There's more to using social media tools than just quick updates and playful banter among friends. Sure, you can post pictures on Facebook, tell friends what you're doing via Twitter, and upload videos of your roommates doing something crazy to YouTube. But social media can be useful, too. More than 2,000 colleges across the country use Blackboard's online learning system—an online tool that allows professors to post assignments, schedules, questions, and more information while keeping the conversation with students going outside of class. Plus, countless colleges and universities use the usual suspects like Facebook, Second Life, and Twitter to interact with students, and students can use those tools to enhance their online profile for employment purposes. Yet as much as these technological tools have become commonplace on campus, there's still a caveat: The Internet can be misused, and missteps can be costly.
Not only can you get yourself in trouble while you're still in school, but your Internet mischief can hurt you beyond your college years. A Harris Interactive study done for CareerBuilder.com in August found that 45 percent of employers use social networks to screen job candidates. Another study commissioned by Microsoft in December had even higher numbers, saying that 79 percent of recruiters and hiring managers surveyed online information about potential hires. In other words, nothing that you toss up online is just for your friends and family—even if you set your profiles as private.
To help identify some do's and don'ts for college students using social media, U.S. News enlisted the expert advice of Patrick Ambron, the chief marketing officer for Brand-Yourself, a personal branding and online profile management startup, and two gurus from Syracuse University's Career Services office: Director Mike Cahill and Outreach and Marketing Coordinator Dan Klamm. Cahill and Klamm use Brand-Yourself's help for Syracuse students, and the partnership has uncovered some key pointers for using social media.
[Read The Art of Self-Marketing Online.]
1. Do create positive content. A big part of what both Brand-Yourself and Syracuse talk about is making a good impression online. That doesn't just mean smiling in your Facebook profile picture; it means showing that you're interested in your prospective field. Post links to interesting stories. Jump into debates and conversations when it's appropriate. Make LinkedIn connections with recruiters and internship coordinators and join alumni networks, too.
For younger students, try to spread an even wider net. If you're a freshman, you probably aren't ready to commit to being a lawyer or marketing rep just yet, but you can use social media to interact with recent college graduates and professionals from multiple fields. On Twitter, follow CEOs of companies that interest you and stay up on the news. As Klamm tells Syracuse underclassmen, it's all about seeing what's out there.
"This isn't a one-time thing when you are just looking for jobs," Klamm says. "It's more of an ongoing process. It's important that you have some type of presence at all times."
2. Don't post questionable photos of yourself anywhere on the Internet. If you are a college kid who wants a job—whether it's summer work, a part-time job during school, or postgraduate employment—think about the pictures of you that are online. The CareerBuilder.com study found that more than half of respondents cited inappropriate photos or information and 44 percent mentioned the posting of drug- or drinking-related content as reasons for turning down a job applicant. Remember, just because your Facebook profile has privacy settings doesn't mean you're invisible online. Some companies direct their own employees and interns to snoop around and use all kinds of channels to get access to information.
"There's a caution that people have when they're in public," Cahill says. "They don't act the same way they do in private. It's very important for young people to recognize that what they're doing that may seem private at the time ... that could very quickly become public. So, you need to approach the content that you are posting or publishing as if it will be open to the public."
3. Do Google yourself. That's right—search for yourself. You might get made fun of, but knowing what's on the Internet when people look for you is very important. Part of Brand-Yourself's strategy is teaching its clients how to use search-engine optimization to their advantage. In other words, find out what terms and keywords you can use to make positive pieces of content about you show up. If you have a personal website or a blog, give it some bells and whistles and make it easily accessible.
"The fact that [young people] know that employers are looking for you means there's a way to put your best foot forward," says Brand-Yourself's Ambron. "You can showcase all your best work and make sure it's found by the right people. Why not make sure that the people searching your name can find the right stuff?"
4. Don't post negative status updates or tweets. Sometimes, it's hard to be positive. The economy is struggling. School is challenging. And the news hasn't exactly been buzzing with beaming faces and rainbows. But don't let that come out in your status updates. Never rip a classmate, coworker, or person in a leadership role like a professor or boss, and don't openly complain about your job, either. It just doesn't look good.
"Whatever you are talking about online, just don't talk about things you wouldn't want to talk about in an interview," Ambron says.
5. Don't make your online presence all about you. Don't post what you're eating for lunch. Don't put up status updates asking for jobs. You can make your presence known by being interactive. Share relevant articles and videos. Make thoughtful comments when you can. Retweet interesting posts from people you follow.
"[Social media] is all about an ongoing conversation," Ambron says. "If you have nothing valuable to add, you will be ignored. Don't expect to just join some site and have everyone cater to you."
Cahill fleshed out that point even more. "Don't avoid things on the Internet," he says. "Always think about how you can manage your brand and your image by interacting with other people. Think about how you can use this tool or that tool to present, promote, and position yourself so you can be the most successful moving forward."
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