Don’t Quit Social Media. Put It to Work for Your Career Instead.


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Hayden Maynard

As director of digital communications and social media at the career site Monster, I read Cal Newport’s recent Preoccupations column, “Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It,” with great interest. Mr. Newport argues that social media is harmful for careers because it is too much of a distraction and doesn’t provide a valuable return on investment professionally.

As someone who spends the majority of his work time on social media helping people find careers they’ll love, I disagree with his assessment. I believe that you should not quit social media — and that doing so will actually damage your career.

Understandably, you might be questioning my motives — “Hey, this guy does social media for a living, so clearly he’s got a vested stake in this matter.” Well, you’re right. But let’s start with the point that I’m not the only one who makes a career doing this: Just one platform, Facebook, has created more than 4.5 million social media industry jobs globally, according to a study conducted by Deloitte. Talk about literal career benefits. The number of people in the creative industries, advertising and more who make a living on social media is probably much higher.

But I’m not just here to proclaim the greatness that is social media. I agree with some of the points that Mr. Newport makes about the potential harm it can cause. But I think there are ways to navigate these hurdles rather than hiding from social media altogether.

Here’s how I believe we can address some career challenges presented by social media, as outlined by Mr. Newport:

“Many people in my generation fear that without a social media presence, they would be invisible to the job market.”

This is actually a reasonable belief, and it’s a reality that is becoming more clear each day. Tools are available that enable employers to search all the digital bread crumbs you leave behind to see a fuller picture of who you are and how you might fit within their organization.

Most employers and customers I’ve talked to are ultimately looking for confirmation of their excitement about you, not reasons for suspicions or doubts. Not having any profile could be seen as a red flag, so why give a potential employer any reason to question your candidacy?

Your social media presence — and, really, your whole digital footprint — is no longer just an extension of your résumé. It’s as important as your résumé. Social media use is now a standard of the hiring process, and there’s little chance of going back.

You need to realize that social media wields great power: What you say there — including saying nothing at all — has an effect on your network or on the employer who is checking out your Instagram account. But remember that you control what people see. By being more judicious about what you share or by altering the platform settings where possible, you can manage your digital trail to increase the odds that a potential employer will form a positive impression of you.

“Cultivating your social media brand is a fundamentally passive approach to professional advancement.”

One reason to leave the social world behind is the torrid pace of maintaining a public, digital brand on social media for little return. Mr. Newport’s column tells of a writer who became overwhelmed by his sense of obligation “to update his blog every half-hour or so,” for very little value delivered. But the rabid sharer is just one type of social media user.

There are many people with a presence on social media who are what we affectionately call lurkers, those who may never or rarely post or share but who simply consume content widely. These activities may seem passive, but they are not. Lurkers may be doing much to further their careers: learning new things, keeping up with the latest trends or preparing for any conversation that might crop up in the break room or during a job interview.

“Social media use is decidedly not rare or valuable.”

In many cases, social media can have a substantial effect on important issues and on public discourse. For instance, I fully believe social media indirectly affected the 2016 presidential election by generating a kind of mass conversation that further polarized supporters of the two major candidates. In today’s reality, these conversations often influence what becomes news — real or fake.

Regardless of your sentiments about these mainstream discussions, not staying on top of them means you’re excluding yourself from critical conversations with co-workers and clients. In the case of clients in particular, exposing yourself to diverse views expressed on social media will make it easier to find common ground, as you can expect to work with people from all walks of life and political backgrounds. This will not happen naturally if you visit the same publications every day (which are probably in line with your views), but it can happen on social media if you follow a well-rounded collection of sources. The main point is this: Social media is often where news — real or fake, in line with your views or not — is happening, and being aware of it is crucial for business professionals today.

In the end, for these reasons and more, I don’t support abandoning social media. I suggest we embrace it, fully and more actively than ever, but also thoughtfully and deliberately. In doing so, we create important career opportunities, from simply expanding our networks and improving our knowledge, to exposing ourselves to jobs we may not have previously considered.

It’s clear that social media is here to stay, so why not make it work for you?

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