Gary Vaynerchuk wisely said, “When I hear people debate the ROI of social media, it reminds me why so many businesses fail. Most businesses are not playing the marathon. They’re playing the sprint. They’re not worried about lifetime value and retention. They’re worried about short-term goals.”

I am continually surprised by the marginal competency most people have with using social media to build their careers, their businesses, and more importantly, their communities. We can witness the marginal value social networking has in the workplace in debates about its appropriateness and clumsy corporate policies on social media use among employees. As organizations fumble, social media is currently the fastest, most effective medium for growing a successful support system.

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” We can recast this statement today by suggesting that your social media success is based on the average of the five thousand people in your network.

My advocacy for universal social media skills comes from a deeply personal experience. I characterize October 2008 as the business owner’s 9/11. Most of my entrepreneurial friends can recount where they were and what they were doing when they found out the economy was collapsing. My own company lost about a third of our contracts during the first week of the month, and the balance were gone by the end of October.

We had a gentleman who would in his office for hours working on business development through LinkedIn. After a year, the results were so minimal that they fed my own cynicism about investing in social media.

My business development success up until that time had been based on proven formulas like sales calls, building face-to-face persistent sales skills, and engaging in lots of follow-up. All of a sudden, I had very little to show for it.

Out of some desperation and growing curiosity, I took a much closer look at social networking and realized that most of us were experiencing something like the following: We receive a generic, automated note that says “I would like to add you to my connections.” We wonder what the person wants. We assume they’re trying to sell us something. We mindlessly accept the connection. We may briefly glance at their profile. We never hear from them again.

As a technology, social networking offers speed and access in ways that humble old sales skills never could. The core problem with typical social networking behavior is that the vast majority of it resembles junk mail. There is very little warmth, attractiveness, or connectivity in our approaches to social media.

DepressionIn response to this problem, I designed a high-touch business development protocol for social networking, and the results were staggering. At the time, I had maybe 400 connections that primarily included people I already knew or people I had never talked with. Today, I have more than 11,000 connections, most of them active, and more than 90 percent of them are people I had never met or talked to previously. Today, most of our new business comes from social networking, with referrals as a close second. I used social networking to build my publishing platform. My blogs now reach more than six million readers.

We spend so much time studying generational differences and arguing about what to do with millennials, but hardly anyone recognizes we actually have so much to learn from this generation’s success with social media.

On 60 Minutes, Bill Whitaker asked Kim Kardashian, “Other people sing, or they do comedy. What’s your talent?”

Kardashian: “It is a talent to create a brand that is really successful off of getting people to like you for you.”

Whitaker: “You’ve turned you into an empire, worth in excess of a $100 million dollars, I’ve read.”

Kardashian: “I would think that involves some kind of talent.”

Taylor Swift is the world’s master of building profoundly connected relationships with her fans through the savvy use of social media. Swift is part of a generation of people who used social media throughout their developmental years. What makes Swift so unique within the industry is that she builds these relationships not by touting her glory, but by giving high-quality attention to her fans, asking them to share their needs, wants, joys, fears, and dreams. They become part of a narrative that tightly bonds them to the star.

Swift’s social media practices are brilliant, and her skills represent the types that I promote: high-touch, engaging, and focused on the fans rather than on oneself. CEOs and marketing executives would do well to study her marketing genius.

What does this have to do with employee engagement and personal change? We want to not only promote social networking within our organizations, but also give people the kinds of skills that help them rapidly connect with the people who can contribute to their personal and professional growth.

PeaceFor the last three years, we have turned the social networking process I created to rebuild Inspired Work into a social networking curriculum that is delivered to teams and professionals in both classroom and virtual environments. We teach people how to define their online brands with their profiles and their communications. More importantly, we teach people to never rely on generic site-based communications ever again. We show people how to reach out to prospective connections with messages that are about them rather than about us.

The benefits of building social networking skills are endless. Human resources departments use social media to strengthen recruitment efforts while lowering costs. They quickly and easily establish new sources of business intelligence. They build relationships with other human resources organizations. People develop stronger careers by locating skilled mentors. Financial professionals stay abreast of innovations and trends. Other people realize they love this form of community-building and become skilled bloggers themselves.

When it comes to successful personal change, one obstacle people face is the fear that others will hurt them if they draw healthy attention to themselves. For the vast number of individuals who work very hard to avoid attention, smart social networking can be life-changing.

Developing hands-on social media skills can impact every aspect of organizational performance while transforming confidence levels. When we also add mentorship and peer forums to further develop the skills, we observe new levels of appreciation and awareness for one another.

Reprinted, with permission of the publisher, from The Workplace Engagement Solution © 2017 David Harder. Published by Career Press. All rights reserved.

David Harder is the founder of Inspired Work.

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