27 July, 2009

If This Social Media Thing Ever Catches On

One of the reasons I started a blog was so I wouldn't have to answer the same questions over and over again on LinkedIn discussion groups. Now when someone asks me a question I've already answered in my blog, I can just send them the link. Lately, the LinkedIn discussion groups have been buzzing with variations on the question "How will social media change your life?" What follows is roughly how I've been answering that question. After I post this, I'll simply link people to it.

My good friend, Joe Bird, is right when he says "resistance is futile" but this social media thing hasn't really caught on yet. For example, there are 6 billion people in the world but only 40 million LinkedIn users. Even if we don't count the maybe 3 billion or so people who don't have computer and internet access, 40 million is still a tiny percentage of people using LInkedIn. And inside that 40 million number there are millions of people with few or even no connections - and people who don't join any groups. I know people who accept every invitation to join LinkedIn for the first time and who actually set up a new account each time because they forgot they already belong to LinkedIn or they can't remember their password.

So I'm guessing that of the 40 million LinkedIn accounts, when you factor out the unused or rarely used accounts there may be 10 million people who are actually using LinkedIn to get intentional and organized about professional networking.

And while blogging and tweeting have made it theoretically possible for anybody with an account to publish their thoughts to a great many people, I'm always surprised at how many people I know who don't have a Twitter account or a blog.

For example, I'm thinking of a certain town of 10,000 people with, as far as I and my spies can tell, only one active blogger.

I've said this before but I'll say it again: social media reminds me a lot of CB radio back in the 60s when only a few people knew about it and then in the 70s when it became a fad. No matter how much time and money you invest, the value you get from CB or social media is dependent upon who else is using it. Just as I can't talk to you on a CB radio unless you have one, I can't network with you on LinkedIn and I can't tweet with you or blog to you unless you use these platforms.

I could go on and on like this but you get the point: I'm still waiting for social media to actually catch on.

And when it does catch on, here's how it will change things - and how it won't.

Let me start with how it won't change things: people who don't have the networking gene or aren't willing to learn how to network still won't network effectively just because they have a LinkedIn account or a blog. Some of those people I mentioned earlier who don't join any groups and don't have any connections seemed to think that accepting a LinkedIn invitation would magically and effortlessly bring them a tsunami of new friends, new job offers or new clients. When that didn't happen, they accused social media of breaking a promise it never made.

Fact: despite all the hype about what social media is and what it can do, social media won't make a connector or a networker or a friendmaker or a salesman or a leader out of someone who isn't. Social media facilitates behaviors and skills people already possess but it doesn't impart new behaviors and skills. if you don't like people or you're an asshole, you'll still dislike people and you'll still be an asshole after you have a Twitter account or a blog. The only difference is, you'll be a misanthropic asshole who tweets and blogs. And, God knows, we don't need that.

But for those who have the networking gene or are willing to learn how to network, here are a few ways social media will be a game changer:
1. Headhunters will nearly become extinct. I said this recently on a LinkedIn discussion group and I really made a lot of headhunters mad but I think they know I'm right. As some of my readers know, I have dabbled in the headhunting game myself and you'd be surprised how many fees I've collected for "finding" people my clients already knew. Yes, of course, I know that there are cases where a client already knows exactly who he wishes to recruit but for reasons I'll not try to explain here, the employer is better off letting somebody else do the recruiting. I've been hired to do that and this is one of the rare cases where headhunters will still be a necessity, not a luxury. But the truth is, I've been paid a lot of fees for "finding" people my clients could have found if they : 1. weren't lazy 2. knew how to network 3. had some electronic tools to facilitate their networking.

Way back in the early 90s when I left my first career and started headhunting the first time, we had phones and fax machines. We didn't have email. We didn't have search engines. We didn't have websites. We certainly didn't have Twitter and LinkedIn and blogs. If we did - and if we headhunters were the only people who had them - we could have all made $millions in search fees every year until employers also had those tools.

But now employers do have those tools, and like I recently told a client and friend, "If you'll start using social media you may never need me or any other headhunter ever again."

Headhunters, please, spare me the angry emails and the nasty comments. I've heard it all before on various LinkedIn forums. Yes, I understand that those of us who have honed our search skills and our interview skills and our salary negotiation skills and so on still have something to offer to some employers but, come on, admit it, what headhunters basically do is this: we network. We network until we find the candidate we think can get the job offer. That's basically what we do. Yes, as I said before, there are cases where the employer shouldn't make the approach himself for reasons I may explain in a future blog, but, for the most part, headhunting is 90% networking - something that has never been easier for those who either have the networking gene or are willing to learn and do.

Lazy, non-networking employers will still need headhunters.

2. Membership organizations of all types will no longer be able to sell memberships just by holding a captive audience that can only be accessed by paying members. If this social media thing ever catches on and professionals ever learn how to network, they won't need a Chamber of Commerce event or a Chamber membership directory or a Society of Neuro-Linguistic Programmers event to provide them with a way to meet people. LinkedIn provides categorized access to those folks right now. Later today, after I publish this post, if somebody goes to Google and types "Neuro-Linguistic Programming" or "headhunters" they'll find this post and they can contact me if they want. They don't need to meet me through a membership org.

If this social media thing ever catches on, membership orgs will have to deliver more than access to their members because you and I will already have access to their members.

3. If social media ever catches on, we will all need to either become really, really good at managing our online "brands" or we will have to hire people to manage our online brands. Let's say you apply for a job and the employer looks at your Facebook friends, sees somebody he doesn't like, and decides that if you have friends he doesn't like then you won't be a "fit" in his company. This happens all the time right now and it will happen much more if this social media thing ever catches on.

Or suppose you say something in your blog that your boss doesn't like. Maybe you get fired.

Of course, the reverse is also true. If social media ever catches on, it will be easier than ever for us to all decide who we want to affiliate with. People with similar interests or beliefs or who need each other's skills or expertise will find each other if we effectively manage our online brands.

But only if social media catches on.

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