In light of the recent headlines about a scandal surrounding a group of incoming first-year students at Harvard University, I decided to take a look at how you can avoid these situations while still enjoying the wonderful world of social media. If you haven’t heard about the scandal, in a nutshell, a number of students from the class of 2021 were spreading derogatory and provocative content amongst themselves in a Facebook group chat. The repercussions were severe. Harvard withdrew admissions acceptances for approximately 10 prospective students. Their story is now an example of why you should always practice strict discretion (and common sense) when using social media. If you don’t think before you post, you can lose the opportunity of a lifetime, just like these soon-to-be Harvard students.
News flash: Social media doesn’t have to lead to the demise of your education or career prospects. It can be an invaluable tool for students and young professionals to develop their brand and further connections without face-to-face contact. Social media has propelled my academic and professional career in a multitude of ways. I used social media when searching for the right college, reviewed the social channels of every company I was applying to for internships, and I continue to use social media to develop relationships with people before I get to meet them in an academic or professional setting.
1. Express yourself … with discretion.
Developing an online presence beyond memes and cat videos (although they are magnificent) can take you to the next level. You’re a unique individual with interests and passions, and you should showcase that. Taking the time to build a substantive online presence that reflects your skills, experience, and accomplishments will make for a much more personable online profile. Highlighting your individuality, coupled with the aforementioned discretion, will help you project a much more favorable image to schools and employers.
2. Stop ignoring LinkedIn.
LinkedIn isn’t just a safe space for your nerdy uncle to tag you in a Forbes article every now and then. It's an awesome networking platform with an abundance of employers who are actively recruiting talent. These recruiters can do specific searches based on things like age, skills, former workplaces, and schools. For those reasons, it's imperative that you keep your profile accurate, descriptive, and up to date. If it weren’t for LinkedIn, I wouldn’t have gotten one of my internships, which happens to be in a very competitive field. But because I diligently updated my profile and sought out the right connections, I got in contact with the right people to get my foot in the door.
3. Engage in discussion.
LinkedIn and Quora are two social platforms in which informational discussion flourishes. One thing that can really set you apart is contributing to a larger conversation about the major or field you’re interested in entering. By doing so, you can connect with academic and industry thought leaders, find noteworthy and useful information on a consistent basis, and help fully develop your thought-provoking ideas through interactive dialogue. For example, I’m interested in marketing and communications, so I joined a social media marketing group on LinkedIn. I then read through different posts and started to comment on them. It blossomed into amazing discussions on the evolution of social media’s prominence in the world of marketing. It allowed me to throw out ideas and get feedback on them quickly. Not only did I learn a lot from the discussions, I developed connections with people in the industry I never would’ve had the opportunity to speak with otherwise.
4. Do your research.
We always hear the classic story of colleges and employers screening applicants’ social media accounts. The Harvard situation is a prime example of this. Why not flip the script? For students and recent grads entering the job market, social media can be the ticket to interview invincibility. Find your interviewer/employer’s profile. Yes, old people have personal accounts too.
For example, find your admissions representative’s or hiring manager’s personal Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook profile. According to the Pew Research Center, 79 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds who are online in the U.S. use Facebook. By finding their profile, you can scope them out and find specific commonalities. These make for significant interview talking points, which can set you apart from other applicants.
As a college student going into my senior year, I feel social media has been one of the more important tools I've used throughout school. While I do have a lot of fun with my accounts, I've also developed ideas and fostered relationships that have become important in my personal and professional lives.
Social media is a powerful thing, yet we generally don’t think of it as such. It can be the life, or death, of your dreams and aspirations. I urge you to take the Harvard example into consideration the next time you’re contemplating whether you should post something. A word to the wise: if it's even slightly questionable, you probably shouldn’t.
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