Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Social Media, a Practitioner Perspective

Someone at the company I work with invited me to share my experiences on being active on social media about work-adjacent topics, particularly with that they framed as *thought leadership on LinkedIn*. In preparing to share, I did what I always do. I opened a page in my notebook, and started scribbling a model of things I would like to share on. And since I did that step and shared internally, I realized writing it down would be necessary, to notice a slow change of mind over time. 

Where I'm at With Social Media

My story starts with the end - where I am today. 
  • 4100 connections on LinkedIn
  • 7221 followers on Twitter
  • 754 739 blog views over 775 blog posts
  • 450 conference sessions
I didn't set out to do any of this. It all grew one thing at a time. And I don't consider it a significant time investment, it merely reflects doing many little things over and over again over many many years. 

Why It Matters, Though

I recount the story of how I got my latest job. A tweet I shared announcing I'm ready to move, lovely people reaching out in significant numbers discussing opportunities, turning into creating a position together that I would accept. This was my second position built like this, with even better experience than before - I met people both on hands-on side and management before making the mutual commitment to take quality and testing forward together. This was my second position found like this, where I would not have found the job I thoroughly enjoyed without the network. This one was both found with network, and built with network. 

If I didn't have my connections, this would not be possible. 

Traversing the Timeline

Drafting over an electronic whiteboard, I drew a timeline with some of the core events. 
  • 2009 I wrote my first blog post. 
  • 2010 I joined Twitter.
  • 2015 I realized LinkedIn was not for people I know and had met but all professional connections I wanted to uphold.   
  • 2020 I started posting on LinkedIn. 
My history with social media was not that long. And while it may be now strategic, it did not start off that way. 

My whole presence of social media is a continuation of work with non-profits and communities I started in 1993. At first being one of the very few women in tech at Helsinki University of Technology turned me into a serial volunteer. Later this background made me volunteer 2001 - 2011 to Finnish Association for Software Testing. Finally I founded Software Testing Finland ry in 2014. 

Non-profits and communities were important to me for the very same reason social media is now important to me. 
I am a social learner who fast-tracks learning and impacts with networks of people. I show up to share and learn, to find my people and contents that help me forward in understanding.  
I started speaking in conferences to get over paralyzing fear of stages. 
I soon learned that best way to attract good learning conversations was to share what I was excited on, from stage. 
I started blogging to take notes of my learning. 
I later learned that traveling to stages is limiting, when your blog can be be a source of those connections too. 

My Content Approach

If my thinking takes a page or more to explain, I write a blog. 
If I have a thing to make a note of that I can say in public and it can be summarized shortly, I tweet it.
If it is too long to be a single tweet and I want to refrain from tweet storming a series of tweets, I take it to LinkedIn.
If I am seriously thinking it is good content that should be relevant for years, I publish it in one of the magazines or high traffic blog sites known for good content. 
If it can't be public, I have private support groups both inside the company and outside to discuss it. 

I don't have schedule. I have no promises on where I post and when. It emerges as I follow my energy and need of structuring my thoughts. 

Making Time

My most controversial advice is probably around how to make time. 

I have two main principles on how I make time:
  1. No lists. When urge of writing it down to a list hits me, I can just write it to a proper channel. Time to lists is time away from publishing the finished piece.
  2. Write only. I use all of the public channels as write only media. I very often mute the conversations, and if I have time and energy, go back to seeing what is going on. Sometimes I mute on the first annoying comment. And I have taken coaching to find that peace in not arguing and explaining, but expecting people showing up on my mentions for a conversation to approach with curiosity and acceptance that I am not always available. 
I read things, but on my terms and schedule. I read what others write for a limited amount of time and what I see is based on luck and some of the algorithms making choices for me. I read comments and make active choices of when to engage. 

Social media is not my work. I have a testing job with major improvement responsibilities to run. Social media is a side thing. 

Deciding on What You Can Say

Finally, we talk about what we can say. I have carefully read and thought about the social media guidelines my employers have, and seek to understand the intent. My thinking on what to say is framed around professional integrity and caring for people and purpose. Professional integrity means for me that I can discuss struggles and challenges, as long as I feel part of the solutions we are working on. Caring for people means I recognize many of my colleagues read what I write and recognize themselves even in writing I did not think are about them but general challenges that many people recognize. Caring for purpose means thinking about how to do no harm while maintaining integrity. 

We all choose a different profile we are comfortable projecting. What you see me write may appear unfiltered, but I guarantee it is not. 

The impacts of sharing openly are varied. Sometimes knowing what thoughts I am working through is an invitation to people to join forces and see perspectives.  Most often people trust my true enthusiasm on solving each and every puzzle, including ones involving compromises. Sometimes I have offended people.  I've appreciated the one who opened a conversation on the feelings my reflections raised as some of my wishes seemed impossible at a time.

I also remember well how one of my blog posts caused a bit of a discussion in my previous place of work. I still maintain my stance: it was a blog post about how test automation very often fails when done on side to reach the value in projects, a problem I have lived through multiple times. But it was written at a time when someone felt that sting of failure on their technical success was too much to handle. 

I apologize when I hurt people, and I don't apologize for their feelings being hurt, but I work to understand what it was that I do. Apologizing comes with a change I will try to make. 

Final Words

When we were discussing me joining my current organization, my recruiting manager called to an old manager of mine from over 10 years ago. The endorsement came with a realistic warning: Maaret is active on social media, and you want to be aware of that. 

I was hired regardless, and love my work. It is always ups and downs, and being visible/vocal holds power I try to use with respect. 

The platform is part of building a career instead of holding a job. Be who you want to be on social media so that it supports your career. My version is just my version, and yours should look like you.