The idea of using social media for genuine professional development may seem absurd when you are of the mindset that its sole purpose is for political harassment, cookie recipes, and new baby pictures. However, if you’re willing to give me a chance I’ll tell you how you can use social media to build professional skills, knowledge, and relationships, without getting overwhelmed.

Let’s Get Started!

To begin, you must first ask yourself these three questions.

What do I want to learn?

When do I have time for learning?

Whom do I want to learn from or with? 

Do you have your answers? No? Let me help you.

What do I WANT to learn?

Let’s say you would like to learn more about your industry. Begin by following industry leaders. Find them on your favorite social networks (and depending on the industry, you may have to join a new network) to see what they’re reading and what they’re thinking about. This will help you to narrow down reliable resources.

Seek out the best blogs and podcasts in your field by reading or listening further when you find an interesting story that the industry leader has shared online. Think about the specific subfield or topic you want to learn about next, and focus your reading in that specific area so that you develop expertise instead of just learning a tiny bit about a lot of subjects.

It’s how I got my start back in 2008. I had just graduated High Point University with a Bachelor’s in Psychology and fell into a marketing position with a local auto group. I knew social media was going to be how marketing would be done in the future…So I started looking deeper. I began taking free marketing courses through Cornell and Harvard, I started watching other industry leaders, I participated in conversations and I tested my theories over and over and over again.

When do I have TIME for learning?

Are you the kind of person who likes to be in control of your own schedule? Then let me tell you about one of the AMAZING benefits of social media.

Social media can be an effective way of pursuing professional development because it fits easily into your daily life. There’s nothing like an ongoing learning process to get you fired up and thinking in newly creative ways. When I used to work for companies, like Century 21 Zaytoun-Raines, I would watch a webinar every day at lunch or participate on the Century 21 Social Media Group on Facebook when I wasn’t busy.

Put some thought into when you have time and mental energy for learning, and what formats would work best for your schedule. Then use your social networks to find the information you want in the format you need.

EXTRA TIP: You’ll be able to get a lot more learning in if you spend your time actually reading or listening to the sources you’ve discovered rather than just skimming the latest headlines.

WHOM do I want to learn from or with? 

Many of us learn best in groups. Social media is fantastic for engaging with learning as a community because it encourages sharing your ideas with others. Social media provides communities of people who want to hear your ideas and insights in addition to sharing their own.

This is a great way to engage is what is known as active learning and if you watch me on Snapchat, you know I embrace the concept whole heartedly #KeepLearning

So how do you find the community that is right for you?

There are a lot of ways to find or form a learning community online. If you’re looking for a community of practice — a group of fellow professionals in your field, sharing the inside scoop or best practices with one another — you can find those communities on Facebook, LinkedIn or even Snapchat.

To find a group that works for you, ask friends or colleagues whether they’re part of any learning or professional communities that could help you in a specific field or area of your working life. The clearer you are about what you want to learn, and the types of people you want to learn from, the more likely you are to find the right community for you.

Setting your learning intentions for what, when and who you want to learn from can turn social media into a powerful and timely resource for your ongoing professional development. Yes, there’s still room for snapping photos of your breakfast foods — but when you’re ready to settle down to work, remember that social media can help you with your next career goal, too.