up with old friends and family I had otherwise grown apart from.  Twitter eventually came into my orbit, at first mainly to try and win prizes at tech conferences.

Social Media gets professional

I learned a lot from my “career” in music.  Primarily that when it comes to artistic endeavors things like talent, ambition, and effort many times take a back seat to luck.  As I morphed into focusing on tech as a career, I noticed that more people with similar viewpoints and experiences were posting on Twitter.  I became drawn toward blogging and using Twitter to both get my blog content out there and interact with the larger tech community.

Like many professionals, I also joined LinkedIn and saw that it was just as useful as Twitter but in very different ways.  Similar to what I’ve noticed with other platforms, when I joined LinkedIn it was mostly just to dabble and scope it out.  At that point Facebook and Twitter were more ingrained for me, part of the fabric of daily life.  Over time a similar ebb and flow occurred and I noticed that more and more of the people I knew professionally were showing up on LinkedIn.   This eventually led to an increase in the amount of content views that LinkedIn provided over Twitter, which increased my commitment to LinkedIn over time.

Through this increase in using social media for professional reasons, many doors have opened to me, including getting invited to Tech Field Day and being introduced to tech advocacy groups like vExpert and Veeam Vanguard.  I noticed that even though social media wasn’t part of my job description or a skill listed on my resume, it had become part of my professional life.

When is it too much?

Just when I felt like I had grasped on to something that was the path forward for me, I started to realize that the ebb and flow of social media will be a constant part of our lives.  At some point I noticed that Facebook was becoming too toxic for me, and the pros of being able to “keep up” with friends and family did not outweigh the negative things that were being fed to me.  I began to understand that keeping up actually meant passively noticing their posts and did not mean engaging in any kind of meaningful relationship.  It seemed like no matter how much I tried to curate my experience, not only could I not avoid ads and click-bait, but they were always there flashing at me, like slot machines at a casino.  This led me to deleting my Facebook account.  For about a month afterwards, I noticed that the muscle memory of looking for the app on my phone or opening a browser and typing f-a-c before stopping and deleting began to wane.  I had to unlearn what had become a part of me.

Twitter allowed me to curate my experience via Tweetdeck and the Tweetbot app on my phone.  I was able to avoid unwanted noise from the native site and consume my own timeline based on the voices that I chose.  All of a sudden, I noticed errors logging in to Tweetbot.  When it was still down the next day I realized that rather than choosing to possibly quit Twitter, I was being forced into considering it … part of that continual ebb a flow.  How I did things was about to change again, and while I do still use Twitter, the muscle memory of hitting the Tweetbot app and consuming it as a habit has begun to fade.

What does the future hold…

I don’t know exactly what blend social media will fit into my personal and professional life moving forward.  I do know that it will always be there in some form or fashion, and that evolving our use of it throughout our careers will play an important part in our success.  Surely there will be many professionals who are successful without any social media use, but the other end of that spectrum is there are roles out there that mainly focus on social media and content creation.  We can find jobs on social media; we can learn from and communicate with people we would otherwise have never be able to.

With news of massive layoffs across major tech companies, social media is more important than ever for networking and building our own personal brand.  People are becoming successful by creating their own roles, many times driven by social media.  Branding yourself as an employee of company X will be less valuable than building your personal profile when the next recession (and the ones that follow) occur.

I still worry about the negative effects of social media since it is addictive and potentially harmful in ways that we may not fully realize.  The truth is that social media, like the tech industry itself, is constantly evolving.  We can survive for a bit if we don’t evolve with it, but I also remember it wasn’t too long ago that I thought I’d have that MySpace account forever.

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