Suspicious of Social Media?
I’ve always enjoyed playing the devil’s advocate, especially when it comes to adopting new technologies such as social media. Some people eagerly embrace every new app they discover, and join in social networks as soon as they’re created, but I’ve never been that guy. I need to understand the value of something before making room for it in my life. I also want to make sure that a new platform has staying power before I begin incorporating it into my workday, and that there are no downsides such as making me vulnerable to unwanted solicitations or spam campaigns.
So I played the role of the skeptic concerning social media—not when its various forms first began to surface for personal use, but when it began being used for business purposes. I understood what Facebook was about when used to connect with friends and family, for instance, but I was less clear on why a business—or magazine—would establish a page. I felt the same way about Twitter as I did about cell phones in the early days; “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” as Shakespeare so memorably wrote. LinkedIn made a little more immediate sense to me, since it seemed like a professional version of Facebook that could be used to make important business contacts, but I worried that the return would be low compared to the investment of time required.
My foil in this situation was a young graphic designer I was working with at the time, the very person I’ve described who immediately “gets” new applications in a way that could only be derived from having grown up surrounded by technology and being completely comfortable with it. I remember my family marveling at our first corded touchtone phone, while he’d never really known a time without cell phones. So when he started nudging our publishing company toward establishing a Facebook page, and sending out Tweets, and joining discussion groups on LinkedIn, I dug in my heels. I basically said “prove to me why this is worthwhile, and I’m onboard 100 percent. But if you can’t, then I’ve got better things to do with my time.”
The turning point for me came on a press trip through Europe with a group of trade editors from around the world. I’d become somewhat isolated from my peers in that previous position, so I took the opportunity to pepper my colleagues with questions about how they did their work. That’s when I came to understand that publishing was no longer about producing a print magazine alone, but that it must be supported by websites, e-newsletters, e-mail blasts, and yes, Facebook and Twitter. Parting ways back in the States a friend encouraged me to create a LinkedIn page, and to join the groups dedicated to editorial matters. “It’ll keep you connected,” she promised.
So I did, and she was right. Suddenly, without having to travel to conferences, I was plugged into a world of ideas that have benefited my professional life immeasurably. I’ve been able to pose questions to other editors and discover how they met—and overcame—the daily challenges I face in my own work, and I’ve provided others with suggestions based on my own experience as well, which is always gratifying. I’ve helped younger editors work their way through ethical dilemmas, and I’ve relied on those with more experience in choosing the right path on more than one occasion. In other words, I consider this interaction to be an invaluable resource, and I gain something from it nearly every day.