Daily I encounter people who are browsing away on Facebook at the Employment Resource Centre where I work. When I walk by and observe what it is that some people are using Facebook for, I notice they aren’t involved in any job searching activity whatsoever, so why allow Facebook in an Employment Resource Centre in the first place?
Well first of all, it’s important that I mention that Facebook was indeed, ‘banned’ about a year and a half ago from the computers where I work for our clients. Essentially it was believed that too much time would be spent ‘wasting’ away a morning or afternoon by our clients just chatting and looking at pictures etc. What happened however is that some of our clients had technology skills beyond the staff, and they could manipulate things and bring up Facebook, forcing us to call in IT and restore the block. After awhile, I and others recommended to Management that we just remove the restriction and unblock it in the first place.
The result is now that many clients do use Facebook on a daily basis. Now being an Employment Resource Centre for clients on Social Assistance only, it is true that some never do any job searching and only come in daily to check email and Facebook and then leave. These people are at least coming to a Resource Centre, and it is possible that for some of them, the opportunity is there to make a connection in person with one of us, and encourage them to look for work using the computer. And honestly, when you are down and out, defeated, isolated, dealing with depression, anxiety, mental health issues and it’s cold and lonely outside, coming to the Resource Centre and just being in a room with other people and someone with some empathy is a healing time.
Now we have 20 computers that are available on a first-come, first-available basis. When we’ve got people who need a computer to job search or look for housing, etc., those fiddling away on Facebook may be the first we approach to give up their computer. Or too like this past Wednesday, if someone is just looking at some obscene material on Facebook that someone has posted, we shut that activity down pronto and remind them they are in an Employment Resource Centre. I’ve no tolerance for somebody who thinks looking at pictures of barely clad women is a perfectly acceptable activity; so I educate these people quickly.
Facebook can connect people, if even only using a keyboard. The opportunity is there though to build a relationship in-person with some clients however who would otherwise not utter a word but surf. Over time, conversations can turn to housing, food banks, transportation, money and yes, employment. How much time depends on a person’s personal situation and our willingness as a staff person to initiate dialogue.
Facebook can also be a good source of networking and broadcasting an appeal for work. For those who are self-employed, it can also be a platform for marketing a business. LinkedIn is so much more effective for personal marketing and professional networking. However, LinkedIn is still very much a mystery to those who are job searching that I deal with. Even those who I introduce it to sometimes do little more than set up the initial account and then it sits there doing next to nothing for them because they don’t know how to really make LinkedIn effective. Facebook tends to fulfill a social need rather than a career or job need, and LinkedIn doesn’t even hit their radar screen or when it does it doesn’t result in voluntary participation.
This is where education and encouragement are paramount. I’ve been around enough to know that sitting down with anyone and lecturing them on all of LinkedIn’s capabilities isn’t going to be welcomed. However, a dose here and there wets the appetite in some to learn more, especially if results can be seen. That’s why Facebook is popular. In a few minutes, you’re connected to friends and family; and friends and family are what are important to people on Social Assistance quite often; more than employment. LinkedIn in contrast is a longer term reward. If you are looking for employment, you have to make a profile, network, join discussion groups, initiate conversations, and for many, that’s intimidating.
So both Facebook and LinkedIn have meaning to those who use them. Anyone who says one is better than the other usually speaks from their own personal need. Where you are may be a different place from where someone else is, and putting yourself in that person’s place may help you best determine what they would most benefit from in the here and now. Eventually their needs might change, and when they do, be willing to show them this thing called LinkedIn, and they’ll thank you for it!