In these days, if you aren’t active on at least one social media platform, chances are people are going to give you strange, questioning looks. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with not being active online, but with the way trends are moving, it’s a little unusual when someone striving to be a professional — especially one that does online work — isn’t spending at least a part of their day posting photos with hashtags or statuses of what they’re eating for lunch.
We’ve all heard the horror stories about people who don’t get a job, or get fired from their current job, because of something unsavory they had on a public profile — but on the other side of the coin, as companies become more and more internet-savvy and understand the importance of an online presence, hiring people who are already familiar and comfortable with the ins and outs of social media is going to be more desirable than hiring those who aren’t. Social media isn’t the bad guy or the villain in this story — it’s the people who do bad things with it that are.
The Importance of Digital Literacy
In a webinar discussing digital literacy published by the University of Southern California, seven panelists ranging from professors to university advisors discussed the importance of digital literacy and how it’s going to become even more necessary in the professional world in the future.
Susan Gautsch, the Director of Online Learning at Price School of Public Policy, defined digital literacy as such (bolded statements for emphasis done by me):
“… literacy is not only being able to listen, and hear, or use whatever other sense you’ve got going on to understand what the communications and conversations are that are happening within your field with your colleagues, and so forth, but also very much about how you’re able to produce and communicate outward.
So naturally, we’re in a very fast-paced transformation stage right now and we don’t see that stopping anytime in the near future. It’s key to the success of any professional, but most especially those who are trying to work with the public at large.”
When it comes to the future of business and continued industrialization, it’s going to keep moving forward toward more and more technological methods of marketing, production, and so on, and I’m pretty confident nobody is going to question that. Because of this, it’s necessary that potential employees are prepared for anything revolving around this — and right now, the biggest boom is in social media.
Especially for small businesses and other startups looking to fill their teams with the brightest, most internet-savvy of people out there, they’re going to be looking for those who are eager and willing to put forth the effort to get their names out there onto the world wide web. It’s companies like these that are scrambling for a place online, and will be scrambling for the employees with the experience and expertise to get it done.
Using Social Media to Your Advantage (and Disadvantage)
Of course there are still rules when it comes to your online persona, including what’s appropriate for professionals to be seeing and knowing about you, whether you’re a new customer, a client, or someone a client themselves is interested in working with.
Before we get into what’s good to show off, let’s touch on some of the less-than-good things:
- For the most part, probably try and avoid intense, vocal rants where you can, as for most people this will be a sign of emotional immaturity, instability, and more. Of course there’s nothing wrong with or unhealthy about ranting to let off some steam, but those might be best left for private, personal pages, rather than those you link to in bio blurbs at the end of freelance articles.
- Keep photos PG/PG-13 rated — I can’t imagine being shown with a drink in your hand will do much damage, and I’m not (along with most others, hopefully) personally offended when girls post bikini selfies or anything like that, but chances are you’ll be dealing with a number of people belonging to an older, more conservative generation, and it’s that audience you will want to tailor your online presence to. If your audience is more millennial-based, then you can change your outward standards as you see fit.
For example, as a freelance writer and with my choice of topics and the sites I write for, my audience tends to be a little younger and more around my age — and because of that, my Twitter feed is probably 40 percent business, 60 percent cats and memes. But, if I were working for an older generation, that ratio might be better off as 70 percent business, 30 percent memes. Just like when you wrote speeches for class in high school and had to doctor them toward a certain demographic, the same goes for your online demographic.
For the most part, just keep things professional — if it wouldn’t go down in an office, a public library, or a government building (of course I’m being facetious here), then it might be better off on a private page.
Meanwhile, here are some things that are GREAT to show off on social media:
- Photo and video editing skills, demonstrating off-handedly that you know how to use programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Windows Movie Maker, iMovie, ClipChamp, etc. You can expound on these skills in a resume, but employers seeing you’re able to do them on the spot and in personal projects implies you’re experienced enough that it comes easily to you. This can also be demonstrated in the way of the new-age video resume, which is slowly becoming more popular than the traditional paper resume.
- You might also try something new like starting a vlog (video blog) on platforms like YouTube, which would initially show your skills in video editing and composition — but also how super exciting your life is and how fun, charismatic, and relatable you are. Not to mention, if your YouTube channel takes off, you won’t need a regular job, anyway.
- Allow peeks into your life in terms of volunteer work, interests, hobbies that relate to your field, and so on. In a way, I kind of see it as a preliminary, visual cover letter.
For example, in my cover letter I might tell the hiring manager of wherever I want to work about how I super love what they do, their business model, the types of people they work with — but then if I also demonstrate that on my Instagram page, and how I’ve been sincerely interested in similar things for months before my application slid across their desk, they’re going to find that I’m more genuine in my claims and not just saying what I think they want to hear.
To go back to Susan from USC, she explains:
“…some of the key elements of being digitally literate or fluent is to be able to use the technologies strategically, to know what information is valid or can be reliable. So to evaluate that’s really important.”
She goes on to say, “We also have, of course, students [who] are developing content or original content that could be papers, but you’re also gonna be exercising some of your artistic skills, or developing your artistic skills, as we’re moving way beyond just text as a way of communicating effectively. Naturally this all happens on the internet, and this isn’t just about your academic goals but also professional and personal. You’ll see this as we go through.
We’re big believers that social enriched media [is] increasingly important in the 21st century. So it’s not just a fad that that’s happening, but this is definitely the key and prominent communication modalities right now. We want all of our students to be very proficient in these areas.”
The internet and all of her wonders are here to stay, and while fads may change (and change quickly), it’s more important than ever to have a basic groundwork built, being built, or at least in the process of being started. Who knows, in the future adding links to online resumes and social media accounts might become the norm — and if that’s the case, it’s critical that you’re already in the process of building up something of an online presence.
This doesn’t only mean millions of followers, or heavy interaction between you and other people online — but simply demonstrating a certain level of comfort in the way you speak, navigate, and present yourself to an online public.
If you haven’t already begun your journey into the world of social media, now’s your chance. Take some time to research what it takes to build a following if that’s what you’re interested in, and take some time to learn internet lingo, trends, vernacular, and other little intricacies that only come from being exposed to it. Internet culture in itself is an absurdity — you’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever tried to explain what a “meme” is to a generation Xer, and the only way to learn and grow in it until it becomes innate is to dive right in!
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