These days, it’s pretty much a given that your social media presence matters. It matters when you’re applying to a school or making your way through rounds of interview for your dream job—even when you’re trying your hand at the online dating game. It also matters once you're on the job, or in the program. If you have an online presence, anybody with Wi-Fi and your last name is only a few keystrokes away from a virtual treasure trove of information about you. What they find can leave a lasting impression.
So much has been written about what to avoid sharing on Facebook or LinkedIn. We all have a general sense of right and wrong in the digital age—the sort of conduct befitting of a professional online presence. But social media is about more than avoidance; you can—and should—be proactive about shaping your image on social media, especially when applying to schools or jobs. Here are five ways you can proactively use your social media presence to stand out as an MBA student, particularly during your first semester.
Post often and about what matters
A good rule of thumb for using social media to boostyour image is to think less about what you shouldn’t post, and more about what you need to be posting. Of course, there are things you want to avoid sharing if you know you’ll be applying to programs. But don’t let that deter you from being an active social media user.
Show your professors, your fellow students, and potential employers that you are passionate about the topics that interest you—that you keep up with current events, and that you have well-informed opinions. Share breaking news from leading business publications and provide a bit of your own commentary. Comment on public posts to contribute to an ongoing dialogue. Try to share at least two to four relevant stories per week.
Follow the luminaries of your field
Who you follow matters, too. In both the business world at large as well as your specific industry, following thought leaders, influencers, and figures of authority demonstrates a drive to learn from the best. Sure, you probably have a sense of school pride, but it's always a good idea to follow other MBA programs, just to make sure you're staying abreast of what your contemporaries are doing.
Follow the president of your school, or professors who are already public figures—or with whom you've established a good rapport. It goeswithout saying that you shouldn't follow your professors' personal accounts—the lines are blurry even if they initiate the connection, so proceed with caution.
In addition to the industry trades and publications, you can also follow your favorite companies, CEOs, economists, journalists, and virtually anybody whose public opinions are widely held in high regard. You should also stay on top of trending hashtags to help you navigate which discussions you need to follow.
Make privacy settings your best friend
The first thing most people think of when they hear “privacy settings” is the photo album from that one party last spring break—the one that only the people who were there should ever see. There are bound to be things you share that aren’t meant for schools or employers, but setting your entire profile to private sort of defeats the point of social media.
School officials and potential employers aren’t just looking to catch you in a compromising position on social media—just as often, they’re looking to learn more about what you're doing outside the classroom. Blocking them from seeing everything does you no favors when it comes to standing out.
Instead of making everything on your profiles private en masse, take some time to really learn your privacy settings, and set them on a case-by-case basis. Some things should always be visible only to your friends—personal photos shared with the people you know, memes, the songs you listen to on Spotify.
Other posts, particularly those directly relevant to your business career interests, might help you stand out from your classmates. If you’re sharing breaking news or cutting-edge think pieces—or if you’re participating in any ongoing discussions—these are things you may want to make public.
You can set your profile to private just to be safe, but you might want to set posts to public on an individual basis when relevant. It helps to think of your privacy settings less as “what do I want to hide from my professors and classmates?” and more as “what do I want these people to see about me?”
Solicit recommendations and endorsements on LinkedIn
Talking yourself up online for the benefit of others is one thing, but having other people attest to your talents and achievements adds a whole other level of credibility. LinkedIn allows people in your network to endorse you for skills.
Family, friends, and coworkers will periodically endorse you on their own when LinkedIn prompts them to do so. However, you can be proactive about asking for endorsements, particularly for the skills you want to highlight. Most people are good sports about LinkedIn endorsements, especially when you endorse them in return.
Recommendations on LinkedIn function more like traditional letters of recommendation; they are long-form testimonies about your skills or accomplishments, and are most effective when they come from somebody who has worked with you professionally. Be more selective about who you ask for recommendations; ask people who know your work and can speak to their experience favorably yet honestly. Don’t be afraid to leverage this underutilized portion of your LinkedIn profile.
Do a little bit of strategic stalking
This is perhaps one instance when some judicious social media stalking can actually be a good thing. If any of your professors are public figures, they likely follow the top influencers in their areas of expertise. They may also comment frequently on public threads to share their perspectives.
Seeing who your professors (or potential future bosses) are following and interacting with can help you follow important trends and participate in conversations of the same caliber as the experts from whom you're learning. Think about how prepared you'll appear if you're able to come to class ready to comment on something you've been following closely, that you know your professor follows.
Just remember: professional rules of conduct always apply. Don’t request to connect with professors’ personal accounts, and definitely don’t send them private messages unsolicited.
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