Over the past 10 years, social media has grown into a global phenomenon. With over two billion people on Facebook alone, social media has changed the way people interact and connect with each other. It has become an amazing tool both for social and professional networking and offers a number of benefits. However, the potential social media holds can also have negative consequences and it’s important to use it responsibly.
For the next few weeks, we will be talking about social media and how to maximise its potential. This post will give an overview of the social media movement, highlight the positives and negatives, and give some useful advice on how to ensure you harness the benefits and avoid the pitfalls. We will then focus on specific platforms in the coming weeks and give you advice on how to use social media to enhance your personal and professional development.
Social media – The world is smaller than you think
Although it is part of our everyday language, social media is a relatively new term. The dictionary defines social media as “websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking”. The definition is broad because social media encompasses a number of different platforms, websites, and applications that have different purposes and functionality. Whether you want to build your social network, share your opinion, document your everyday life, or invest in your professional profile, there is a platform that is suited to your needs. It’s important to see social media as a tool which can be used for a particular purpose. Like any tool, it can be used in a productive and positive way to achieve your aim but it can also have negative consequences if not used responsibly.
The positive side of social media
The vast number of different social media platforms means that it is a versatile tool that can be used to suit your purpose. If you’re a blogger, journalist, activist or writer, Facebook and Twitter are ideal for publicising your opinion and promoting your cause. For the creatives out there, Instagram provides a visual, picture based platform that can also be used to document your hobbies and interests. LinkedIn is a social media platform that is ideal for your professional development, allowing you to build your professional profile and network, look for jobs, and even get noticed by potential recruiters (in next week’s post we’ll go into more detail about harnessing the power of LinkedIn). These platforms provide a convenient, accessible way of building a social and professional network; promoting yourself, your company or your brand; and finding out about new ideas, products, people and events.
The negative side of social media
As we already mentioned, social media is a powerful tool that can be used productively. However, it can also be destructive and damaging if used irresponsibly. Because you can choose exactly what to post and share, many users of social media platforms choose only to share the positive and appealing aspects of their lives and in some cases, even false or fabricated things. This can easily lead to unrealistic expectations and the feeling that you need to ‘keep up’ in order to portray a similar image to others. People then behave in ways that are harmful and out of character simply to maintain that image. In addition, social media can be quite addictive because you can continuously scroll without an endpoint. This can easily lead to time wasting and procrastination and can get in the way of other important tasks. It is also very important to remember that what you share on social media can be accessed by many millions of people, including family members, potential employers and co-workers. If you share something without proper care and consideration, you may regret it in the future.
Hints and tips to get the most out of social media
So, how do you ensure you maximise the positives and avoid the negatives of social media?
Firstly, be conscious of the time you spend on the different platforms, especially just scrolling through the content. Try and do something meaningful and proactive each time you log in, even if it’s something quick and easy like reading an interesting article. Make an effort to use each platform productively and for its intended purpose. Build your CV and professional network on LinkedIn, promote your hobbies and creative endeavours on Instagram or Pinterest, and stay up to date with current affairs on Facebook or Twitter. And one of the most important tips – be careful of what you post on social media and how you portray yourself. Remember that they are public forums so always ask yourself if what you are posting has the ability to harm your reputation, both personal and professional. One way to mitigate this risk is to check your privacy settings and know who is able to see your posts.
Social media is a very powerful tool that has made the world smaller place. You can harness its power and convenience to further your professional interests, stay connected with important people, and promote your ideas, hobbies and skills. But please ensure you use it responsibly or it can become an escape from reality, a tool for procrastination or, worse, a public record of regrettable decisions.