Stuck in a workplace where tight rules apply to using social networking? Turn the situation on its head and use your skills to advance your career.
It's no news that social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become pretty much part of the landscape. Figures vary, but even on the lower estimates there are more than 8 million Australians using Facebook, for instance.
As their popularity has grown, businesses have struggled with the best way to control them. On the one hand, people who are spending lots of time updating their status are spending less time getting the job done. On the other hand, some of those people probably previously wasted time hanging around the water cooler. And while many companies apply policies that ban and restrict access to social networking sites, it's pretty tempting to work around those restrictions. And it's not even that hard to do — if you're armed with a smartphone, then the workplace policy suddenly becomes a lot less meaningful.
At a recent IBM Collective Intelligence event in Sydney, IBM associate partner Mac McIntosh argued that far from imposing those kinds of bans we often see, businesses should recognise that social networking is going to be one of the communications channels that's widely used in the future. Further, older employees — who are less likely to have embraced those options so whole-heartedly — should draw on the skills of younger staff who already understand those mediums, a process he described as "reverse mentoring". As McIntosh put it:
The older generations are part of the problem, while the new entrants into the workforce are the net generation. Have them teach your business leaders and spend time with them talking about what it means.
McIntosh also noted that we need to shift away from the mentality that being online is always going to be a waste of time:
If you're empowering employees to get business results, then that is part of their job.
Such mentoring could take many forms. Some of it might cover the appropriate tone to adopt when using social networking, whether that's messages across LinkedIn or posts on the company Twitter account. Some of it might cover using social media management software to make tracking multiple networks easier. We normally think of mentoring in the opposite direction (the older advising the younger), but in fact this draws on the key element of the relationship: experience.
That said, it might not be advisable to immediately suggest to your boss "Your social networking skills suck, but I can help". And in companies that are still in the all-Twitter-is-evil mentality, such a step could be some time away. But if your business is beginning to discuss how social networking fits in, volunteering to mentor and assist could be a career-enhancing step. If you've tried this approach, we'd love to hear about it in the comments.
Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.