Twitter, Facebook, and other social media are excellent for promoting your expertise, but as a consultant, you also need to stay on top of trends in your field. Social networks can help, but you need to plan how to absorb what you learn and avoid information overload.
To figure that out for myself, I borrowed ideas from the management consultant Harold Jarche, who advises thinking about this task into three approaches—seek, sense, and share. Here's how I put his advice to work.
Social media can help you keep up with topics so you can be more effective in your work.
Start with making a list of the five to 10 of the best information sources that cover your area of expertise.
Find them on Twitter, subscribe to their blogs, connect on LinkedIn or “like” their Facebook page. Then create a dashboard by using an RSS reader and carve out regular time to read every day. You can also scan based on keywords.
It might seem obvious, but in the daily rush to get items ticked off the to-do list, it is easy to ignore the goal at hand: making sense of the information you read each day.
To do this, you must put ideas into practice and figure out what worked. You must also find time to reflect, a process that happens, in part, in quiet—and for most of us that means turning off our social-network streams.
Create a system that allows you to synthesize what you’ve learned from your social networks. You might do that by writing about what you learned (a blog is terrific for that) or incorporating new ideas into a presentation. I like to use wikis to share the best ideas I have discovered with my clients and others.
Learning also happens by sharing information on social networks. To do this well, you need to be comfortable "learning in public" as opposed to the solitary way so many of us learned when we were in school.
A good example of how the process of interacting with peers can work can be found on the Packard Foundation's wiki on organizational effectiveness, through which nonprofit consultants and evaluation geeks share information about the preliminary findings of Packard's evaluation of nonprofit consulting practices.
While I’ve gotten a lot of value of sharing and engaging on Twitter, I’ve seen other social media platforms that go deeper than 140 characters. Quora is interesting for discussions as well as Facebook Groups,
Being a master at networked learning helps you stay up to speed in a world that is changing so fast you must constantly learn more to be a strong consultant.
Is using social networks and social-media channels valuable for nonprofit consultants? Tell us what you think.