How to behave professionally on the internet.
A case study
How does one use social media to brand oneself professionally? This doesn’t seem to be a question only companies ask to become more attractive to Millennials. Also, Millennials and generation Z wonder how to best utilise LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to stand out and become more attractive as potential employees.
After I published This Year Will Be Different to shed some light on the challenges of freelancing, I got an email from Anika Mester, a representative of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. It was a request to give a lecture on the professional use of social media to their student fellows. Given social media has always been a way for me to attract people’s attention and also demonstrate my references, I figured I had a lot to share, so I took the chance. Frankly, I was curious to know how it feels to stand on the other side of the classroom, and I wanted to know what someone who just turned twenty thinks about the online bubble I’ve been living in for so long.
Before the workshop, I sent a questionnaire to the attendees to make sure I met the expectations and would deliver a lecture they’ll remember. I wanted to give some food for thought, so I asked what career or industry they were aiming at joining after their studies, what social platforms they used, how they felt about sharing content and what sort of content they shared. It was of little surprise that the attendees were mostly aiming at a career in the traditional industries such as business consulting, medicine or journalism. Having talked many times about my personal belief that we choose our careers based on what we know from our surroundings, what we feel familiar with and what we think we are able to access, the workshop suddenly became much more than just a superficial analysis of the diverse social media platforms and their advantages. Instead, it became a workshop that taught how to broaden professional horizons and access the people, industries and jobs the fellows wished for.
In the last eight years, I’ve come to understand the social web as a place where hierarchies have become outdated and where everyone can talk to whomever they want as long as they have something interesting to say. To me, the internet is not elitist and it’s the medium that has enabled social mobility like no other because everyone can reach what they want as long as they have the information they need. While the information is there of course, we need to teach our youth how to find it.
I, as a person, embrace the internet because it has enabled me to get to where I am now in life. Nevertheless, there are many people who fear the rapid change the internet has caused because of information exchange and the willingness to share insights with others. What I didn’t realise is that people that are younger than I am could potentially be afraid of the social web, but standing in a classroom for a day showed me that there are many insecurities in need of discussion. One of the students even said: “I am glad you came today because you’re the first person I’ve met who embraces the flexible job market and the insecure future.”
Now, it’s very unlikely the world will spin slower. It’s also very unlikely that work in ten years will be what it was 10 years ago or even what it is today. To me, it sounds like great news when I think of the number of people who hate their jobs. In my opinion, the social web as a tool for shared learning finally gives us the access to opportunities to evolve as people.
So, how do you use the internet to brand yourself professionally? In a nutshell, I’d say, “do stuff, tell people.” Document whatever you’re excited about and don’t hide it in the attic, but rather on an online blog or on Tumblr. The mediums will change and so will your interests, but when looking for work, all that matters is the now anyway. One can only go step by step, so documenting how you evolve in whatever interests you will benefit you in the long run. If I was hiring an online editor to fill the lifestyle pages of a magazine and one applicant has an amazing Instagram stream of places they could feature in the said magazine and a second candidate doesn’t have such proven track work, guess who I would invite to join my team? As Dan Harmon said, “Find your voice, shout it from the rooftops and keep doing it until the people that are looking for you find you.” You might think that your career choice is not suitable to be displayed online, but in the majority of cases, I would disagree. Instead, it’s not a question if you should be sharing your interests, but in what way because even a Twitter stream with tweets about a certain topic is a great way to make others know what you’re interested in. The internet is big enough for everyone to find their spot and to find the people who are willing to listen to them. The internet is also big enough so people who are not interested in your work have the choice to ignore you. The internet, let me tell you, is filled with your people and you can only catch their attention with the content they find appealing. If you’re worried that someone might not hire you because of your interests, then it might not be the right person for you to work with anyway.
So, what are some of the more practical things I’ve said during the lecture?
- Don’t say things you don’t want your mother to hear you say; don’t be rude, offensive or mean.
- If you think something’s great, tell the person. Tweet at them, send them an email.
- Whenever you meet someone and like them, ask them for their contact details and follow up.
- If you’re insecure about something, ask your friends for feedback. You’ll open the door for them to do so too and ask you for your opinion about their work.
I’m not saying social media branding will bring you the perfect job tomorrow. All I’m saying is that when you do things you want to get paid for eventually and you do so publicly, it will be easier for you to get there one day. Because it’s the people who open their mouths that get the jobs you dream of. Once you start applying for jobs, you can point to your blog, Twitter or Instagram stream and prove your excitement. If you now think you’re too busy to invest your time in the future you want, then think of all the other people who will invest the time and once you point at the ones who are doing the jobs you wanted to have yourself, remember that they’ve worked for it for free before someone offered to pay them to do so.
The day I spent in the classroom at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung went, of course, much deeper and was also much more practical. All I wanted to capture here was the initial thought behind professional branding. If you’d like to book a workshop or a lecture, please don’t hesitate and get in touch.