How can you take advantage of the current craze about social media?
The fact is that many people use social media to build a powerful reputation In any Industry. This article will focus on professional social sites (i.e., , biznik) and not on the more leisure-based social sites (mySpace, facebook). Having said that, do not discard the more traditional forums and blogs; making posts in these can get you the same benefits than professional social sites, and they are often more targeted.
1 – Benefits are not immediate
Social networks will look like a supreme waste of time in the short term; the benefits are cumulative and slow. Andy Erickson (linkedIn) says:
For me, it’s sort of like having done all the preparation work for an emergency (fire drills in school, CPR certification) and then being grateful that you did when you finally need it.
This is also true for other forms of name-branding and visibility such as blogging. Having the attention of some people is a great currency that you never know when you are going to need.
2- Reputation can be built fast, but destroyed faster
In the net, bad news travel fast. If you did something questionable, or simple upset an influential member of a community, your online reputation may suffer. This could be good news: we live in a hypercritical society; any product that you want to buy has online reviews. Somehow, people you have to deal with will have reviews too. Companies can go into bankruptcy with a single post by a disgruntled user. For example: “I have an old kryptonite motorcycle disc lock. I walked out to the garage. Yanked apart my bic, and about 4 minutes later it was open” is all it took to get kryptonite out of business.
Currently it is not easy to assess online reputation of a person, but this is changing fast. A way to establish a person’s reputation (which in a way, is a problem that we academics have solved with peer review) was the number one problem listed by techCrunch when they polled their users. LinkedIn has a recommendations system that goes a long way to solve this issue. Unfortunately, your reputation won’t follow you to your other online activities (e.g., to book reviews in amazon). Google’s opensocial may help changing this (Dario will talk about opensocial soon).
3 – Not all social networks are created equal
LinkedIn is a business-only networks. You won’t have to defend yourself from zombie attacks or fend invitations from your friend to do a compatibility test. MySpace is the place to be in if you have a band.
LinkedIn is a great way to connect to business. Since business and academics rarely attend the same meetings or read the same publications, connecting with someone ‘on the other side’ is difficult. Apart from writing pop-sci books and blogging about your ideas in an accessible language, you can link your profile with people as far from your close group as possible. Simply by diversifying your connections you may be able to attract interest in your work.
4 – Social media will help diversifying your interests
If you can attend at least one meeting a year on an applied neighboring field, you will get a healthy exposure to alternative ways of thinking about the problems you work on. Who knows, you may find a ‘market’ for a solution you already have… sometimes you may be lucky enough to land on a field where they have a big problem that, in your eyes, is already solved!
5 – Getting the attention of a public you won’t reach otherwise
Sometimes a small media stunt like getting your lab mentioned in a local newspaper may help you gaining support that you can use to leverage a second round of grant funding. Since the press probably won’t read the specialized articles you write for journals, having a notable profile in a social network or a blog will make you easier to find for journalists.
6 – Extend your network, then take it off-line
There’s a pure ‘social’ value in social networking. You will be surprised by some of the opportunities that will surface when you reconnect with colleagues and start comparing notes of what you’re currently working on. Of course, face-to-face works too… but these encounters that were reserved to yearly meetings at conferences can now be accelerated by your online presence. The ‘rec letter’ approach works in social media too. You can see who the ‘ancestors’ of a future grad student are by looking at his online social network if he cared enough to cultivate one. It’s also useful to do ‘background checks’ and weed off people who you wouldn’t want to spend time with after knowing some of their tastes or extra curriculum activities.
However, try to take the relationship off-line as soon as you can if that is possible. Jason Alba points out that
… LinkedIn “isn’t the place to nurture a relationship. It’s a place to find and be found. But once you find them, go outside the system.” Meet up in person to complain about coworkers … and you build face-to-face relationships that are stronger than any virtual connection
Social media are an important resource to develop maximal visibility, build connections and learn how to manipulate publicity for attention.