Can Twitter and LinkedIn replace your professional membership?

What has our professional body ever done for us? (Image from official Monty Python clip)

What has our professional body ever done for us? (Image from official Monty Python clip)

I bumped into two former members of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, Darwin chapter, last week. Both had let their memberships lapse.

It got us thinking about professional bodies and networking bodies like Young Professionals Network NT, Young Entrepreneurs, Australian Marketing Institute, Chamber Connect, the list goes on.

Having spent the last couple of decades WITHOUT any professional body membership, and upon meeting smart, successful people who were letting memberships lapse, I would like to ask you, ‘are professional or industry relevant to you and your career these days?’

What do they offer that you need or that you cannot get anywhere else?

The discussion that follows is likely to be  reminiscent of the famous scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian in which they ask, ‘what have the Romans ever done for us?’ You can watch the clip, below.

It seems that many things once offered by professional or industry bodies are now readily available online, for free, and with no committment to attend physically or take your turn selling raffle tickets. Let’s look a little closer.

What social networks do so well

Two of the most powerful things previously only available through joining professional bodies are now readily available via Twitter and LinkedIn, namely, access and professional development.

Access

LinkedIn is the online answer to access, and Twitter too, with ability for local connections and global scaling.

LinkedIn is like a perpetual networking event. To enter, you fill out your profile (basically, your CV) and invite peers to connect with you on the site. As that happens, you get to see all the people connected to your peers and can ask them to make introductions for you.

For example, I just used the advanced search feature on LinkedIn and looked for ‘lawyer’ within 80km of Darwin. Here’s who I found:

  • Julian Troy, Senior Lawyer at Ward Keller Lawyers
  • Leon Loganathan,  Managing Partner, Ward Keller
  • Lia Finocchiaro,  Lawyer at Ward Keller Lawyers
  • Aditi Srinivas,  Lawyer at Ward Keller
  • Nick Johansen,  Lawyer at Ward Keller
  • Kajaliny Ranjith,  Lawyer/ Registered Migration Agent at WardKeller
  • Michelle Giacomo,  Associate at Ward Keller
  • John Tsoukalis, Partner at Tsoukalis Lawyers
  • Jason Schoolmeester,  Executive Officer to the Deputy Chief Executive / Senior Policy Officer at Department of the Chief Minister
  • AJ M.,  Lawyer at Solicitor for the NT

And that was just the first page of results. If I were a a budding lawyer, or a seasoned partner keeping an eye over talent out there, I’d be inviting some or all of these people to my LinkedIn and seeking their input on interesting questions from time to time, along with sharing anything interesting from the industry that I happen to pick up.

Follow that up with a search on Twitter, create a list or two pooling socially-active lawyers together and you would have just created your own power network and gained access to worthy peers without needing to pay dues or succumb to committee rules, etc.

Professional Development

Ah, but what about training and discussions so valuable to career development that you only get through a professional body? Think again.

Is it possible that instead of having to find a slab of time during or after business hours to roll up for a face to face discussion, smart usage of Twitter could build a network of interesting and helpful peers from all around the world, particularly featuring those who share links to articles, resources and surveys?

I would wager that just 15 minutes scouring the web via Google blog search, Twitter search and asking for leads via social contacts should yield a core list of sources providing you with industry-specific ‘brain food’.

Share some of these tidbits with your newly developed ‘access’ network and you’ll have discussions aplenty to keep you sharp.

Heaven forbid, you might even, occasionally, catch up for informal chats or debates with available peers.

So what have the ‘Romans’ done for us?

Surely there must be some other tangible benefits worth giving up your time and membership fees for.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qc7HmhrgTuQ[/youtube]

As I perused the websites for the various networks listed above, it became clear that annual cocktail parties and training events featured as the most prominent benefits.

Then we have the most suspicious of all offerings; the discount ‘member’ price for accessing such events. This price is usually arrived at by the committee agreeing what the entry price should be to cover costs and meet targets, and then creating an inflated, non-members price, not so much in an earnest effort to price the outsiders’ tickets appropriately but rather to create a warm glow within members when they see the price difference.

Before professional group apologists argue it is easier for members to take part in a formally organised group, I would counter that it is not a compelling argument. I would much rather be surrounded by self-starters who want to take control of their professional destinies than enslave myself to another ‘club’.

Finally, for some groups, you become entitled to add some letters after your name and agree to be bound by a code of ethics, or similar. This can, in some sectors with some clients, be a valuable positioning tool.

Have I missed anything?

Please share your thoughts on the adequacy or otherwise of social networks to replace or even complement membership in professional or industry groups for proactive individuals. Your contributions, with full attribution, might make the final publication of The RITE Series which will be released during October Business Month 2011. In your answers, please share the group(s) you have experience with and the last time you attended an event.

 

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