When you have a Nail, Find a Hammer

“Social media now encompass many systems, are oriented toward myriad different ends, and can be creatively repurposed by individuals to realize unanticipated goals” (Technical Communication Unbound, Toni Ferro and Mark Zachry, 2013).

In previous blog posts, conversations, and critiques on social media use, I have often emphasized the necessity to use social media “mindfully”. Reflecting on this statement, I realize I was not using it purposefully and I had no real context or deeper meaning to what using social media “mindfully” really entailed. I suppose it sounded quite good and I had a vague idea of what the objective of mindful social media use was, but I could not clearly define precisely what mindful social media use looked like. I didn’t approach social media as a tool, as a mechanism to accomplish a goal.

I knew what it was not. Mindful social media use was not hours of unmediated scrolling. Mindful social media use was not adopting an unhealthy interest in what others were doing (FOMO) or internalizing unrealistic body images. But what is mindful social media use?

“Technical Communication Unbound” by Toni Ferro and Mark Zachry highlights how social media can be used effectively and healthily for technical communicators. It is all about building a community of shared interests and engaging a multifaceted audience using different platforms. Technical communicators who are passionate about their work have a unique avenue of dissemination and collaboration through the use of social media. It is about building meaningful networks that better engage communicators with their audiences and other professionals.

Ferro and Zachry mention the widespread nature of social media platforms. Systems that are proprietary and exist within one organization offer a method to connect to coworkers and possibly clients, but the reach stops there. Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn offer broader opportunities for communication and collaboration (Ferro 2013). Communicators who take advantage of these opportunities by sharing the work they are passionate about, receiving feedback, and engaging with the content of other professionals can maximize their knowledge and ensure that they stay at the cutting edge of the field.

This indicates one manner in which communicators can use social media mindfully. The important element to determine mindfulness is to establish goals. Are you accomplishing your goals when engaging on social media? Are you growing your network of professionals and learning new information about your field? Or are you disengaged and disorganized in your approach to social media use? By establishing goals as communicators for our engagement with social media we can more appropriately understand mindful use. We need to know why we are using the tools we are using. If you reach for a hammer, you typically have a nail. So, if we reach for Facebook, do we know why? Why are we using that tool? These are important questions to pose to ourselves to maximize social media’s benefit.

This is essential for technical communicators because these platforms are becoming more and more integrated into our profession. As demonstrated by the Ferro article, most technical communicators are now engaging via social media platforms as part of their work week on a routine basis. This trend shows signs of continuing to increase as more platforms provide greater reach, better services, user friendly options, and greater integration of technology. For example, as an educator, I have begun routinely using Discord as part of my work week. Because communicators are in the business of disseminating information in the most effective manner, social media cannot be ignored on a professional level. Ferro writes, “Furthermore, technical communicators who rely on social media to accomplish their goals in distributed organizations must now monitor the technological landscape and be ready to integrate emergent types of online services into their work.” Social media continues to change, platforms adapt and include more effective and efficient technologies for accomplishing specific goals. As communicators, we are doing the field and our audiences a disservice if we disengage with these technologies.

The most effective manner to stay informed regarding the direction of emerging communication avenues is to engage with the technology routinely and mindfully. Mindful use of social media as a technical communicator entails establishing clear goals, such as collaborating with peers, creating broader networks, and connecting meaningfully with audiences. We can also mindfully use social media when we consider how the technologies can better our deliverables and how new technologies may shape the field.

While we can often easily identify what mindful use of social media is not, it can be more challenging to identify what it is. Trends evidenced by the Ferro article indicate that social media is becoming a more prevalent presence in our professional lives and is allowing us a unique opportunity to collaborate, communicate, and synthesize new ideas. This is a pivotal moment for communications; we need to decide how we will position ourselves as technologies continue to develop. By ensuring that we have intentional goals in our engagement, we can better orient ourselves towards a future of appropriate and meaningful social media use. When we need to pound a nail, we reach for a hammer. When approaching social media as a tool, what is it that we need to accomplish?

Tool Users
“Tool Users” by Kaptain Kobold is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Posted on November 15, 2020, in Social Media and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Hi Rebecca,

    I think you give us a very cogent explanation of mindful social media use here. My biggest takeaway is to mindful is to have a goal in mind, which I agree with. For work scenarios especially, it can really seem like a person walks on a fine line between productive and distracting social media use; but there are definitely ways to argue it’s productivity. For some reason this reminded me of one of my earlier jobs I had growing up at Panera bread; we used to use have a closed Facebook group that one of the general mangers set up where people would ask for shift coverage/swapping and where someone would post a picture of the most recent schedule (at the time, Panera did not have a work management system). While that’s a very simplistic example, there are many other ways where mindful social media use has its place. Aside from the workplace, while it might be easy to fall into the unmediated hours of scrolling on Facebook, I think it would really help people if they purposefully set aside a reasonable amount of leisure time to used social media in moderation.

  2. Hi Rebecca,

    What you are saying about being mindful of social media use is very fascinating. I feel like I often have a negative view of social media in the workplace but when I really think about it, it probably stems from horrible usage of it. I honestly feel like with how intertwined social media has become in our lives and even in the workplace, having more courses like this taught to students on how to properly manage social media and learning about its place in the world will be of huge importance. Often it seems that when people have graduated and are thrust into the workplace, trying to balance the social media aspect of a business can be a huge hurdle. Where do we even start? How do we even approach it? Just hearing about some of the jobs here on campus where social media plays a big role is mind-boggling as I never even thought of its importance in the first place. Great post!


  3. Hi Rebecca,

    As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, social media can be incredibly beneficial in the workplace. One site that comes into mind is LinkedIn. Not only does our workplace use LinkedIn to screen certain candidates, but we also use LinkedIn Learning to improve upon and learn new skills. While it is important to stay mindful of our time, using social media in moderation can help us gain better insight into our personal and professional relationships.

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