It’s not social media that might hurt your career. It’s how you’re using it.
Recently, Cal Newport wrote a column in the New York Times entitled Quit social media. Your career may depend on it. I’m here to tell you why that’s misleading advice.
It’s unfortunate when someone who has no experience using social media weighs in on its lack of professional value. Had the New York Times contributor given Twitter a try and subsequently decided it wasn’t for him, then more power to him. I’m delighted that Mr. Newport has found career success without it.
I acknowledge that social media is not for everyone. If we’re being honest and objective, Twitter is rife with problems. However, to declare that spending time on said network is an activity at odds with career development is a perspective that I find misguided, and illustrative of confirmation bias.
I agree with Mr. Newport’s assertion that retweeting viral content is a poor use of time. So too is scrolling through your Facebook timeline to check in on your family and friends’ lives. This activity, called social networking, is best done in your off hours. I also agree that the pressure to post banal commentary and selfies is indeed a reflection of cultural shallowness. Are there career dangers? Absolutely. We are all one tweet away from being fired.
With reference to being fired, remember Donald Trump’s Twitter account? It’s hard to imagine the president-elect’s upcoming ascension to the White House without it, something that I can only describe as career advancement in its most grandiose form.
For the rest of us who don’t have millions of followers but who do aspire to professional success, our use of social media should focus on three career-building objectives: to listen, to learn, and to collaborate.
Contrary to Mr. Newport’s perspective, I believe that social media serves as a gateway to highly stimulating, industry-specific professional learning and career opportunities that are both relevant and timely. Just as we can’t spend all day in front of the television, our time on social networks needs to be managed. Twitter lists are tools that enable us to organize specific accounts so that we get more of what we’re looking for at any given time.
Where learning is concerned, the opportunities depend on whom you follow, what content you read, and whether or not you choose to engage in an exchange of ideas and perspectives on the network. If your Twitter feed is not serving up top-tier research and thought leadership, then renovate it so that it works for you, not against you.
In terms of career opportunities, recruiters are now opting to post senior positions on Twitter — including calls for CEOs — with the specific objective of weeding out traditional applicants. Leslie Gaines-Ross’ 2015 column in Harvard Business Review gave the example of Scottish retailer Lyle & Scott who used Twitter to recruit a new CEO in order to find “a modern, tech aware, retail CEO who is social media literate.”
Social media literacy is a basic career and leadership skill that is relevant across all sectors. By ignoring the most powerful communications platforms, you limit exposure to new career opportunities, including those at the executive level.
Just as Mr. Newport’s argument for avoiding social media supports his ‘deep work’ thesis, I’m here to acknowledge that my advocacy for embracing it supports my own professional pursuits. I’d like to propose to Mr. Newport the hypothesis that deep work, a subject he specializes in, can indeed commence on the very networks he suggests we vacate.
Deep work can be inspired by a single idea or a new piece of research that is discovered on social media. This is possible because social media networks, used well, are gateways to valuable content hosted elsewhere. Tweets are the invitations that lead to the intellectual party: the media outlet publishing the article, the website hosting the white paper, or the newly-published study issued by a major think tank.
In reality, the grand investment of my professional learning time is not spent on Twitter itself, but in reading the column that Twitter led me to. More often than not, an hour of deep work kicks off with a 3-minute research investment on social channels.
In choosing to follow the great thinkers, leaders, journalists and influencers of this world, I can assure you that your Twitter feed will reflect the kind of content that should form a part of daily professional learning. If it doesn’t, you’re not using the network effectively. Choose to follow celebrities or anyone unrelated to your professional life and you’ve signed up for a time-wasting activity. It’s not the social networks which might hurt your career. It’s how they are used.
Twitter is my way of staying in a room full of people who are smarter than me. It’s ironic that I was scrolling through my Twitter feed to find Mr. Newport’s column. After all, it sparked the idea which led to the deep work necessary to write this one.