TL;DR My bottom line suggestion is to first start with blogs (get a feed reader and subscribe, read and comment on blogs). Next join Reddit and subscribe to the sub-reddits you are interested in, and participate. Next start your own blog. Then join Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+. Put your learning first; other measures are largely “fools gold” (such as number of followers).
Blogs are the best way to use the internet to learn, network, share and grow. That includes reading blogs, commenting on blogs and writing your own blog. Thankfully there are tons of great management improvement blogs (especially on lean thinking) for managers to learn from. There is a great opportunity for six sigma blogs as the field is not crowded with high value blogs on that topic.
Writing your own blog is the very best online way to create a brand for yourself (and to learn and grow). Given the workplace today, and how the future seems likely to unfold, building your own brand is a valuable career tool. Writing your own blog also builds your understanding of the topic. As you put your thoughts into words you have to examine them and often build a more complete understanding yourself before you can write about it.
You also build a network as you read and comment on other’s blogs and as others read and comment on your blog. YouTube can be used in a similar way (though I would use a blog to add text to the webcast and encourage comments on the blog rather than YouTube). Using an RSS blog feed reader is the first social network tool you should use (way before you sign up for Twitter or Facebook or anything). Podcasts can also. I have done a few podcast, most discussing the ideas in my management book. Videos and audio connect more deeply to people so they are wonderful methods to reach people. I should get some webcast up on YouTube; it is one of my plans that I haven’t gotten to you yet.
I would recommend a web site specifically to maintain your own brand. Remember, over a career people often shift focus, the world changes, etc.. It may be whatever blog you are working on today doesn’t fit you 10 years from now. I have JohnHunter.com as a central resource for me and then from there I can link to my various areas of interest online (management, investing, travel, engineering and my various social network links and the like).
Other sources of building professional social networks have varying degrees of worth. The four I think have anything more than minimal value for managers are Reddit, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. I don’t use, or value, Facebook or MySpace or many of the others. Facebook is fairly popular with managers so if you want to tie yourself into Facebook’s ecosystem that is not an uncommon choice. I just find other outlets a better choice myself.
Reddit is an extremely valuable site that most managers don’t use. The initial reaction may well be that this site is full of tons of awesome cat photos, which is true. But the site is designed around “sub-reedits” which are focused topic networks. The idea is you select those topics you are interested in and those topics will display for you. In order to see much on your topics you will likely want to unsubscribe to most of the default options.
Reddit users submit links and then the networks vote on the submissions and add comments (see my post here from 2006 – Dell, Reddit and Customer Focus). The comments on Reddit can be great in many sub-reddits (they of course, also can be full of lame comments as is the case with most social networks). I created a maintain several management improvement related sub-reedits. This link collects several sub-reddits I think are worthwhile for managers in one place.
You can easily create your own sub-reddit (in less than a minute – the challenging part is to attract like minded people to make the sub-reddit worthwhile). I have done so for several topics and find it a great way to have a collection of links that are very focused. Those interested in learning more about, for example, the 2 new deadly diseases (overpaid executives and the broken copyright and patent systems) can follow the link and subscribe. I find this valuable as people are sometimes unclear on why those diseases matter and this gives them an easy way to learn about the problems.
I find the forced brevity of Twitter annoying. It is hard to get anything meaningful across given the limits. But Twitter is very convenient for following and connecting (very superficially) with people and for broadcasting short messages (though really rss is normally a much better technology for this purpose).
Twitter is very active with lots of people, and lots of managers, participating (we adds to the value of using it). Personally I think if Twitter got rid of the forced limitation on message size it would be far more worthwhile. But some people like the gimmick and it isn’t likely to go away. It probably makes sense to use Twitter but I am not really sure how valuable it is.
LinkedIn also benefits from widespread use but has similar usability issues that limit the value in my opinion. It is again something that probably makes sense to use. Participating in discussions can be useful but the interface is not great. It would be much better if these discussions were on people’s blogs, in my opinion. The discussion groups are decent though more in spite of LinkedIn’s practices than because LinkedIn manages things well. The LinkedIn members (and especially moderators) make some groups very useful, though most are filled with useless spam-like posts.
Like so many of the social networks LinkedIn locks you into their limited ecosystem – and I don’t get indications they are interested in participating in open internet communication. My guess is they cripple the User experience (Ux) and will continue to do so going forward (and likely will cripple it more later to force people into paying, paying more, or to keep them paying) . I can’t understand the decisions without a model of we need to degrade the Ux so we force people to pay. If that isn’t it then the Ux just is really bad for some other reason.
Investing your time in locking your data into someone else’s ecosystem is likely to lead to frustration. For now though, LinkedIn offers a decent network for managers – I don’t see much problem skipping it, but I use it and it is probably wise to do so if you are looking for a social network. It is helpful to be able to find email addresses and phone numbers for your connections on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is the network I would love to dump. It is so annoying in so many ways. But the usefulness outweighs that for now. I am ready to jump as soon as something comes along that lets me do so. Google+ could do it, but I very much doubt it will. And the problem for Google is even harder because they have seriously damaged the trust users have in Google by shutting down so many services, users just are not going to jump onboard Google offerings the way they would if Google offerings were not so unreliable. I think it will take a new player. Twitter (the company) could do it by offering a companion site (leave Twitter functioning the way it does but offer some new site that integrates with Twitter and extends it). There is plenty of money in competing with LinkedIn, but no one seems to have done so very well, yet – the best stuff seems to be new startups but they all seem to have a great deal of trouble getting traction (which isn’t surprising).
Google+ is worthwhile for 2 reasons. First Google is using their market dominance to coerce people into using it. I don’t like that but I think it is wise to accept that they have that power and give-in to them in this area. The biggest value is the Google Authorship (which promotes your content and provides an image on Google search results). This is something you definitely should do and requires Google+. You could stop there. The main other thing I like is that it is basically Twitter without the gimmick of a 140 character limit, which I find lame (as I mentioned above).
Adding connections is super easy and even a bit better than Twitter as it allows for you to arrange your connections in circles (topics). Circles don’t work as well as they should – I should be able to send a post to those people interested in a specific topic but that isn’t how circles work yet. I should be able to view my streams of posts by circle (which I don’t think you can do, but maybe you can).
HackerNews is a very good option for people interested in technology (or those managing software, engineers or technology people or managing startups). The level of discussion is very good. The management focus on HackerNews is on agile software development, lean startup and engineering over MBA thinking.
Trip Advisor is a great example of providing a great platform for sharing. For managers that travel I would say it fits in the “business” area. But it also is a great example of customer focus and providing value (good Ux). And even if you don’t travel for work it is a great resource for vacations from work.
Another site that does social right is Stack Overflow (and related sites) – aimed at computer programmers.