Before you answer that question too quickly with your typical knee-jerk reaction, think about how you formed that opinion. Is it based on facts or are you blindly following suggestions planted by faux experts of the online realm. Do we accept it as a true need because of our incessant need to feed our personal addiction or deny its importance because of some subconscious aversion to technological change? Like most tools its use is situational. Anyone who has ever stripped the head off of an overtorqued screw needs the “Speedout Damaged Screw Extractor” set in their toolbox. If you don’t screw up, then its need is not quite so apparent. Seeing social media as just one tool to get things done can give us perspective if we are not blinded by the shimmer of glowing technology.
The true answer to this question is “Nobody!” It is hard to argue that it is as significant as oxygen to our survival, but it really depends on how broad you consider the definition of the word “need?” As a verb, to need something means that it is essential or at the very least extremely important. As a noun it implies something that is necessary or deserving of immediate action. The importance of needing or having needs seems to feed some sort of human drive to neatly arrange everything into some stair-step model that makes it easy to visualize complex ideas. In our minds we organize needs into distinct buckets ranging from the least to the most important. Where would you put social media in Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs? Ah, there is the real basis of the question. How do you differentiate a want from a need?
Most social media tools are psychologically addictive. When you honestly believe this as a possibility and look into the research you will see conflicting scientific viewpoints, but also find other significant evidence that it can be harmful. Bringing the relativity of a situation into clearer focus gives a clue into why that happens. People who are uncomfortable directly approaching other people face-to-face or cold-calling to expand networking connections will find comfort in an online hideout where an immediate response can be delayed forever. The same lure of passive job board applications gives a feeling of doing something when actually nothing is happening. When more socially adept people do the same thing it is only the beginning of personal connections that will grow other connections. In one instance it is planting seeds that will never grow and on another it is cultivating a harvest that will bring rich rewards.
Recruiters and their managers often engage in arguments about using social and other electronic media to source, recruit, and hire talent. When you take a Google-Earthish viewpoint and look at these discussions from a broader perspective, it becomes evident that nobody is communicating. Taking a microscopic view of any situation and using occasional positive results as proof of concept is totally illogical. Sowing a millions seeds and hiring X number of people is no more significant than cultivating fewer seeds and hiring X number of people. Every situation is different and there is no school solution as to the correct methodology. It is a matter of choice and it doesn’t mean that if it works it is “the” way or any guarantee that it will work for someone else.
When we give job seekers advice that they need to use social media tools, are we helping or hurting their situation? Once again, it depends. Many people who are unemployed tend to experience forms of psychological and social losses which include diminished social contacts. Social media helps them maintain relationships, but studies1 of unemployed people show mixed results. Although they can use social media to cultivate their social support networks the opportunity to establish new contacts is often underutilized. The social network differentiation between the unemployed and employed is the same online in social media. This does not mean that it is a useless exercise for job seekers. New studies2 show changes to the data from 1998-2001 surveys and show that unemployed persons who look for work online are re-employed about 25% faster than comparable workers who do not search online. Internet job search including social media appears to be most effective in reducing unemployment durations when used to contact friends and relatives, to send out resumes or fill out applications and also to look at advertisements.
What are your expectations and will your social media plan realistically get you to your goals. Most people will probably find that it must be leveraged with other tools for the best impact. Neither side of these arguments can be colored as absolutely right or wrong. The areas between those opinions are also not necessarily gray. There is a rainbow of situational solutions. Observers of the ongoing dialog will also have to endure pretentious elitism toward use social media and technology as the only possible solution.
Image credit: Courtesy Leute Management Services, LLC original photo
1 A social net? Internet and social media use during unemployment, Work, Employment & Society August 201428: 551-570, first published on June 3, 2014
2 Is Internet Job Search Still Ineffective?, Kuhn, P. and Mansour, H. (2014), The Economic Journal, 124: 1213–1233.