This is a guest post from Savannah Barnett, Research Coordinator, NTAR Leadership Center
Sure, we all know the myths about social media: it’s for teenagers, it’s for telling people about what you had for lunch, it’s vacuous and a waste of time. These myths are being reinforced by employers who block access to these sites and don’t let their employees participate. While it is true that many people (including young people) have private Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts , these resources can be deployed strategically to better market the services that governments and nonprofits provide, inform the public about news, legislative and regulatory change, and new research and resources.
In my role at the NTAR Leadership Center I help coordinate this blog, our twitter account, and our Facebook page. In this capacity I sometimes encounter people who seem dismayed, overwhelmed, and alarmed at the possibility of engaging, sharing resources, and expressing their policy views in these online forums for a variety of reasons.
Social media is a great way to share resources and increase collaboration and coordination with colleagues, clients, and others who are interested in your work. Unfortunately not all companies (and especially not all government agencies) are embracing these positive resources that can extend the reach of an organization and contribute greatly to staff professional development.
One myth about social media is that employees cannot be trusted to fairly represent an organization online. I want state policymakers, leaders of nonprofits, and jobseekers to know that there is nothing to be afraid of! If you speak to colleges around the office water cooler or make new contacts at a conference, you can absolutely meaningfully engage in online social networking in ways that promote collaboration, coordination, and your own professional development.
If your role is nonpartisan, simply stay away from expressing partisan activity online as you do in person. If there are confidential aspects of work, keep them confidential online, just like you do in person. If you are in a position to issue a social media policy for your organization, encourage the use of good judgment, authenticity, and value to your online presence. (For more information on social media policies see http://mashable.com/2009/06/02/social-media-policy-musts/)
Another common myth is that social media will be a waste of time and will monopolize staff time. If part of your role as an organization is to communicate anything to anyone you should consider the monetary and time savings that can be had through online mechanisms. Twitter lets you instantly track feedback about your organization or agency, blogs let you get the word out about current issues, and Facebook and LinkedIn are great ways to build networks. Posting resources on these sites is much quicker than engaging in separate outreach activities for multiple constituencies and incredibly faster than relying on print. Additionally, many of these resources can be accessed on cell phones and other portable devices quickly.
If you’re still not entirely convinced about actively engaging in social media activity, consider participating passively at first. By watching a twitter feed or belonging to a LinkedIn group you get resources right at your fingertips, with very little effort. Just sign up for an account, start following a few people, and let the information flow in.
For those of you who are curious about new forms of interaction go ahead, step a bit outside of your comfort zone and sign up for these free services. While you’re there don’t forget to follow the NTAR Leadership Center on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.