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Social Media: The New Career Norm

Last week, several signs came together to further underline the fact that social media is no longer an emerging trend or passing fad, and that it's gone beyond the realm of the personal and become a fully-fledged part of our working lives.

Consider the following pieces of evidence:

Facebook surpassed Yahoo to become the second most visited Web site in the country.

In January this year it drew some 133.62 million unique visitors, while Yahoo came in just behind with 132 million.

That left Facebook second only to Google in terms of internet popularity.

Consider the possibilities for your career—or your business—that exist in a place where more than 130 million people regularly congregate to share information and ideas. In the U.S. alone: worldwide, Facebook now has more than 400 million users (including a certain career information Web site).

If you're not already on Facebook, the only question that remains is: why not?

Holding out at this point is akin to being the last guy in the office in the '90s to switch from typewritten memos instead of email, all the while maintaining that this PC thing was just a fad. Even if you're not planning on using Facebook for networking yourself, having a passing acquaintance with something a third of the country—including most of your current colleagues and competitors and everyone you're likely to hire in future (at least in the 35-and-under demographic)—can hardly be a bad thing.

The new director of BBC Global News has mandated that journalists working under him either "get with the social media program or get out." Socialmediatoday reports that he told the Guardian, "This isn’t just a kind of fad… I’m afraid you’re not doing your job if you can’t do those things. It’s not discretionary.”

More specifically, the Guardian report says that:

"Aggregating and curating content with attribution should become part of a BBC journalist’s assignment; and BBC’s journalists have to integrate and listen to feedback for a better understanding of how the audience is relating to the BBC brand.

Horrocks, formerly head of the BBC’s multimedia newsroom, finds clear words for it: ‘If you don’t like it, if you think that level of change or that different way of working isn’t right for me, then go and do something else, because it’s going to happen. You’re not going to be able to stop it.'" (Emphasis added).

Anyone think that the section emphasized above will only apply to the media field? Me neither. And even if it does, major media organizations shifting their models to account for social media means two things: first, that they've seen the writing on the wall for traditional aggregation and distribution models and, second, that anyone who's hoping to keep up with events relevant to their industry in this age of information overload would do well to follow where the most trusted names in media are leading.

Where would a discussion of social media be without Twitter? Billboard reports that Twitter's traffic increased some 8 percent from December to January. The 73.5 million unique visitors it drew in January means the company "can boast year-over-year growth of more than 1,000%, as it had only 6 million unique visitors in January of last year."

Look around you.

The only other thing still expanding in this economy is bonuses for bankers, and even they're nowhere near 1,000 percent gains in a single year. The only place that Twitter—and the rest of the major social networking tools—are going is deeper and deeper into our psyche and culture.

If you're not sure where to start in the social media realm, sign up for an account with both of the tools listed here: they're free, after all, and require you to invest nothing more than a little bit of your own time. From there, do some digging. If you're interested in what the tools can do for your business, check out what your competitors are doing. Google some best practice tips. Above all else, get involved: that's what all these tools are there for, and you can't start getting anything back from them until you put something in. So go on: you have nothing to lose but your inhibitions.

More Executive Strategies on CNBC.com:Where To Find A Job NowBoomers Now Tune In & Turn On to Social Networking Executive Career Strategies

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Phil Stott is a staff writer at Vault.com in New York. Originally from Scotland, he has also lived and worked in Japan, South Korea and Eastern Europe. He holds an MA in English Literature and Modern History, and a Masters in Research in Civil Engineering, both from the University of Dundee.

Comments? Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com