8 Ways to Boost Your Career With Social Media
With 70% of employers using social media to identify and screen potential candidates, most of us have already come around to the idea that social media is vital to our career development. Although we’re aware that our social media presence can help or hinder our career prospects, figuring out what and how much to share in order to strike the right balance between personal and professional can still be a bit confusing.
Researchers from George Washington University recently conducted a social media and professionalism course and found that the majority of first-year medical students who took the course changed their online behaviour after learning about the effects of social media on their professional identity.
Lead researcher and Associate Director for Education, Information, and Technology Services Alexandra Gomes points out that many of the participants had not thought about the role social media may play in their professional life.
“Many students noted they had changed their behaviour in some way after the session,” she says. “For instance, some described tightening their privacy settings or reviewing and deleting content. Others reported that the session made them more aware of how others may perceive various types of posts or images, and the need to monitor what is posted about them online.”
Of course, using social media for career development is just as much about what you do share than what you don’t. In addition to considering the content of their personal posts, professor Gomes says many students are unaware of how to leverage social media to begin building a professional presence—for instance, by following health professionals on Twitter, blogging about health care topics, or engaging in online communities for healthcare professionals.
So if you’re a student or working professional looking to harness the benefits of social media while also avoiding its potential downsides, here are some tips for using social media in your career development.
1. Start with a social media audit.
If you haven’t already done so, your first step towards successfully using social media for career development is to do a social media audit. This will give you a better idea of what other people see when they look you up online and help you manage your professional reputation online.
Start by finding some influencers in your niche to see what sort of information and photos they’re sharing and how they’re engaging their audience or highlighting their skills.
Once you have an idea of what works, you can locate your own social media profiles and see if there’s any room for improvement. Is there any information there that you wouldn’t want a colleague or client to see? Are there certain skills or strengths you could be highlighting better in order to stand out?
2. Decide on a social media strategy.
Before you start developing your online profiles and making connections, it’s a good idea to decide on a social media strategy. In a piece for Harvard Business Review, management professors Ariane Ollier-Malaterre and Nancy Rothbard highlight four different social media strategies; an open strategy, an audience strategy, a content strategy and a custom strategy.
Open strategy: If you decide that you value transparency and authenticity over privacy and choose to make all your posts public, this would be an open strategy.
Audience strategy: An audience strategy would be to keep your personal and professional contacts separate by reserving one social network for close friends and family and using another for networking.
Content strategy: If your networks are a mix of both friends and family and clients or co-workers, a content strategy might be right for you. This involves posting only carefully thought out content.
Custom strategy: If you don’t like the idea of making everything public but still want to safeguard your professional reputation, you might opt for a custom strategy. With this strategy, you manage both your content and your audience by posting different content to different lists or circles.
Which strategy would be right for you depends on your industry and personal preferences, but Rothbard and Malaterre note that most professionals would be best served by a content or custom strategy. Regardless of what strategy you choose, though, making a conscious decision about how you want to approach and use social media will make you more aware of the risks and help you keep track of exactly what you’re sharing and with whom.
3. Choose the right social media platforms.
Once you’ve decided on what your social media strategy is going to be, you’ll be in a better position to choose the right social media platforms. For instance, Facebook and Instagram have a more personal feel, whereas Twitter and LinkedIn are more professional in nature.
You should also pay attention to where other professionals in your industry or niche tend to hang out. If most of your clients or potential employers are primarily using Twitter and you’re hoping to connect with them, you’d be better off developing a presence on Twitter than on Facebook.
4. Focus on making connections.
One of the best things about social media from a career development point of view is its ability to facilitate networking and help you make valuable connections within your industry. It gives you the opportunity to connect with people you may never have crossed paths with in person, and if you do it right; connecting with people online can often lead to face-to-face opportunities too.
Start by connecting with people you actually know, from old classmates or colleagues from earlier jobs to clients, employers and acquaintances. You can also follow influencers and organisations you’re interested in, and interact with people by liking or sharing posts you find useful and contributing your own insights when appropriate.
5. Don’t force it.
Although building a wide network can be beneficial to your career, trying to force your foot through the door by adding lots of people you don’t really know can actually backfire. Career counsellor Rich Grant points out that while sites like LinkedIn or Twitter can be beneficial to those looking to build their professional network, it’s also important to set realistic expectations and avoid pushing an agenda:
“It’s important for job seekers to build rapport without rushing it,” says. “Let relationships build organically; don’t try to force them. One way to get to know people on social media is by participating in discussions on LinkedIn groups or in Twitter chats.”
So, in short, conduct yourself in the same way you would in face-to-face settings by being polite, respectful and sending a brief message to introduce yourself or remind someone who you are and how you know each other.
6. Use it for informal learning.
In addition to networking and building a personal brand, social media is a great tool for building professional skills and gaining industry-specific knowledge. One of the reasons it’s such a valuable tool is that it’s accessible wherever you are and allows you to fit learning into your daily life, whether you’re doing housework, commuting or have some free time on your day off.
For instance, if there’s a specific topic you want to learn more about, you can look for related hash tags to discover new resources and thought leaders to follow. You can also use it to share your own insights, ask specific questions and get feedback from others in your industry.
7. Include relevant terminology and keywords.
When building your social media profiles, it can help to include relevant terminology and keywords in your bio, job title and any other information sections. This will help your profile show up when people use those search terms to find professionals in your niche or area.
If you’re not sure what terminology to include you can use tools like SEMrush and Google Keyword Planner to find out which search terms or keywords are most often searched for.
It still needs to read professionally, of course, so try to include any keywords or search terms in a logical and engaging way. You should also avoid leaving any section of your bio or social media profile blank to provide potential employers or clients with as much information as possible.
8. Set goals for yourself.
Whether you intend to use social media for networking or to learn more about a specific topic, you’ll get more out of it if you set some goals for yourself. Businesses do this all the time and there’s no reason you shouldn’t do the same for your own social media use.
Think about what you’re hoping to accomplish or gain through the time you spend on social media and then break that main goal up into little things that you can work on each day. For instance, if you’re hoping to learn more about an industry-specific skill, come up with smaller tasks that can be tackled each day, such as starting or responding to a Twitter conversation or getting to know a new professional development app like LinkedIn Learning, iTunes U or TED.
Finally, keep in mind that developing a professional online presence is an ongoing process, not something you can cross off your list in one day. So take your time to learn what will work best for you and don’t try to rush things.