If the regular patterns of Inc.com readership are anything to go by, chances are excellent that you found this post via a share on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
After all, not only are these sites often essential for maintaining a social life these days, but we've all been told that maintaining a suitable professional profile online is key to career success too. It's what the gurus call "personal branding," and if you're not doing it, you're harming your chances of getting ahead, right?
Actually, maybe not.
A couple of thoughtful posts by social media dissenters recently have come to exactly the opposite conclusion. To get ahead, these renegade experts argue, you'd be better off quitting social media entirely (or at least cutting back considerably).
Why you should become a social media teetotaler
The first of these comes from an unlikely source. Cal Newport is a self-described "millennial computer scientist who also writes books and runs a blog," so you'd think he'd spend a good chunk of his life on the likes of Twitter and Instagram. But according to a recent New York Times column by Newport, he's actually a social media teetotaler, confessing to have never had an account on any such site.
Why has he bucked the trend that has 78 percent of American adults using social media sites? Not because of any high-minded protest against fake news or fear of their mental health effects, but simply because he thinks staying away is better for his career:
In a capitalist economy, the market rewards things that are rare and valuable. Social media use is decidedly not rare or valuable. Any 16-year-old with a smartphone can invent a hashtag or repost a viral article. The idea that if you engage in enough of this low-value activity, it will somehow add up to something of high value in your career is the same dubious alchemy that forms the core of most snake oil and flimflam in business.
Professional success is hard, but it's not complicated. The foundation to achievement and fulfillment, almost without exception, requires that you hone a useful craft and then apply it to things that people care about. This is a philosophy perhaps best summarized by the advice Steve Martin used to give aspiring entertainers: "Be so good they can't ignore you."
If you're good enough, he goes on to say, opportunities will find you, even if you keep a lower profile. Plus, our social media compulsion is terrible for the sort of sustained concentration that's needed to develop the sort of high-value skills that really will make you a success.
In essence, "cultivating your social media brand is a fundamentally passive approach to professional advancement. It diverts your time and attention away from producing work that matters," he concludes. Quit it, and you'll stand a much better chance of making an actual impact.
Brands are always on. People don't work that way.
But that's not the only argument against devoting much of your time to so-called personal branding that's come out recently. Quartz's Noah Berlatsky also spoke with Ilanna Gershon, a University of Indiana, Bloomington anthropologist and author of Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (or Don't Find) Work Today, who argues that personal branding is essentially "a boondoggle."
After interviewing employers for her book, Gershon argues that personal branding "isn't a way to get a job. Rather it's a way to reconcile oneself to an economy that provides less and less security." In other words, all that time spent polishing your online profile is simply a symptom of the extreme insecurity most people feel professionally.
But what's the harm in that? Maybe it provides some small measure of comfort in a crazy world, you might argue. The problem is that a brand has to be on message all the time, and people need to be, well, people. Cutting loose at Happy Hour without fearing the professional repercussions of a being snapped with a cocktail glass in your hand and building genuine social connections (rather than just trawling for followers) are far too important for happiness and success to give up in pursuit of an illusion of control.
"Readers of Gershon's book should come away secure in the knowledge that branding yourself is mostly hooey. It wastes your time, and it doesn't usually help you get a job. Human beings aren't brands. Rather than spending all their time trying to think about what distinguishes them from the pack, workers might be better served thinking about what brings them together," concludes Berlatsky.
Are you convinced by these two experts that, when it comes to professional success and social media, less just might be more?