A lot is written about the risks your social media presence can have on your current or future career, the ill advised Facebook photo, a slightly ranty tweet or a staring role on YouTube – that uneasy feeling that big brother Google is indexing a big data catalogue of all of our lives.

Yes, yes we have a connected generation that have got over all of that – and if you are one of them, then this is a no-brainer post for you, but for some senior professionals that I meet this is the predominant feeling that scares them away (that and “they don’t have the time”).

So is it right to sit it out, or is social media now an essential career skill?

It’s long been said about that golfing thrusting young executive, or the guy that went to the right school or the daughter of the boss – that “it’s not what you know, but who you know”. Maybe if you don’t have those golf club, school or family credentials you’ve been subjected to those awful “industry networking” events.

I’m not saying I fully subscribe to the view that connections are more important than knowledge or talent, but clearly they are part of the mix when it comes to your career. Social Media is all about connections – so, like the people you know personally that help along the way, it would seem naturally logical to be out there.

Over the last three or so years since I joined Twitter I have personal experience of social media being a positive influence over my career and personal friendships – but this post is actually inspired by a commercial for mobile carrier ATT&T that is being shown here on US television.

In the commercial a young school American football player pulls of an amazing move, vaulting over a defending player, cartwheeling over his head, landing on his feet and continuing to run with the ball. The story continues as someone videos the move, it’s uploaded to YouTube, goes viral and in the final scene the young player is introduced to a professional coach – implying the impact AT&T have had on this young mans career. As I don’t follow American Football I have no idea who the coach is, so I have assumed he was significant.     

(See it here – AT&T Commercial on YouTube)

Possibly the better marketing story here is the viral campaign that AT&T pulled off, but it interested me as a mainstream (if fictional) demonstration of the potential positive impact that social media can have on a career. Maybe I’m reading too much into this ad, but perhaps that kid isn’t at the right school or from the right family and that viral video levelled the playing field for him.

This sports analogy is easy to understand, as video is a great way for the young player to showcase his physical abilities. Not so good if you a budding CFO – publishing your personal bank statements to demonstrate your fiscal aptitude is not the way to go – but if you are in any kind of marketing, sales or communications role you will surely be judged by the social media company you keep and your apparent (and very public) ability to be engaging at this huge social mix up – and perhaps justifies making time to do this.

By the way, of course services like Klout want us to hire by a metric derived from social media activity and I think doing that is a very bad idea, seeming to often value the noisy rather than the talented or engaged. The other thing that struck me when writing this post is the saying “cobblers children have no shoes” – that perhaps an individuals social media contribution may not fully reflect the quality of what they would do for your organization.

However, I wonder if you could be hired as a CMO today, if you didn’t have a Twitter account?

You know, if you weren’t in the club… – it’s not what you know… you know.