Let’s start with a simple task: Google yourself. Do you like what you find? What appears on the first page? Will it help you professionally?
Many of us are already using social media technologies like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to communicate and keep in touch. We must be cognizant of the fact that these online activities link back to our ‘real’ lives and professional reputations. There are too many cases of celebrities on Twitter gone wrong for us to ignore the impact of our digital footprints. As I go on the job market, I am increasingly aware of the professional image that I present online and the role I have in managing that image.
My approach to professional social media practices is informed by teaching college students at Northeastern over the last few years. Each semester, I had my students in Advanced Writing in the Disciplines create professional personas online by using social media tools like LinkedIn and Twitter. The class used these tools to build professional profiles, engage in conversations with peers and experts, and to reflect on the pervasive role of social media in our professional and personal lives. At the end of the semester, we conducted a social media audit, evaluating one another’s profiles to assess and revise the kind of presence we had online.
Manage the Message
The class yielded many conversations about the advantages and limitations of branding yourself online. Many students were uncomfortable with the term “brand” and the corporate associations it conjures. We preferred thinking about these activities as crafting a professional persona. We treated our online activities as one of the many public performances that constitute our workplace selves. Employers are searching applicants’ names to make hiring decisions. Some hiring managers believe that having no online presence can be as harmful to your career as having a negative one. I asked students, what kind of professional would you like to be? We used this guiding question to help shape our social media strategies.
Share as a Professional
Platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn can be powerful tools to connect you with colleagues across the world. Twitter helps me keep updated on recent news and trends in my field, build a professional network, and contribute to the relevant conversations of our day. Getting set up with Twitter is relatively simple, though new users can find the sheer mass of information initially overwhelming. Ryan Cordell, Assistant Professor in the English Department at Northeastern, advises to treat Twitter like a river, dip into the stream for a moment, enjoy the water and then step back out.
LinkedIn operates much like Facebook, but should be devoted to strictly professional content. Think of LinkedIn as a more dynamic version of your resume. You can add samples of your work, receive and give endorsements from employers, join networking groups like alumni associations, and share updates. Another option About.me is a short version of LinkedIn; think of it as a digital business card.
Know Your Audience
I treat my social media identities as concentric circles with closest friends and family at the center, extending outward to colleagues, acquaintances and unknown followers. Or, we could think of these groups as networked nodes, comprised of categorically distinct, yet interconnected clusters. Whatever your organizational metaphor, find a way of separating out your audiences and tailor content and privacy settings accordingly.
Showcase Your Work
Personal websites can be an essential home base for your professional brand, as Lindsey Sampson recently discussed on The Works. Like LinkedIn, my website operates as a multimedia resume with examples of recent projects and research activities. Unlike LinkedIn, I have complete autonomy of what appears on the site. A personal website is a space where you can control your self-presentation, highlighting your accomplishments and goals for your audience.
Find Your Limit
In the age of Instagram documentation, we know it can be easy to overshare. We begin to feel as if every thought should be tweeted, ever inspiration captured, and every relationship tagged and accounted for. But, what are the limits? Digital identities need to be carefully monitored and maintained to prevent outdated content, mixed messages, or even imposters. Online branding can also be time consuming. Social media managers like HootSuite, which allow me to schedule posts on multiple social media accounts ahead of time, help me to “unplug” on weekends.
Professional branding will take on different resonance depending on your field, but, for many, social media can be an important tool for professional definition and promotion. People will inevitably form impressions of your professional persona from your daily activities in the workplace. Taking conscious control of that image by crafting a clear and consistent professional persona online will only further your career by helping you to identify strengths, build a career portfolio, connect with peers, and better target long term goals.
Next month I’ll discuss networking strategies and the role of mentors during the job search. Join me the first Thursday of the month here on The Works as I countdown to graduation.
Lana Cook is a Ph.D. candidate in the English department at Northeastern University. Her dissertation traces the development of the psychedelic aesthetic in mid-twentieth century American literature and film. Lana is a 2013–2014 “Viral Culture” graduate fellow at the Northeastern Humanities Center. She received her bachelors of arts at University of New Hampshire. You can follow her on Twitter @lanacook or Linkedin. You can view her portfolio at LanaCook.net.