I had the privilege of teaching an M.B.A. course on social media recently. Out of 12 sessions total in the semester, I dedicated three to the topic of personal branding.
Why would I devote a full quarter of the class to one subject when there are so many other "cool" things like Twitter and video résumés to cover? The answer is simple.
Aside from a few questionable Facebook photos and incomplete LinkedIn profiles, most of my students didn't have a strong online presence yet.
[Learn why social media skills are a must for M.B.A.'s.]
In other words, they were blank slates, bare billboards—the equivalent of TV static.
While social media sites could give them a potentially powerful microphone, here's the problem with just diving in and uploading content on day one: Bare billboard + powerful microphone = more white noise on the Web.
I don't know about you, but I think the Internet has more than enough white noise as it is. Moreover, like you, these students were in the process of looking for employment, and with up to six job seekers for every one job available, I owed it to them to do what I could to prevent a "fire, ready, aim" approach.
So this left us in step one of the personal branding process—otherwise known as the discovery phase. It's fitting to invoke the billboard reference above because, like quality brands, quality billboards must have a clear, succinct message to be effective.
Therefore, the challenge to my students—and now to you—is this: What is your message? This is the question I posed in my last blog post, but now let's go a little deeper. If you want to use social media to find a job, super—but first you have to know what it is you hope to achieve. Here's a hint: If you can't sum it up in a sentence, my guess is that you don't know it well enough.
Yes, I know this is difficult.
It's so tough, in fact, that most people spend a lifetime searching for what they're "about" but never quite get it defined enough to take action. If this describes you, I can guarantee you one thing: It's going to be harder to make social media work for you. On the other hand, if you can get the general direction of your career down to one sentence, you can use it as a "filter" for deciding what to post or not post.
[Read about the impact of social media on the job search.]
For example, here's my sentence: "Bestselling career author with a focus on advancing the leadership skills of young professionals in the workplace."
"Bestselling" summarizes the goal for my books; "career" is my field; and "advancing the leadership skills of young professionals" is my niche. Therefore, 80 percent of the information I share online must reinforce my position in these areas. (The other 20 percent is just-for-fun stuff that proves I'm a real person with a life beyond my career.)
Still, before I post anything, I always ask myself, "Does what I'm about to say here support the impression I want to create?" If the answer is yes, I'll post it. If not, I won't.