Holding Back the Sea; Professional Bodies and Social Media

My company, Mindset or I personally are members of a number of professional bodies; the Recruitment and Consulting Services Association (RCSA), the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC), Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD), and the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) to name a few.

I have also in the past been a member of the Institute of Professional Engineers of New Zealand (IPENZ) and its Australian equivalent the IPEA. I’ve even been a member of union, the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers of Australia (APESMA).

These institutions have a variety of missions, but at their core they strive to;

1. Advance their respective professions through education and training
2. Represent their professions as lobbyists to governments and other bodies
3. Protect their members’ interests, both at personal and professional levels
4. Provide a ‘badge of credibility’ for members, particularly those who have completed their member body’s certification courses.

Another often unstated but very important function of these bodies is to provide an avenue for professional networking and through this, employment and business opportunities. In fact a major reason why members join these bodies is for this purpose alone. Some of these organisations have attempted to involve themselves more in social media, but most have only scratched the surface. The RCSA for example seems to be non-existent in cyberspace except for its poorly functioning website. AHRI at least has a twitter profile (sort of anyway @AHRIevents).

As a result of this lack of institutionalised Web2.0 involvement informal social media networks have sprung up, particularly in the recruitment and HR sectors that I operate in. These social networks are expanding via a word of mouth (word of media?) and are free to join. The discussions and debates that flow through them are un-moderated or at least peer-moderated and many close professional relationships amongst peers and even competitors are formed. Ideas are exchanged, topics discussed (sometimes hotly). Most participants and observers will grow professionally as a result of their interaction. More formalised groups and activities are evolving from these. The forthcoming TRU events in Australia and New Zealand are prime examples. These are commercialised recruitment industry events being held, by Web 2.0 networks wholly outside the controls and auspices of the traditional controlling institutions such as the RCSA. I think this is a good thing as a wider range of views and ideas will continue to be raised and debated.

As Web2.0 moves inexorably towards so-called Society2.0, these web-based social networks and their more formalised commercial offshoots will pose a continued threat to the established old-guard institutions. I see a time (in the not too distant future) when they will either be reduced to rump formal training accreditation institutions or will be subsumed completely by a variety of ever growing, evolving, melding and splintering cyber-groups.

The current institutions are largely controlled by members of the baby boomer and Gen Y generations. To many of this era, Society 2.0 with its fluid movement, freedom of expression and direct unmodified input into debates will seem like anarchy, but in order to preserve their relevance and be part of the debate and discussions these institutions must embrace social media and engage with the groups that have and will form to satisfy needs that the establishment is not currently meeting. Ignoring it will be their ultimate demise. They will be like King Canute, trying to hold back the sea.

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