Social Media

This Virtual Life: Curating Your Online Presence

Nida Nizam

Curating Your Online Presence: An Introduction

One prevailing fear has haunted the young professional Facebook user (and their parents) since its inception; that your search results and posts will forever define external perceptions of you.

Future employers, possible roommates, LinkedIn connections of connections – you’ll be Googled and judged more times than you can wrap your head around. Go ahead, search yourself on Pipl – or see the catalogue of any news articles you’ve ever appeared in at Newsle. The results may frighten you.

The standard advice you’ve undoubtedly always received is that you should “limit” your online presence as much as you can, making sure to avoid photographs of anything fun, especially from college, and any sloppy personal posts about your life or political opinions. People often take this to heart by purposefully using staged or posed profile photos from volunteer trips abroad, or over-editing profiles to seem inhuman. Well, times have changed.

Now, it’s crucial to curate your online presence rather than restrain it. Especially since you don’t always have control over what other people may post about you. As social media continues to evolve and soon be ubiquitously implemented as an organizational tool, you won’t necessarily be able to avoid an online golem of your activities. Disinterest in frequently checking your Facebook feed or not participating in the virtual world may end up a serious career disadvantage – social media tech is irrefutably useful for professional endeavors. Anyone who has worked for anything from a political campaign to a non-profit to a marketing agency can testify that understanding and being able to manipulate social media is ultimately fundamental to being considered successful in 2014 and onwards.

Let me be clear: there are already many articles and websites dedicated to using social media for personal branding. For those of you that want to focus on more of that, you should check out BrandYourself or Forbes’ “The First Step to Building Your Personal Brand.” The objective of this article and subsequent installments in this series is to instruct individuals on taking control of their online presence as a meaningful contribution to the bullpen of Internet communications. It is an undeniably Herculean task, but worthwhile for those who envision a future in communications and media, politics, and corporate/public outreach and soon in almost any field you can imagine.

The Basics

The basic social media networks most people reading this article will already be familiar with are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. There are three elements to mastering these networks:

  1. Monitoring your personal updates. While many people are compelled to share frequent personal updates, it’s important to think twice before you click “post.” The more Facebook friends you have, the greater risk you run of someone unsubscribing from you, so if you post pictures of the food you’re eating and how it tastes and the antacids you take after it and the wine with which you washed down those antacids, you may be overwhelming the Newsfeed, especially in its new large-photo and automated-video playing format. There are new networks like Path where you can share your personal life with a close-knit network of friends and family; it is perfect for those really intimate moments in your life that you may now want to avoid sharing on your Facebook Timeline
  2. Sharing great content. This is a big one that we’ll discuss in depth in the future. There is unbelievable content posted every minute on the Internet (did you see this study on monkeys doing math?) You should share content that you have an interest in and can participate in comment conversations about, and you should always, always, always read the whole thing before you click ‘share.’ We’ll cover that and being carefully critical of the validity of news sources as well.
  3. Participation and engagement. Tweeting at people directly, even experts or celebrities, is vital to the actual Twitter experience and expanding your following. So is commenting on others’ updates, shared items, or photographs. Social networks thrive on people connecting with one another. Every update, “like,” and retweet is a sign of respecting and appreciating others’ efforts to be out there and share their lives and thoughts with the world, and is essential in making your own online experience both significant and fulfilling.

Learning to Communicate

If you haven’t had to write convincing arguments since high school or that freshman composition class, look no further than Reddit and Quora – they will be your secret weapons. The anonymity factor for the former is a major advantage, because you can participate in what is essentially the largest public interface without fear of detection – but warning, that comes with obvious dangers (more on that later). Employing systems of up/down voting, you can learn what people find intrinsically compelling and how to articulate your opinions accordingly, as well as how to present a coherent argument on any range of inane to currently controversial issues. The denizens of Internet-dom will be providing much more honest feedback than any teacher or employer who has critiqued your work in the past, and you should emotionally prepare yourself before you dive in. You don’t want these platforms to suck up endless hours of your life, but if you’re looking to participate in conversations or debates on ethical issues, current affairs, or random memes, this is where you can sharpen your skills: wit is prized highly on the Internet. Learning to balance humor with intelligent commentary is another skill that will benefit you greatly in life.

Presenting Yourself

Now, networks such as LinkedIn are controversial at best; while serving as a great professional tool for recruitment, it has been criticized in its categorization as a “social network” and for serving up its members’ contacts and data to hungry corporate clients. It’s important to be wary of all these factors regardless of the platform. LinkedIn changes and upgrades frequently so the number one lesson is to pay attention. It’s hard to check your LinkedIn that often; many people find it boring – but if you’re on it, you’ve already signed up to be judged by everyone else, so you better be ready for the commitment. With the advent of showcasing work samples, you must also be mindful of your intellectual property – that being said, you can curate samples of your work to show exactly what is unique about your skill set and most importantly, tell a story. I took two and a half years off during my university career and that’s a pretty interesting thing to explain to employers. On LinkedIn, I can show all the work I was doing instead of awkwardly glossing over it on a one-page resume.

The same precept applies for blogging – you’ll be telling a story about who you are, and it’s important to be mindful of your audience. The old trope of blogging as a personal online diary exercise no longer applies (you’ll know this if you watch Watson’s blog hit the big time on Sherlock). If you have a blog, other people will see it. If you want a diary, download Day One for Apple products or Memoires for Android.

The Beginning

This is all just the beginning. Unfortunately, if you’re present on a number of social networks, you may occasionally feel you have bitten off more than you can chew and run the risk of negligence. It’s okay to not be a power-user or super-active member, but the key is being smart and effective about what you willfully share. The most important part of social networks and your Google results will be making sure they work for you instead of define you, and you can begin the transition by clicking “limit past posts” on your Facebook settings and starting now.