Professional Development in the Age of Social Media

Proficiency begets accomplishment. Continual investments in talent-expansion needed to take on greater challenges almost always ensure continual return.

In an age where media continue to evolve, the value of professional development appreciates.

Once organizations get over the hump and hype of social media and begin investing in the long-term discipline needed reap any kind of return (however that’s defined and targeted), three biggest challenges come into clear view:

  • Resource-allocation
  • Logistical planning
  • Process execution

Common to all three of these: Professional Development.

In the last few years, there’s been a ton of fuss over social media? What’s it about? What’s the big deal, really? Well, aside from technophilia and our fascination with connection, play, exchange and intravenous information highs, I think that at the back of many executives’ heads is something like this:

How are we going to actually do this? What exactly are we going to need to allocate to this and how? How much is this going to cost us – in terms of dollars, effort, time and risk?

These are all legitimate concerns – in fact, it’s only responsible to have them.

A problem, however, is that resistance to adoption gets reinforced by uncertainty, unfamiliarity and fear. Since human talent is the largest needed component of doing social media, it’s professional development that is at the core of these concerns.

In the coming years, more organizations will realize the need for proficiency in online communications, proficiency which can only be maintained by due professional development.


Now here’s the paradox of integrating today’s media into businesses: the level of seriousness about social media is inversely proportional its ability to accomplish work.

In other words, for the people actually executing social media, it can’t be another job.

Proficiency in 21st Century communications has to flow.

Click on the image at the top of this post and come back here. Continually striking the right balance between Challenge and Skill is a universal need in productivity, learning, entertainment…virtually anything.

Flow is an idea developed by a Chicago professor of psychology. You’ve probably have heard about it before, but it’s perfectly apt for our discussion. For more background, you can go here.

Basically, the theory goes as follows.

If the challenge ahead of you is high, but your skill level needed to take it on is low, you’ll be anxious and ineffective.

If the challenge ahead of you is low, but your skills are highly refined, you’ll be bored – in which case you might be either effective, or burnt out and become ineffective.

Therefore, finding a balance between challenge and skill is key to keeping in the flow. It’s that place in between that provides the requisite feedback of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards needed for accomplishment.

But here’s the thing: once you’ve reached the right mix of skill and challenge, you have to keep on taking new challenges and acquiring new skills in oder to stay in the flow.

If you think of this in larger economic terms – and in historical context – it’s been those businesses that continually invest and re-invest in getting better (or which have the wisdom to quit and take on something new) that survive and thrive in the long-run.

In other words, the same basic principle of continually taking on new challenges and acquiring new powers are involved at the macro level as they are at the individual level.

So: when it comes to mastering online communications, marketing or general web presence, it’s critical to take on new challenges and hone new skills in order to remain profitable – either financially or otherwise.

Social media isn’t really the problem confronting organizations. It’s business design.

It always was about business design: it’s just that now, social media is revealing the disconnections and pathologies that plague many businesses: if an organization doesn’t appear apt to communicate in today’s world, it’s apparent to others that it’s probably not supple enough to be adaptive and visionary.

With the Internet, nothing stays the same for very long. Developing staff that develops itself is one of the most valuable and enduring processes any organization can acquire.


Given the pliancy of the various kinds of social and other media, they can have a surprisingly wide array of re-purposing potential.

Some of the things you can do with these media range from low-cost, low risk to high-cost, high-risk.

Low-cost, low risk: Publishing general content on Twitter.

High-cost, high-risk: International branded Pharma marketing.

As you move from publishing general content on a simple medium with 140 characters to blogging about more business-related content and building community, the needed time and effort needed to do well increase.

If you have no experience with online communications – never blogged, never had any experience in actively responding to comments or commenting on other blogs – then you’re opening yourself up to the business equivalent of anxiety – the cost of failure at the point is much higher than the cost of ramping up your skills over time.

So if, for example, Pharma spends years figuring out how to do Branded Marketing without going through the baby steps of rudimentary online communications, all of the fears’ of the industry will be made dutifully manifest.

Which do you think is a sounder plan in the face of 21st Century communications?:

  • Hire an intern who knows how to tweet and blog but has zero business experience?
  • Develop existing staff with years of hard-won experience by giving them the training and perspective and strategic vision needed for contemporary communications?

Now, the reality is that both of these are extremes: some staff with brilliant experience in traditional methods may be too reistent to learning new ways of doing things. Some interns may be useful in supporting roles under the tutelage of the experienced and therefore may have important roles to play.

My point is: you may have to accept that no solution is perfect – that you may have to invest in hiring and training staff who don’t have everything you need, but have the intelligence and ambition and open-mindedness to do the work involved in matching challenges and skills.

The Age of the assembly-line framework of doing business may not be dead, but it is being fundamentally challenged.

Social media doesn’t matter. The cultural, social, economic, personal, organizational, historical, geopolitical, cognitive, psychological, neurological, health-related, creative, technological and very human disruptions which these media are insidiously invoking do matter.

Rather than spinning wheels trying to copy and paste some how-to manual of social media, organizations are much better off investing in professional development of their most powerful resource: their network of (happy) human brains.


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0 Replies to “Professional Development in the Age of Social Media”

  1. Nice piece Phil! I also dig the references. especially ‘flow’ = ‘ a mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.’ How often is that the standard in the typical American work environment? Never worked at Google or Pixar, so my experience is considerably more jaded by traditional command and control silos with fear based DNA.

    1. Hi Gregg

      Yes, exactly: few traditional enterprises will be able to encourage Flow.

      And that’s the thing: Those enterprises that can do that won’t be terribly successful.

      Those that can, have a chance.

      Evolution via natural flow. 😉

  2. The paradox is interesting. I might submit that the appearance of not being serious is more important than not being serious. Sharpie Susan and the e-trade baby on Tw being examples of how serious marketing operates within a casual and loose outward appearance.

    And ditto on Gregg’s flow insight. I just can’t say it any better.

    1. Right – it’s about the attitude of seriousness.

      Often, serious is confused with responsible.

      As I said to Greg, if enterprises can’t create the right kinds of social designs for employees, they just won’t be as effective.

      In the online world, attitude slips through very easily – so if employees who are the public face aren’t in the right frame of mind, that will eat away from sincerity.

      It’s an easy point to overlook – but trust me, it’s very easy to burn out when you’re online on behalf of someone else that you’re not passionate about. It shows through, one way or another.


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