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Essential Social Media for Online Students

I get it. Not everyone is as excited about social media as I am. This semester I am requiring Twitter use in my online class and it's been met with an overall lack of enthusiasm. But as social media continues to have an impact on so many facets of higher education and the workplace, I'm optimistically encouraging my students to at least dip their toes in the stream.

From the college admissions process and new academic programs specializing in social media to applicant screening and employee networks, being able to communicate online via social media is becoming a new literacy for a new time.

Adult students in particular may not be interested in this kind of open and public sharing of information about themselves, even if it's professional in nature and purpose. It can seem like bragging, self-promotion, and poses some privacy concerns. Having a strategy in place before you start will help you make decisions about where and when you get involved.

Prepare to Participate

  • Keep it professional. Present the information that best reflects your work-related interests and accomplishments. Whichever platform(s) you choose (many recommend LinkedIn) keep it up-to-date with changes in jobs and education.
  • Extend your current connections. Start by following, "Liking," and connecting with the people and organizations you already know and trust. Identify the profiles of your colleagues, favorite conference events, and professional associations in which you hold membership.
  • Consider the exchange. Social media is not just about what you share, but also what you can gain from information shared by others. Use your efforts to build upon your personal learning network and stay current in your field of work and study.
  • Make it relevant to you. And that it meets your current needs and interests – whether it's notifying you of new job postings, creating a newsfeed, locating important conversations, or seeking professional development. Keep your use focused on what you need now and feel free to change course when those needs change.
  • Stay safe. Don't feel pressure to post pictures of family, your birth date, your hometown, or your current location. While it can be helpful to indicate your state or region, you don't need a lot of personal detail, especially with accounts you open with professional use in mind.

Get Started

Think of social media not as something new in and of itself, but instead as a new tool that offers more effective and efficient ways to do some of the things you are already doing as you pursue your education and career goals. Here's my list of the minimum involvement that may be expected by your instructors and potential employers:

  • Claim your name. Creating a social media profile allows you to control the information that is out there about you and prevent potential confusion that may exist when employers conduct a search for your name.
  • Show some activity. You don't have to be an award-winning networker or have more friends or connections that anyone else in your class or industry. But being present in maintaining your online identity through social media profiles helps you present your professional self. Set aside just a little time each week to get started with this – share news you think is important, comment on information others are posting.
  • Provide a way to be contacted. You never know when your social media profile will catch the attention of a recruiter. The information you include can also help someone in your network get to know you a little better so that they think of you for openings in their organizations and make the referral. You don't need to provide a phone number or even your email address on many platforms that allow members to make contact within the system.
  • Connect with your college. Look for ways in which your program and institution use social media platforms to communicate with students and the public at large. Options may include chatting with a librarian, connecting with alumni and employers, getting emergency announcements, and staying updated on current events.

Note than none of these activities involve a high degree of participation. Take some time to listen in on and observe how others are using social media. You'll quickly identify techniques that are helpful, and not so helpful, as you further refine your strategy.

Image credit: publicmind, Flickr, CC:BY-NC