Face Your Social Media Fears

social media fearsAre we nearing a time in which it will be expected that everyone has an online presence? We may already be there in many ways, including job search and careers.

Recruiters and hiring managers are using Google searches, and the social profiles that result, to help them screen applicants, but social networks are also an effective way to identify new positions and encourage referrals. Social media can be a helpful and positive experience if you plan ahead and move forward with a purpose.

Why is social media so important?

The importance of social media stems, perhaps, from the fact that is so widely used. This is certainly true in the context of higher education and career development as online accounts designed for communication, sharing, and networking pave the way for future work and learning. Here’s a quick look at some of the latest research on social media shows us:

If you aren’t already using social media in a professional capacity – or have accounts set up that you aren’t really monitoring – now is the time to ask “Why not?” and address any concerns you have about becoming more active.

What are you worried about?

Your concerns may or may not be the same as mine, but you’ll find that there are some common issues out there. Many of us worry about social media on some level, and it could be a healthy way to keep us on our toes. Let’s explore some of the known challenges of social media and networking, and identify a few ways to work through them.

Privacy and Security Problems

Recent news has directed attention to these issues, including the attack earlier this week on Snapchat (a photo messaging application) in which the details of millions of accounts were made public. No one really wants to risk getting hacked, but there are a few steps you can take to maintain the security of your information:

  • Check account settings. Social media and networking tools are continuously being revised, which can mean changes in your privacy options. Not all platforms are good about notifying users about updates, so make a habit of checking your account settings periodically to make sure they match your intent.
  • Change your passwords. Having a predictable password or one that is used for multiple accounts can contribute to the possibility of a security breach. Create strong passwords that are harder to hack and add changing them to your calendar every couple of months.
  • Set up two-step verification. More platforms – including Twitter, Google+, and Facebook – offer this feature (e.g., text message access code) as another way to verify you as the account owner. NBCNews.com recommends taking this and other precautions whenever they are available.

Making Mistakes

The first time I took the temporary helm of a Twitter account that had over 12,000 followers I was acutely aware of the possibility of embarrassing not only myself, but also the account’s owner. Thanks to a little preparation and practice, it went well. Here’s what you can do to calm any anxiety you might have about social media mistakes:

  • Watch, listen, and learn. You don’t have to be an active participant right out of the gate. Take some time to see what others in your field are doing before making your mark. How are they presenting themselves? What do you like (or dislike) about how people are using their social accounts? Keep professional use in mind and take notes.
  • Know your options. Each system has its own set of functions, but many allow you the chance to undo, or redo, what you’ve posted. You can delete a Tweet, for example, although it may remain for a period of time. You can also edit Google+ updates, and Facebook posts and comments after they are published.
  • Practice and participate. Try not to expect perfection. Mistakes happen sometimes, even when we plan ahead. The more practice you get interacting with others via social media, the more comfortable you’ll become with the interaction. You may also notice others making mistakes and can see how they react.

Impact on Time Management

Chances are your schedule is already pretty full, and adding a new task to your list may not sound like such a great idea. Between work hours, class assignments, and family obligations, where will you find the time to be active via social media? Focus your efforts with these steps:

  • Start with the basics. Begin at the beginning and set up your account profiles. Making them as complete as possible is the goal here, so that if and when they are found, they help you put your best foot forward even if you don’t post frequent updates. Professor and media advisor Kenna Griffin provides helpful advice on writing a professional bio that will help you get started.
  • Set goals for the social media experience. Whether you want to establish your own career brand, learn more about your field, or connect with your online college or university, having a plan can help you stay focused. What do you want or need to get from social media participation.
  • Prioritize when and what you will update. Block time on your schedule to maintain your social media presence, whether it’s daily, weekly, or even monthly. And think about what you’ll post (e.g., helpful resources, questions), with your goals in mind, so that you don’t spend a lot of time spinning your wheels when you log in.

Going Public

While reaching celebrity status may not be your goal for social media use, it can be intimidating to put yourself out there as a student, professional, or job seeker. Developing an online presence takes a certain amount of courage, but you may not realize how much control you have over the process. Consider these tips as you begin shaping your online identity:

  • Choose your content carefully. What do you want others to know about you? What do you want to share? You make the decisions about what you post. Plan ahead and take the time you need to carefully prepare your profiles and updates.
  • Google yourself. It can be helpful to be aware of what the results page looks like when others search for your name. Google also provides guidelines for managing your online reputation that include avenues for having personal information removed from the Web.
  • Shift your focus. It’s all too easy to get caught up in comparing your social stats to those of other members of your network. You may also be worried that you don’t have anything to share. The New Hampshire Writers’ Network offers this great advice: “It’s not about you. It’s about your work. It’s about your ideas. … Social media is meant to be a conversation, meaning a give and take.” Move the focus from you to what you can contribute.

Make it Meaningful

If you are new to, or not-so-active in, social networks, getting started can seem overwhelming. There are a lot of options available and decisions to be made. Here are two basic tips to guide your initial efforts and keep it all manageable:

  • Find a good role model. Where are professionals in your career field or field of study engaging via social media? Spend some time on those platforms (e.g., LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest) first, and look for one or two people whose style and approach you can emulate and make your own.
  • Stay positive. Build your reputation, through your approach and the messages you send, as someone who is not only knowledgeable, but also helpful to others in the community.

Whether it’s learning more about a course topic, joining conversations centered on current trends in your industry, or meeting people who can help you find your next job, getting started with social media can be a step in the right direction. While there will be challenges to overcome, stay focused on your goals and explore the possibilities to find a social media approach that makes the most sense for you.

Join Melissa Venable on Twitter and Google+.

Source: Inside Online Learning Blog