The Internet is Written in Ink: Use Social Media Professionally

By: Abe Flanigan, 2015 MSRE graduate assistant

Originally, Facebook was created as a means for allowing university students to interact with each other. You could only sign up if you had a university email address, so the audience who viewed your Facebook page was mostly limited to your peers. This is no longer the case. Now, everybody from your parents to your professors to your future employers have social media accounts and they are looking at yours. Did you know some studies have found that nearly 92% of job recruiters look at applicants’ social media pages and nearly 80% have been given a bad impression about an applicant based on content they found on his or her social media accounts? For more statistics about how your use of social media can impact future employment, check out this link to the Undercover Recruiter.

Up until now, it’s possible that you’ve only considered social media as a medium for keeping in touch with friends, posting fun pictures from your nights out on the town, or sharing hilarious Vines, memes, or gifs. Most of this online activity is probably innocent enough – wishing a friend from high school ‘happy birthday,’ posting pictures of you and your friends cheering on the Huskers inside Memorial Stadium, or sharing the newest Grumpy Cat meme on your newsfeed. Sometimes, online activity can be less innocent. Posting an angry rant as your Facebook status, uploading unflattering pictures of you and your friends at a party, or sharing insensitive pictures/quotes on your newsfeed. Although all of these things may have only been intended for your friends to see, it’s important to remember that privacy in today’s digital world is not always guaranteed. Instead, careless or inappropriate use of social media can come back to bite you as relatives, mentors, and even potential employers cruise through your social media accounts.

Make sure your #Priorities are in order

The following is a true story, I kid you not. A little over a year ago, I returned to my office after teaching class. When I got there, I found my officemate (let’s call her Taylor) sitting at her desk with a look of disbelief on her face. When I asked her what had happened, here is the story Taylor shared with me (as best as I can recall from memory):

“During the evening class that I teach today we are going to have an in-class activity worth about 50 points. One of my students emailed me to say she can’t be there because there was a medical emergency in her family that she needed to attend to. She said, ‘I know that we have the activity today and I really want to make up the points. However, I really have to go to Omaha today because of a medical emergency for one of my relatives’…”

At this point, it was very clear that Taylor was worried about her student. They were having a pretty sizeable in-class activity but her student would have to miss it because a relative was having an emergency and needed to be taken to Omaha. Taylor is a caring person and let her student know that she could make up the assignment at a later time. However, the story was far from finished. Taylor finished the story by saying:

“About an hour before the start of class, I decided to kill a few minutes by looking at the “UNL Problems” Twitter account. When I looked at their feed, I saw that they had re-tweeted a message from a girl that said, ‘Just lied to my teacher to get out of class so I can attend the movie screening at the Lied Center. Probably just sacrificed an A in the class #Priorities.’ I looked at the username and, sure enough, it was my student.”

Taylor was furious. She had given this student leniency because she believed her story about a family medical crisis. Then, she sees that her student posted a triumphant tweet about how she lied to get out of class. Needless to say, Taylor contacted the student, let her know that she saw the tweet, and handled the matter accordingly. This is just one of probably thousands of stories that middle school, high school, and college instructors have about catching their students making a fool of themselves on social media.

Common Social Media Mistakes

Although it is easy to read about Taylor’s student and think that you would never be guilty of something like that, college students routinely do things on social media that could be deemed as unprofessional or inappropriate. Courtesy of Rasmussen College, here is a list of things you should never do on social media:

Post inappropriate images. Sure, you probably had a great time at your friend’s 21st birthday party and the memories and stories from that night will live on for a long time. However, that doesn’t mean pictures from that night need to live on your Facebook or Twitter page. By posting images of yourself engaging in risky or inappropriate behavior, you can give off a negative impression about your maturity and responsibility. Everybody enjoys having fun, but be tactful about what you put on social media for everybody else to see. Do you think your graduate school advisor would think pictures from your friend’s 21st birthday were professional? Nope.

 Complain about previous bosses or supervisors. Complaining about former employers or supervisors makes you look immature, spiteful, and rude. If a potential employer or faculty mentor sees you complaining about bosses from your past, what is to stop them from thinking you might do the same to them someday? The internet is written in ink and just about everything you post or write can be tracked down unless you delete it or have really strict privacy settings. Even then, it’s still best never to post these kinds of things.

 Post overly opinionated statuses, messages, or tweets. It is great to have an opinion and to take part in intellectual, respectful discussions, both online and in person. However, you want to avoid posting things that could stir up controversy, start an argument, or make you look insensitive. If it looks like you post just to create discord, then people who browse through your accounts will probably take away a less-than-favorable impression of you.

 What Can You Do To Improve Your Social Media Presence?

It’s always a good idea to take time to review your social media accounts and assess whether or not you are using them appropriately. First, do you have any pictures that could be viewed as inappropriate, offensive, or immature? If so, take them down. If you want to hang onto the pictures, you can always just download and save them to your computer. Second, do you have any posts, status updates, or tweets that could be viewed as insensitive, controversial, or vulgar? If so, delete them now. More and more, our online presence is a representation of who we are as a person. If people see you writing those kinds of things on the internet, then they will believe that those posts represent your true belief system and the kinds of things you would truly think or say in the real world.

 By taking time to put your best foot forward on social media, you can take control of how people perceive you online. Potential employers and colleagues will most likely take stock of your social presence at some point in the future. Do everything you can to make sure they take away a favorable impression.

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