Editor’s Note: Many of you have read or even met David in your travels and visits to The DigitalFA. Much of his speaking and consulting work over the years has culminated in a prolific period of writing in the last year, including new books as well as articles on this and other sites. We also just had the pleasure of working with David at the Social Media Center at the Morningstar Investment Conference in Chicago in June (2015). David offers great guidance on how to connect the analog of networking (in person and live) with digital networking from LinkedIn to email marketing and on your web site. Here he carves out some unique factors for the millennial generation.
In many people’s minds, “social media” and “Millennial” are almost synonymous. As I mentioned earlier, you do have a great advantage with using technology since you are a digital native. However, social media is simply a tool, and like any tool its value is in how you use it. The critical step is connecting your social media strategy with your professional goals. The biggest mistake Millennials (and just about all professionals) make is that they don’t put their digital communication into a larger context.
Think of the way professionals must have approached telephones when they first came on the scene. In the beginning I’m sure there were people who thought that you couldn’t do business with a phone and said that “People only want to work with someone they can see face-to-face!” Sure that sounds silly to us now, but back then it was a new and unproven technology. It became a matter of integrating phone calls into the communication mix. In the same way a status update, tweet, or Instagram picture can serve many different purposes, personal or professional. Social media isn’t only about professional networking, but you want to connect some of your activities to your networking goals.
One important difference between telephones and social media: your online brand is on display for everyone to see. Don’t forget that other people will look at your social media presence and judge you based on it. That might not matter when it’s someone deciding whether or not to “friend” you after the party. It does matter when it’s a hiring manager or a networking contact you’ve been introduced to. Just like restaurants are judged (and then visited or not) based on their Yelp review, you are going to be viewed and judged as a professional by your online content. Be sure that you are presenting yourself in the best light.
Social media also blurs the line between private and public dialogue and your conversations will often spill beyond the immediate recipient. That can be quite handy. For example, it’s great to be able to take a Twitter conversation with someone from your professional sphere and move into a shared personal interest. Keep in mind, however, that exchanges online are available for anyone to view. There are countless stories of professionals getting in trouble because they had conversations that were more appropriate for email or face-to-face chats in an online forum. When in doubt, always take the conversation into a private milieu.
Another common mistake is thinking that everyone else uses social media the same way that you do, and with the same familiarity. Many of your online conversational partners are non-digital natives, and social media isn’t necessarily ingrained in their daily habits. Think of it as the difference between a native speaker of a language and someone who learned it as an adult. Even if you think that everyone “should” be using digital communication just like you, they won’t. If you want to get things done, you have to be open to the fact that not everyone will approach social media with the same familiarity and consistency.
I worked with a young professional who was constantly reaching out to her co-workers on Facebook through status updates and messages, and many of them would respond to her conversations. But one wouldn’t. She thought that this colleague didn’t like her, and it actually influenced how they interacted. It was only months later that the co-worker messaged her, “I just saw all of your posts on Facebook – they’re great. I didn’t see them sooner because I only go on Facebook to check on my kids’ activity every few months.” A lot of headache could have been averted if she had only realized that not everyone checked Facebook seven times a day.
Social media provides an amazing platform that we can use to engage with your network. It holds a lot of power, and that power can come back to bite you on the behind if it’s not respected. Treat your online activity with care, though, and you will build more relationships more effectively with more people…in less time.