"We've all heard of social media. It's nothing new. It's about people and it's about their relationships," said Kevin Eyres, former managing director of LinkedIn Europe, in his keynote speech at the PMI® Global Congress 2011--EMEA in Dublin, Ireland.
And it's no different for project and program managers. They should be leveraging social media as a competitive advantage to build business relationships and gain professional insight.
"Social media gives us a different way to interact," he told attendees from around the world.
For the skeptics content to sit on the social media sidelines, Mr. Eyres issued a warning: "Is all this social stuff important? It is. This is not going away," he said. "Use social media for knowledge and information sharing with the right tools in the right context."
That could mean following project management thought leaders on Twitter for an early jump on trends. Or, it could mean joining a discussion on one of PMI's communities of practice.
No matter the social vehicle, there's a willing and able audience of project professionals ready to pitch in on project problems as a way to help "the greater good," Mr. Eyres said. He compared it to the community effort behind open source software.
For all the power of social media, though, you shouldn't just "hang out" on social media. Go in with a true purpose backed up by a plan -- using the same skills you would on any other project.
"You guys are project and program managers. You're good at this," he said.
To get started in social media, simply listen and then slowly build up who you are and what you're focused on for a consistent online brand image.
"If you start throwing out random things, you lose your authenticity," Mr. Eyres said. "Pick out things you're passionate about."
On LinkedIn, for example, it's not just about how many connections you have. Mr. Eyres set 50 as the minimum number to get value. But he encouraged project and program managers to remember the context.
"Don't be a promiscuous connector. It doesn't do you any good," he said. "Consciously build up a network of influencers."
Done right, social media can boost your career, too. "You're building a brand for yourself," he said. "You're an entrepreneur and you are your own best business."
For starters, make sure your online presence plays up what you want potential employers to focus on. PMI's Career Central LinkedIn Group can also provide tips and tools.
Mr. Eyres did acknowledge the risks of social media and advised people to "understand what information you're making public and choose friends wisely." If you make some mistakes along the way, that's okay -- but you need to put yourself out there, he said. "Your relationships and network matter more than ever."