Social Media: Our Best Tool & Our Worst Enemy

By NOLAN ETHER, iMedia class of 2012

A group of iMedia students recently had the opportunity to attend a meeting for the Triangle Social Media Club (@SMCTriangle). The meeting was held the same day as the f8 conference where Mark Zuckerberg announced the new Facebook Timeline. All of the buzz had us wondering how interactive media students could make the most of social media to establish a reputation online? How should we use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and other social networks? Lucky for us, the Triangle Social Media Club’s members are mostly professionals in the field of of social media. I would like to share some of the takeaways and best practices.

All Social Networks are NOT Created Equal

Each social network has their respective strengths and weaknesses and should be used for different things.

Facebook should be treated like a backyard barbecue. You can invite who you want but it is important to realize that any of your friends can affect your reputation with comments on your posts, tagging inappropriate photos, or writing on your wall. Though new features of Facebook allow you to “follow” people (similar to Twitter), most people use Facebook to stay connected with people they know personally. Facebook should typically be used in a way that displays your personality and shows your interests but still reflects the way that you would like to be perceived both personally as well as professionally. The new Timeline layout that Facebook will be releasing fully in the next few weeks will make it easy for anyone you are connected to to browse your entire Facebook history. If you have not done so, now may be a good time to start cleaning out your old statuses and untagging your old college photos.

It wasn’t long ago that it would have been impossible to connect with leaders in an industry or people whom you admired but never had a chance to meet. The best you could hope for would be a response to an email or letter. Twitter has removed the gatekeepers, enabling anyone to put a message in front of anyone else. Twitter should be viewed in similarly to a conference that you would attend in your field. It is a great place to share things like news or tips in your industry as well as to participate in discussions with people whom have similar interests as you. If you want to establish yourself in an industry or to network professionally, this is the social media platform to do it. No matter where you look most social media professionals agree, if you actively contribute positively to conversations and share interesting and relative content, the retweets and follows will come.

It’s important to stay in touch with your professional network. These are friends, former colleagues, clients, and professors who know you professionally and whom you would like to stay in touch with. LinkedIn is the place to maintain these relationships. Think of LinkedIn like the Chamber of Commerce. LinkedIn sharing should be always be relevant to your field or professional interests. Utilize this social network to build an online portfolio, get recommendations from people who have worked with you or who you have done business with, as well as to make new connections. While many people add everyone they know on every social network site they belong to, this is not a good idea with LinkedIn. Perhaps the best feature of LinkedIn is the groups. Groups are easy to find in almost any field and give you a direct line to thought leaders and professionals in your industry as well as the latest news and often interesting discussions.

Google+ just recently went from a beta release to a full release. Many people in the field feel as though Google is on to something good with the way Google+ is laid out and some of the features, but the market may be too saturated right now for such a major player to make a dent. While there is great potential here longterm, most social media professionals seem to think you could hold off on Google+ for now.

Adding to the Conversation

Each social network is different and content you share on one is not necessarily appropriate for another. Beyond this, social networks like Twitter have their own styles such as the use of the ampersand or hashtag. These symbols and means of communication aren’t as effective for other social networks that work differently. Even if you are posting the same thing to multiple social networks, it is a best practice to craft your message differently for each network, in a way that will make sense and connect with that audience. Apps like TweetDeck and Hootsuite are great to keep up with all of your networks in one convenient place but don’t simply use these tools as a way to send mass posts out of all of your profiles at once. Not only is this not taking advantage of what each network does well, it also makes you look like a spammer.

Social networks are not only a great place to stay connected to people that you know. They are also a great way to meet new people in your field or with similar professional interests. If you want to establish new relationships, the best way to do this is by utilizing each network the way that it was intended. On Twitter, follow people who interest you and generate compelling discussions with them based on their posts or response to posts. On LinkedIn join groups and start conversations or add to ones that already exist. LinkedIn even allows you to connect with someone that is one degree of separation from you by allowing you to ask your mutual connection to “introduce” you.

Professionals in the field of social media seem to agree on one thing. If you don’t know the person, don’t send them direct messages or private messages. This shows that you already have a misunderstanding of the social networks and that you don’t respect their privacy. If you engage them in discussion and they find you interesting the relationship will grow on it’s own.

Protect Your Name

Recent research suggests that upwards of 90% of employers are now making it a part of standard procedure to look up potential hires names in search engines and social media. Whether or not you enjoy social media, it is important to realize that your profiles on these networks represent you to anyone who wants to look you up. It is important to make sure that you understand your privacy settings for each network, that you are careful what you post, and that you maintain your social media profiles regularly. It is also a best practice to do a search for your name from time to time on the major search engines including Google, Yahoo, and Bing, to see what comes up. Just as you check your credit report to make sure there are no errors, you don’t want things to misrepresent you online and cast a negative light.

Becoming a Thought Leader

We are all entering an industry that is new enough for us to make a real impact. For many of us, that is one of the most exciting things about what we’re doing. One of the benefits of coming into an industry at the ground level is the opportunity to establish yourself as an expert in your field. Whereas it may have been difficult to do this in the past without getting a PhD, writing a book, or being a CEO of a startup, today your reputation is only limited by your diligence and the quality of your thoughts and content. Social media has made it so that the only thing required to be an expert is expertise. Connect with thought leaders in your field, join in on the conversation, and you could establish yourself as a thought leader.

Final Thoughts

We are three months into the iMedia program and while we are sleep deprived and our brains often feel like mush, things are starting to click. We are nervous and excited about wrapping up our Fall semester and preparing for our Winter Fly-In. We are taking a look at the classes being offered in the Spring and are starting to think about our Capstone projects and job prospects. We are updating our resumes, thinking about our portfolios, and networking as much as we can. Social Media is a great tool that will help us all to find the opportunities we are looking for come Spring. At times like this it is important to take things seriously but not to get too far ahead of ourselves. Everything will come in time. Now is the time to keep pushing, finish out the Fall semester strong, and get ready for a much needed Winter Break.

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One thought on “Social Media: Our Best Tool & Our Worst Enemy

  1. Hi Nolan,
    Thanks for sharing this great article and mentioning HootSuite. The dashboard is a powerful tool and you’re absolutely right about not taking advantage of the networks with spammy messages. Adapting a social media strategy for each platform is key.

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