Andrea Learned

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Social Media IS Professional Development

9396072823_168dddbdab_zCommunications has a bad rap. Long (and wrongly) suffering a “soft skill” or lower priority taint, it – at the same time – is considered a key leadership strength. What? The disconnect has harmed the practice, and even seeing it as a “practice” or separate role has harmed the integration of communication into EVERYONE’s job.  Not to discount at all the importance of deeply trained marketing and communications professionals, but the power of their work is only further enhanced by more corporate leaders who can authentically (and comfortably) contribute.

Therein lies the rub. Social media has long been dropped into the “marketing and communications” budget – which is all fine and good, but limits its power. In reality, training corporate leaders to use social media for their own unique purposes is actually, wait for it… professional development. Learning what works for them and how to use it well – even if only a single channel – boosts a leader’s career and can reflect very well on the company he or she represents.

Along those lines, University of Sussex Digital History Professor Tim Hitchcock’s recent article about getting more academic researchers into blogging and on Twitter really strikes a chord. Both, in that I am one who’d love to see more in-process academic thinking delivered in layperson, accessible styles (so I can keep learning!), and in how the whole issue also relates to sustainability leaders – which is my particular soapbox. As Stuart put it: “As central means to participate in public conversations, Twitter and blogging just make good academic sense.”  It is about public engagement, and not keeping conversations closed and “amongst ourselves,” because doing that means we lose the broader social dialogue.

The way I see it, sustainability leaders can stay in their own “green tower” and have incredibly rich conversations among themselves. Or, they can be much more likely to get bigger conversations going, seed collaborations or introduce innovative ideas that keep a larger number of people focused on the most critical issues.  Time is of the essence. Climate change can’t be denied, and businesses can’t keep blindly over-using natural resources and ignoring social impact concerns.  Like academic researchers, the larger the community of smart, passionate, deeply knowledgeable sustainability professionals who “talk” and share using social media, the better. My own hope and growing optimism come from coaching even the small number of these people that I have.

But, back to professional development, aka that budget that seems destined to cover classes like computer skills workshops or management skills training. What do leaders in any industry need more than computer skills or another management training manual destined for the circular file? A comfort level with sharing their thoughts and connecting with others using the modern social tools. This is where learning to write blog posts and learning to use social networks (again – even just one) brings communications skills into everyone’s role in a more natural, authentic and productive way.

From what I’ve heard in my conversations with sustainability leaders who are active on Twitter, there is so much more to it –and something so much more rewarding about it – than they’d ever imagined. They do not see their involvement with social media as a job requirement add-on or a time suck. Instead, they know it adds a level of learning and camaraderie to keep them fresher and more engaged with their daily work – and to help keep their eyes on the ultimate prize: a more sustainable business, industry and economy.

Seeing social media as solely a communications/marketing budget line item is misguided and shortsighted. Building social media practice into a professional’s development is, simply put, a more than wise investment for any company. From here on out, it is actually make or break.


Special thanks to Joe Loong for use of the image.