This Virtual Life: Using Social Media to Enhance Your Professional Credibility
In an earlier article, I discussed the significance of actively managing your online presence regardless of your interest in social media. For some, this may solely involve projecting an image of professionalism or expertise in their chosen field that will hold under the scrutiny of recruiters and future bosses alike.
Traditionalists claim a minimal online presence is your best asset. While that applies for questionable photos of your college days, clever manipulation of social media can be the greatest advantage you hold over your competitors. A simple Google search or the unquestionably more advanced mining techniques of recruiters or “temporary foes” will assemble an image of who you are, and there are tangible methods through which you can showcase yourself as reliable, creative, and interesting.
Since the beginning of my conscious non-adolescent non-America Online driven life, I’ve been claiming my full name on every platform possible – @nidanizam on Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, almost everything. It’s super easy to find those accounts, but that’s okay because I manage them aggressively and never post anything overly questionable. However, there are accounts that you should never want anyone to find (Reddit) and as such, you should pick completely random names. Never reveal too much about yourself or you’ll end up followed by a man who thinks you are the Zodiac Killer and that he is your son. If you can’t help but get real weird on the Internet, throwaways and public library computers will be your best friends. Save the crazy for an account that can’t be traced back to you (not easy) or give up your dreams of political office now; soon all closets will be transparent and your skeletons will be speaking for themselves.
Public vs. Private
Most profile-based platforms allow private and public listings. If you want people to be able to see how well read you are or believe your choices in literature portray a positive or interesting image of you, a public GoodReads profile will accomplish just that. If you’re a musician, leave your SoundCloud or Spotify playlists public and encourage your friends to follow and share them. If you’re a social media or news junkie, keep an eye on your Klout score and get on Newsana, crush it, and let others vote you up as a credible news source. If you’re a writer, intellectual, comedian, engineer, or human person with both knowledge and feelings, get on Quora, answer questions thoughtfully and pragmatically, and follow loads of people who will hopefully both up vote you and gain something from your contributions. These are easy ways to gain notoriety in the online forums relating to your fields of interest, ideally followed by the field in general.
You can refer back to our curating article, but this one is simple. Use appropriate grammar, spellcheck everything, and don’t use shortcuts unless your tweet is so brilliant that you cannot help it (unlikely). If you’re always in a rush, use Grammarly to check your content and download the browser extension to check everything you type as you go along. When it comes to understanding and improving upon your own presence and progress, you can use the awesome open-source project ThinkUp to understand your social media performance in a meaningful way. You have to pay for it, but a 14-day free trial is a great way to evaluate your current performance and make a plan to move forward.
Remember: when it comes to jobs, you’re competing with thousands of other people with your interests who are probably better than you are at everything. Frankly, you should operate on that assumption. It will keep your motivation to improve alive, because others may be confident enough in their skills to neglect their online persona; something you should use to your advantage. It never hurts to get a head start by establishing yourself as a force to be reckoned with in your area of interest. You can have all the official websites and LinkedIn profiles in the world and construct your own brand as much as you like, but these seemingly minute movements add up and make your online golem far more substantively three-dimensional. These contributions online have to be genuine, and it’s up to you to make meaningful contributions. You will improve your skill set, you will have meaningful conversations, and you’ll hopefully become more proficient in your own field.
These are just general guidelines for augmenting your professional candidacy with your various Internet activities and getting some practical benefit out of those endless hours spent online. When it comes to using social media for the job hunt, you should protect yourself by exercising constant vigilance. Here’s some tangible advice from three young professionals with major personal experience:
Getting Out There
Hayes Brown, World Editor at ThinkProgress, says his main rule is “don’t be stupid.” Brown tailored his online presence to focus almost entirely on one subject – the United Nations – slowly gaining a substantial online following. When it came time to job hunt, he began a Twitter hashtag campaign (#HireHayes) and utilized his network of connections to promote himself as a viable candidate for journalism jobs related to the UN. He credits his interviews and eventual employment to Twitter, and advises people hoping to do the same that,
“if you are stupid, be quick to acknowledge it before digging in. Delete and apologize when necessary, and don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong. Be open to new ideas and engage with people who actually know what they’re talking about, even if you don’t know them — especially if you don’t know them if we’re talking about Twitter. And finally, be human. You can tweet all the interesting links you want, but people still want to see that there’s a person on the other side.”
The “Front-Page” Rule
Eric Andreasen, Social Media Manager for Carson for Congress and an online marketing assistant at the Institute for Humane Studies, maintains an axiom his mother has repeated relentlessly: “Never post anything online that you wouldn’t want printed on the front page of the paper.” Andreasen states that “while printed newspapers continue to spiral towards obscurity, the Internet never forgets,” and advises never to post about how much you hate your job or how wasted you were last weekend. Andreasen even suggests that if you can’t avoid postings that might fail the rule, it might be best to simply deactivate your account, and although a drastic step, notes that the hilarious yet mildly offensive inside joke you have with your friends could be the reason you don’t get the job.
Stefan Perrier, a lead recruitment coordinator at IBM Canada for Air Canada, validates much parental paranoia over recruiter perusal of our online affairs:
“It’s not fair to judge someone solely on their Internet presence- but I always snoop. If someone is stupid enough to leave deal breakers online they should not be hired. But, if their most egregious error is that their life looks like a Corona commercial, we shouldn’t jump to the conclusions that an individual’s lifestyle is a detriment to their work performance.”
However, Perrier says a candidate’s ability to cultivate a strong Internet persona illustrating decency, profundity and a commitment to the area in which they work is a benefit. “You want to hire employees who are zealous for the right causes and the right reasons, and you can also see if someone is active in the community” he says. Perrier suggests that:
“Even if you are suspicious and afraid of the capitalist market and the perceived capitalist leanings of your fellow LinkedIn connections, don’t be afraid to contribute in a positive and engaging manner. Take differing opinions in stride and show that you can be involved in a discussion. Can you consensus build in an online forum? These are valuable work traits.”
The Myth of Post-Employment Bliss
There are tons of solid articles and tips out there offering advice on managing your personal social media strategy, building your personal brand, and avoiding mistakes you don’t realizing you’re making. Most workplaces have or are drafting company-wide social media policies. Andreasen sums all of this stuff up by reminding employees that when “posting online, whether to Facebook, Twitter, your own blogs, or even the fabled Google+, to remember that as an employee, you are a representative of the company.” It’s crucial to recognize that social media spans the personal-professional life divide which has already been disappearing for many of us over the past few years.
I said earlier that you can showcase yourself as reliable, creative, and interesting, but if there is one takeaway here, it’s that you must demonstrate online that you are not a liability, especially to your own brand. If you don’t treat your online self with respect, your real self won’t get any and will probably be trolled to oblivion. Traditional workplaces hardly want to invest in someone irresponsible or lacking self-control, and unless you’re trying to get hired by CollegeHumor, edgy or thoughtless behavior is damaging and permanent. You might get forgiven for being an idiot at age 14 and saying something you shouldn’t have; that slack won’t exist for future generations with the misfortune of growing up with Twitter accounts made for them by their parents before they’re even born, chronicling baby photos and embarrassing moments without any baby consent form. The best tactic we can employ is to exercise vigilance now and maintain ownership over these online personas with ever-increasing impact our livelihoods.