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How companies are using social media for learning and development

Employees aren't just wasting time on social media. Some are learning the career skills that will take them to the next level. Here's why that matters to your organization.

Lisa Masiello keeps an eye out for more than a half-dozen Twitter hashtags, such as #cloudchat, which focuses on cloud computing issues, and #worktrends, which focuses on HR trends and talent management issues.

Thanks to Twitter, the chief marketing officer (CMO) and founder of Techmarc Labs, a marketing firm in Nashua, N.H., is always learning something new to gain an edge. Masiello knows what many managers and HR leaders do not: Social media for learning and development is the wave of the future.

Twitter chats "really bring together a community of like-minded people around a topic," Masiello said. "They share information and knowledge, … and you can really learn from other people."

Future of learning and development -- social, collaborative, ongoing

Word to the wise: Companies and HR departments need to take note of this learner-driven model of continuous and collaborative learning and use it to inform their corporate learning programs. Indeed, the future of learning and development (L&D) will look very different than the traditional models.

A recent Deloitte Insights article on corporate learning discussed the upheaval taking place. From massive open online courses to YouTube and everything in between, employees can choose to boost their career skills with the click of a mouse, even taking online, graduate-level classes from leading universities at a fraction of the in-person cost. "The ongoing commoditization of content can be highly disruptive to corporate L&D departments," wrote the Deloitte authors, who based their writing on the 2017 Global Human Capital Trends survey and who shared a clear takeaway. Corporate L&D departments "face a stark choice: Harness this trend to their company's benefit or risk watching their learning programs become obsolete."

"Organizations are looking at how they can shift the learning model to different experiences across mediums," said Stacey Cadigan, director of HR technology and delivery strategies for the advisory firm Information Services Group. "With [many] free or low-cost quality options online, they have more options. It used to be an organization only curated learning content. Now, it's much more about how they can harness and leverage the free tools out there."

Social media for learning and development outside the organization's walls

Many organizations encourage employees to augment instruction gained via traditional L&D platforms so they can do so on their own time, at their own pace and by their own initiative, Cadigan said.

For workers like Masiello, social media tools provide the same, if not better, insight than formalized instructor-led training programs offer, largely because employees can pick and choose the content they consume. Because most mainstream social media is free or low-cost and plentiful, there's nothing stopping workers from hopping around sites until they find the materials that suit them best.

"It's such an awesome way of democratizing information," Gayane Margaryan, digital marketing manager for the conservation organization African Wildlife Foundation, said of Twitter. Margaryan loves how Twitter chats allow her to directly communicate with innovative executives, including search engine optimization guru Rand Fishkin, co-founder of Moz, which creates marketing analytics software for SEO.

"He has 'Whiteboard Fridays' where he does a video update and shares information," said Margaryan, who appreciates how social media gives her an immediate path to insight from such renowned leaders as Fishkin. "It's almost better than going to a conference."

Similarly, learning through YouTube has become so effective for Joshua Feinberg, CMO at and co-founder and advisor at SP Home Run, a consulting firm in West Palm Beach, Fla., that he now attends industry conferences usually only when he is giving a talk.

Every morning, while he works out on an elliptical machine for 30 minutes, Feinberg places his smartphone within sight and watches YouTube for a wide variety of topics, including content management systems, e-commerce platforms, startups and product management. Through the video sharing site, Feinberg said he often learns more about topics that help his firm and clients than he would "sitting in a hotel ballroom."

Feinberg is an example of a collaborator -- learning as well as teaching. He offers learning content via his YouTube videos, which outline the particulars of client value, web traffic generation and business development.

Take note that that idea -- employee-led instruction -- is another concept that smart companies are embracing within the enterprise. For example, at the marketing software company HubSpot, employees lead "master classes," which allow workers to learn from one another in a classroom setting on a range of subjects.

"Everyone is trying to get their teams trained," Feinberg said. "What you're going to see more is companies relying on social sites. It's all about making use of time. There's much more demand for training than a willingness to go to traditional conferences. And you can go always go back and rewatch a video."

The next frontier: Corporate L&D curator

Not only should HR departments endorse employees tapping social media for learning and development, according to Mike Brennan, president, co-founder and chief services officer at HR consulting firm Leapgen, but companies should go a step further and create a content curator position.

A content curator is the modern equivalent of an HR curriculum manager, but instead of focusing on preparing training and development documents, the curator separates the wheat from the chaff on social media platforms. The content curator packages videos, articles, social posts and other digital materials that fit the niches of departments and distributes them to those workers, he said.

As for the future of learning and development: "No more separating social learning," Brennan said. "There's a social element to everything you're doing at work."

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