Social media: a waste of time or key networking tool?

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Tanya Weaver looks at what all the fuss is about and what there is to gain from joining the twittersphere

I am often asked how I manage to work from home. Don’t you get lonely? Don’t you suffer from cabin fever? Do you stay in your pyjamas all day?

To be honest, I enjoy working from home because it gives me the peace and quiet to get on with my job without distractions. Also, I feel far from cut off from the world because, through my fingertips, I can be connected to as many people as I wish from my friend two doors down who’s on Facebook, a French industrial designer on Twitter to an Australian professor of engineering using LinkedIn.

I am a self confessed fan of Twitter. For me it is a great way of communicating and interacting with people in real time. Many a new article idea has sprung from a post or conversation I’ve seen on Twitter. And although I try to keep it to my work life, it does have a tendency to sneak into my personal life. Sitting on the couch one evening, reading all the latest tweets on my timeline via the Twitter app on my iPhone, I had a tweet from my husband (who was sat next to me) asking if I planned to talk to him that night. #oops

However, I haven’t always been such a social media butterfly. When I officially joined the D3D team a couple of years back, Al said I needed to set up a Twitter account. I thought, what would I possibly have to say?

My very first tweet as @tanya_weaver was ‘Hello. I’m here’ now on tweet 4,020 it seems like I have quite a lot on my mind.

Twitter, which has been around since 2006, is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to send and read messages known as tweets. Micro because although you can write, link to websites and post pictures, it all has to be done within 140 characters. This stumped me a bit to begin with because I am a born waffler. However, I now see why these short but sweet tid-bits of information are a good idea. Any more characters and Twitter wouldn’t have the same appeal.

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I won’t go into the ins and outs of following, replying, retweeting and creating hashtags now. Other than to say, for those who don’t use it it’s easier than what you may think and entering this world of constant conversation can be hugely beneficial. Collectively, as a D3D team we use Twitter to draw attention to the latest blog post or article on our website using the standard format of ‘Fresh on D3D:…’. I then also use Twitter to get up to the date information by following industry-related news feeds, websites, bloggers, organisations, consultancies as well as individual designers and engineers.

I love the interactions that take place on Twitter. For instance, recently I and about six of my followers had a discussion about our ardent dislike (me) and hilarity (them) of The Apprentice programme. I find the programme intolerable to watch but through Twitter they were giving me running commentary whilst it was showing on TV. It was interesting to read their banter about what Lord Sugar and Co were up to.

Although there are a lot of us on Twitter (around 140 million at last count) there are many who just don’t see the worth of it and how it can be a productive use of their time. Many designers and engineers may argue that they don’t have a spare minute to be social on the internet when buried under all their work. Fair enough, but if used effectively (not just to follow celebrities, comedians and musicians) it can be a great communication tool with many benefits to be reaped.

So, with the help of some of my followers (@radiuscreatives, @CadSetterOut, @rbsquarebanana, @prldesign and @CadFileRefiner) I have compiled a short list of some of the benefits I think there are to be gained by those working in the product development industry:

1. Networking and collaboration

Access to a peer group seems to be the biggest benefit. Through Twitter you can network and socialise informally while sharing ideas and resources. You can ask questions and get help on a subject whether it be a new supplier, new software or what process to use. Similarly, you can offer advice or express your own opinions on industry-related issues.

2. Finger on the pulse

Twitter is a powerful tool for obtaining information because it’s immediate. By following particular publications, news sources, blogs or magazines (like@develop3d) you’ll be able to discover the latest news and trends in the industry.

3. Self promotion

This is a tricky one because Twitter is not a hard sales channel. Use it to inform your followers about the latest blog post on your website or link to your latest project but don’t be too ‘salesy’. This will irritate people and you’ll find your following rapidly diminishing. A better way of raising your profile is by commenting on other tweets and getting involved in discussions.

4. Get new business,find suppliers and match make

It is possible to land a job through Twitter by offering your services if someone is looking for help. Or if it’s not something you can help with, you may know of someone who can. Similarly, you can ask for recommendations if it’s you looking for help or looking to hire someone.

5. It’s Fun

The key to getting the most benefit out of Twitter is to not take it too seriously. Don’t be overly business-like or corporate, people like it if there is a personality behind the @ symbol.

So, with all this going on (not to mention what is happening on Facebook and LinkedIn) how could I possibly feel isolated?

But it is strange to think that journalists (not that long ago either) used to sit at a desk using a typewriter with their only connection to the outside world being a telephone. Amazing how technology has come on in so relatively short a period. Food for thought for my next comment piece perhaps…


Tanya Weaver says that Twitter shouldn’t be taken too seriously
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