What do today’s ‘professional communicators’ look like?

Nine months ago, I left my “real-world” job and set out to determine what my next career incarnation would be, and I’ve been pleased with my choice to join the consulting world. Not only is it fun, but it has also led me to rethink some long-held views and embrace some new practices. One example: social media.

Having social media experience has become a critical factor in hiring for corporate communications positions. I find this amusing: So few large companies – especially companies in highly regulated industries – pursue a robust social media strategy and/or do it well. In fairness, the rules of compliance in many industries are many, and the cost of noncompliance can be devastating. Inappropriate use of social media could set off a regulatory compliance firestorm. But make no mistake: Just like desktop publishing, videos and the intranets that preceded it, social media are the shiny new toys in the world of communications.

My brother was our high school’s star athlete. My concern was that I would join Facebook only to spend most of my time answering the question, “Whatever happened to Big Al?”

Like many of my colleagues, my own first foray was with Facebook, which I resisted for a very long time. My brother was our high school’s star athlete. My concern was that I would join Facebook only to spend most of my time answering the question, “Whatever happened to Big Al?” Eventually, I joined so that my husband (another FB holdout) and dog could volunteer at events scheduled using Facebook, as handler and therapy dog, respectively. I’m an avid follower now, although I post my own updates only occasionally.

I do believe that, despite personal preferences, one cannot be a communications professional without a thorough knowledge of all the available tools, so I have embraced social media. I blog. I tweet. I link. I’m learning to pin. But, I’d be lying if I said it comes naturally. After years of writing about and for others, it’s difficult to write about myself – to express my own views. Further, I don’t think this discomfort is mine alone; I believe I share it with many baby boomers – some of whom hold leadership positions in major corporations.

As a communications professional, I knew that embracing social media was the right thing to do: It’s a tool of my trade. But, an article I recently read in Harvard Business Review underscores how organizations – and the over-age-40 businesspeople running them – who don’t also embrace social media may be left behind. According to author Allison Fine, what characterizes a “professional” is changing, regardless of whether the person is a communications professional.

She nails the reasons why social media can be threatening (and I’m paraphrasing here):

  • When using social media, the organization isn’t speaking with one voice.
  • If a company has a social media presence, angry customers/investors/consumers/etc. can attack it publicly.
  • Policy dictates that comments should not be shared externally until they’ve been vetted internally. This is not possible using social media.
  • Something might be published with a typo – a major concern for the communications team.

These are the organizational concerns, but what I most appreciate (and agree with) in Fine’s article is the portrait she paints of the “new” professional image that social media allows us. Ultimately, using social media means sharing and being authentic. You inevitably cede some control over your image, your privacy and (possibly) your reputation. But, using social media, both organizations and individuals must present themselves publicly and – if they get it right – authentically. That’s a business world and a personal choice I’m happy to support.

© 2019 Betty Henry Communications