Social media for career development

Materials World magazine
2 Mar 2016

According to the report Social Media Usage: 2005–2015, around 65% of adults use social networking sites – nearly a tenfold jump in the past decade. How can you use social media to enhance your professional development? Natalie Daniels finds out.  

Engagement and presence can range from face-to-face meetings to typing on a computer. Social media for the professional has boomed in the last decade with the likes of LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. There are now 396 million LinkedIn users and up to 320 million active accounts on Twitter, so it is no surprise that people are increasingly making their personal and professional connections online. 

Rachael Ambury, Senior Scientist at Element Six, UK, and a Vice Chair of the Young Members’ Committee at IOM3 says, ‘Nowadays, a professional online presence is needed for the majority of career opportunities, whether that be a new job, seeking engagement opportunities or collaboration. A well thought out social media profile can ensure that the work you do is publicly recognised and that others know how to reach you with relevant opportunities.’ 

Whether you are updating a LinkedIn profile to seek new opportunities, presenting your work via Twitter or Facebook, or even blogging about other discoveries – social media offers an easy, global form of mass communication.   

Why use social media? 

From building a community of advisors and collaborators, making international connections, maintaining contact with colleagues and peers or sharing and exchanging exchange scientific ideas – possible benefits are endless. Career mentors often advise that professionals use online networking tools to make connections and exchange scientific ideas to advance in a career. 

Social media can be fun as well. Twitter and Facebook give you the opportunity to inject personality into your posts. It can be a great way to inform others about events, your views on a topic and keep in touch with people. However, with all social media sites, you do need to think about the implications of posting and publishing in various forms, particularly if you are giving information about yourself, if you are talking about other people or posting strong opinions.

If you’re unsure about social media networking, here are some top tips to follow:

Don’t talk at people – aim to actively engage with others. 

Ask questions to encourage interaction and discussion between followers.

Interact with other pages – comment, share, favourite, retweet.  

Respond politely and respectfully to comments. 

Maintain a professional attitude.   

Try to be consistent – check your site regularly and build an active online presence. 

Beware of defamation.

Don’t post sensitive or confidential information – if in doubt, leave it out.   

LinkedIn growing fast

A complete and current profile conveys your background, employers and accomplishments and connects you with people who share similar interests and aspirations. LinkedIn is the biggest online networking platform for professionals.
It enables you to get your message out to an exponential audience. Ambury said, ‘Social media has enabled me to keep in contact with current and former colleagues, and to engage with a broader industry. In particular, LinkedIn groups – are useful as a way to connect with specific industries. If you’re invested in your career, and wish to communicate with peers, you should consider LinkedIn.’ 

David Shaw FIMMM, Chief Executive of Tire Industry Research, uses social media to his advantage, gaining more than 500 connections on LinkedIn. ‘As an independent researcher and consultant, I use LinkedIn and Twitter for work purposes. My aim was to become a recognised voice for opinion, and to provide thought-leadership and analysis in my own specialised field. Because relatively few people in my world use social media in this way, it was relatively fast to get within reach of that kind of reputation. I use Twitter to post news stories that I find on the internet. I link to those stories and people can use those tweets to stay up-to-date with news. My favourite networking site is LinkedIn.’

Like Shaw, you may also be thinking of writing blogs for LinkedIn. Talking to Materials World about his approach to social media, he says, ‘I post stories on LinkedIn that are, I hope, useful to my audience. Each of these are around 1,000 words long, sometimes a bit longer, but I think the ideal length is between 1,000– 2,000 words. The stories I write are designed to be as useful as possible to my audience. I’m trying to inform and provide insight. People see right through a post which is a thinly disguised hard-sell and won’t read beyond the first few words.’

‘LinkedIn and Twitter give you the ability to reach others beyond your immediate circle. If people are interested in the stories you tell, then they will find you. Furthermore, the materials will be shared by like-minded people who will introduce more followers and contacts.’ 

Face-to-face opportunities 

But what about traditional, face-to-face networking?  Many would argue it is still the best way of meeting new connections. Ambury believes that ‘social media certainly has its advantages, but nothing can really compare with face-to-face.’ 

Kate Thorton Prof Grad IMMM, Chair of the Younger Members’ Committee at the Institute adds, ‘I prefer the face-to-face approach as it is more personal and you are more likely to be remembered. Some people receive lots of invitations via social media every day so it can be difficult to make a strong first impression in a positive manner.’

You should not rely solely on the internet to network. Although it has its benefits, nothing beats a personal meeting between two peers in the same field, sharing their thoughts, ideas and knowledge. Face-to-face meetings will often deliver the most impact in terms of engaging people by opening up two-way dialogue. And remember to gather feedback at every opportunity to gauge the most effective way to progress or keep in contact. 

Social media in stats

90% of young adults aged 18–29 in the USA are likely to use social media.

35% of those aged 65 and older in the USA use social media, compared with just 2% in 2005.

68% of USA women use social media, compared with 62% of men. 

25% of USA adults on the internet use LinkedIn, with 70% in employment. 

Statistics taken from Social Media Usage: 2005-2015 by Pew Research Center.