I’ve been hearing some interesting things from my college friends when it comes to social media.
One told me she wouldn’t use LinkedIn because “she was just a nobody” (she’s a Masters student, applying to top PhD programs, with impressive research and community involvement under her belt); another asked what exactly employers didn’t want to see online; and a third professed to just adding whoever requested to connect on LinkedIn without ever filling out the profile because she didn’t know what it was all about.
What?!? What happened to our generation being digital natives?
Their lack of understanding of and hesitance about social media for professional applications intrigued me. While almost 100% of my friends, their friends, and their friends’ friends have Facebook, most of my peers’ LinkedIn profiles are only about 25% complete (if they have them at all) and few have Twitter or other social networking accounts. But I have never thought in depth about why.
So why? Why, although millions of college kids use Facebook religiously, do they avoid other social networks?
Here are some of the reasons undergrads might lack strong, cross-network online personal brands (add your ideas in the comments section).
Privacy and paranoia. Many people, young and old alike, feel secure on Facebook because they can set custom privacy settings that seem to block out the world. However, as time and trial have showed, Facebook’s privacy is far from lock-tight. And besides, you shouldn’t be doing or saying anything you don’t want the world to see anyway.
Obliviousness. I think many students have just never given a second thought to the fact that they could leverage the internet to help them professionally, beyond using job boards. (Pass this article along so we can change that!)
Busy schedules. Effective social media engagement takes time. You need to set up profiles, maintain them, build and foster relationships, and read and comment on other people’s content. College students, while often thought as fun-loving partiers, actually struggle to balance rigorous coursework, extracurricular activities, and function as independent adults for the first time. However, this can often be an “excuse” instead of a “reason” – 15 minutes less on Facebook and 15 more on Twitter sounds efficient to me.
“I’m not there yet.” Students often fall into the trap of seeing professional communication and networking as something for the realm of “professionals”, forgetting that they will join those ranks in a mere few years. If students feel they nothing to talk about, they should still log on and listen – eventually something will strike a chord and elicit a response, putting their social media communication in motion. And internships and undergrad research definitely count as experience.
No matter what their reasons, undergrads can’t continue ignoring the other social networks. While Facebook has its place, other platforms can be more valuable for your personal brand, allowing you to populate the first page of search results for your name with content you control, and establish yourself as someone who “gets” it to potential employers, who are definitely using social networks.
While a Managing Director or HR person wouldn’t friend you on Facebook, he or she might see your intelligent YouTube tutorial videos, engage with you in a Twitter chat, and or see an answer of yours on LinkedIn.
If you’re only a sophomore, the job search seems ages away. But these and other effective personal branding tactics can pay off in both large and small ways along the road – whether it’s an internship or project offer now, a connection to another Director, or even that being remembered during a job interview.
Next time, I’ll go beyond discussion and give actionable ways that undergrads can begin establishing their brand online.
Cassie Wallace is a junior at Carnegie Mellon University who specializes in social media and search engine optimization. You can find her marketing portfolio at http://cassiewallace.net, and connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Photo credit: Icky Pic.