Social media for professionals

Georgetown computer science professor and blogger, Cal Newport, warns in a piece in The New York Times that professionals ought to be quitting any social media service they’re using because it’s going to hurt their career.

Most social media is best described as a collection of somewhat trivial entertainment services that are currently having a good run. These networks are fun, but you’re deluding yourself if you think that Twitter messages, posts and likes are a productive use of your time.

Funny thing is, just like the many lawyers teaching of the perils of social media, Newport has never had a social media account. Not a one.

First, he sees social media as a huge suck of time and stress. Newport cites a recent New York magazine essay in which Andrew Sullivan felt “obligated to update his blog every half-hour or so.” With Facebook, Sullivan wrote, “the once-unimaginable pace of the professional blogger was now the default for everyone.”

Newport sees this “low-value” level activity of posting marginal items every 30 minutes thinking it’s of high value to your career, as the “same dubious alchemy that forms the core of most snake oil and flimflam in business.”

See what I mean about Newport sounding like the lawyers on bar panels warning of the perils of social media? Neither have a clue what they are talking about when it comes to the effective use of social media and both revert to straw man arguments to make their point.

I have friends and connections across Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. They include professors, lawyers, doctors, business executives, association leaders, reporters, and publishers. None of them are blogging or posting to social media every half hour or so. None of them are feeling compelled to do so.

Instead, most of these folks are using social media to learn, network, build relationships, and do business. In many cases they’re advancing their reputation and business relationships at a far faster clip than they could without using social media.

Senior Microsoft attorney, Dennis Garcia (@DennisCGarcia), wrote at Bloomberg that Twitter’s invaluable for lawyers for learning, networking, getting news, being an evangelist, and building a strong reputation. Countless leading lawyers feel the same way.

I get Newport’s point that we should be so good at our craft that no one could miss us. But getting good at what we do comes in part from having a network of thought leaders you know and engage. No way you’ll have the network that someone does who uses social media effectively.

Being good and living under a rock is also tough way to grow your business too, something Newport may be unfamiliar with.

Second, Newport sees social media as addictive and sucking the brain power one needs to perform at a high level.

The idea of purposefully introducing into my life a service designed to fragment my attention is as scary to me as the idea of smoking would be to an endurance athlete, and it should be to you if you’re serious about creating things that matter.

I laud Newport for accomplishing what he has as a computer scientist; penning numerous journal articles and four or five books. Things I could never have accomplished.

But could you imagine me writing a piece for The New York Times counseling computer scientists how they should teach, conduct research, and write books? It would be a joke—I’ve never been there.

I am sure Newport is seeing things in his classrooms and on campus with students and young professionals using smart phones for mindless activity. Kudos to him for being worried about the time spent on such activity, but he’s way off base telling business people, professionals and students that social media is a hazard to their career.

I personally know of law school students who got elite jobs at General Motors and UK law firms via Twitter. They’d be huge in debt and scrambling to find a job if they listened to those warning not to use social media.

I get penning sensationalistic articles in The New York Times in an effort to sell your new book and raise your profile. But, as with lawyers listening to some lawyers, there’s the danger to students, recent grads and professionals who may listen to misguided information from the unknowing.