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Stutzman: Embracing benefits of social media

August 6, 2012
Mary Beth Stutzman , The Alpena News

You've probably heard people say that our community always seems to be about five years behind any new trend, technology, or societal transition. Like many, I used to think this to be true; but not anymore. Organizations like the hospital, marine sanctuary, schools, and local businesses have proven that not only is Northeast Michigan embracing the latest and greatest - in a lot of areas we are helping to set the standard.

Nevertheless, one advancement we still seem to be ignoring collectively as a community is social media. For many, taking advantage of social media applications like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn is a no-brainer. For others, it is viewed negatively.

If you aren't familiar with social media that's no reason to stop reading; keep going. Social media is just that, a mechanism through which to communicate. It's the digital era's version of the hand-written letter or telephone call. For the generations that grew up with computers (generally anyone under 30), social media is a normal part of life. For the rest of us, it may take a bit longer to grasp but we still need to understand what it is. I suspect that 10 years from now the definition of a hermit won't be someone who lives in a shack in the remote woods; it will be someone who refuses to understand the Internet and digital forms of communication.

I was a late adopter to social media. At first I thought it was creepy and irrelevant. I grew up on the edge of rampant computer usage when the usable Internet was still being dreamed up. In grade school we had one computer in the building. I typed most reports for high school on a typewriter. I have since kept up with our Internet-driven culture but social media was still held at a distance. My husband convinced me to set up a Facebook account while on maternity leave with our daughter. Within about a week I was hooked.

I even took a college class and went to seminars to learn more. The benefits of these free communication services are exponential and I could go on for days about how you can grow your business or mission via these digital communication tools. In fact, people I don't even know across the U.S. and Canada share this Inspiring A-Town column on Twitter quite regularly. I've connected people with jobs, sold a car, rented houses; and my work team uses LinkedIn to build new sales leads and connections.

OK, so you get it. Social media is useful. Why am I still talking about it? Because there are organizations in our community that haven't taken the time to learn about the benefits and think it is nothing more than a glorified time-waster. This could not be further from the truth. It is a new way of communicating and even plays a role in advanced commerce. Remember when you had to get up and walk over to the telephone on the wall to make a phone call (provided no one else was on the party line)? Now people send text messages on their smart phones via social media.

Limiting the usage of social media in your organization, or not using it at all, is going to become a large detriment that will have you operating in the dark ages in the very near future. It doesn't matter if you like it or not, this is how people are communicating and it can't be ignored. It may be Facebook for today and tomorrow it will be something else. Even if you don't want it in your personal life, at the very least it needs to be accepted because it's not going anywhere.

I've heard of three people losing their jobs in the past year because they looked at their Facebook account while at work. While I don't have all the details and each organization has different rules for how they expect employees to operate, I am saddened by the perceived lack of understanding for present day communication standards. By this logic you may as well also end employment for those who glance out the window, talk to co-workers about the Olympics, ask someone outside of the company for advice on a project, or call their spouse from work. Sure, there should be boundaries while at work to prevent time abuse; but, are boundaries designed to blindly and authoritatively control or are they designed to respectfully limit and encourage personal professional and organization growth in this technologically-driven digital world we live in? It's something to think about.

What are your thoughts about the use of social media in different areas of life? Go to the Inspiring A-Town Facebook page to share.

Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town column appears bi-weekly on Tuesdays.



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