May 12, 2012

The Power Of Social Media


It seems as if there is a revolution everywhere I turn these days. From cries of “save the rainforest” to confirmation of water on Mars to the Kindle, the new generation (that would be us) is radically morphing the way they think. The latest, and probably the most game-changing revolution is that of social media.

For most, the term is just a buzz word, the kind that you refer to often, but don’t fully care to understand. Let me explain both the implication and the impact of this buzz word.

Media (plural for medium is simply a channel for communication. Traditionally, the power to use this channel has been controlled by a select few (think Rupert Murdoch). But in the last decade, high speed internet and faster computers have made it possible to distribute this power more evenly into the public. Social media has always existed in the form of word-of-mouth and references, but technology and platforms like Facebook and twitter have made it much easier to spread the word, or, “go viral.” So far, pretty straightforward, but a good appetizer is essential if one is to enjow a wholesome meal, right?

As college students, we spend out careers trying to differentiate ourselves. Ironicaly, the best way to do that is to simply be ourselves. Out mothers told us 20 yeaers ago that we were unique, but it is hard to believe that in an interview or at a career fair in the heat of the battle. The trick is not to remember who you are, but to know who you are. Dan Schwabel (JFGI!) talks a lot about personal branding. Your brand is made up of two things: you and your network, but mostly you. I expect that most of you are familiary with them already, but below is a short description of each of the already-popular social media platforms to effectively develop both components of your personal brand.

Facebook (Graphic: FB icon)

In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg invented FB as a website exclusively for college students to stay in touch and share content. Since then, his focus has shifted considerably with Google ($GOOG) real-time, privacy policies, and facebook connect, but the business model remains the same: to connect one user with another. Think of your profile as a snapshot of your personality. Shared content, wall posts, and status updates are all methods of reaching out to a defined network.

Bottom line: Use facebook to maintain a meaningful and personal relationship with real world friends.

LinkedIn (Graphic: LinkedIn Icon)

If facebook is about connecting with real world friends, LinkedIn is about the friends of your friends. They say “it’s not about who you know, but about who your mom knows.” (I just read a blog post attributing Bill Gates’ success to an early introduction he received because of his mother’s involvement in a welfare committee.) Built on the same premise—that a recommendation from a mutual friend goes a long way—LinkedIn focuses on that second and third tier network. Your profile, again, is a snapshot, but rather than listing your favorites and displaying bumper stickers, it focuses on your professional experience and credibility. Tips on how to optimize your profile to appear in search results more frequently can be found via Wayne Breitbarth.

Bottom line: Do not assume LinkedIn is only for business majors. It’s amazing how many times I’ve looked for a qualified musician or graphic designer or researcher and come back empty handed.

While the above two related more to the network component of your personal brand, the next two relate to the other component: you.

Blogging (Graphic? Wordpress icon maybe?)

Wikipedia tells me “blog” is a contraction of the term web log, and a blog’s function is exactly that: to document activity in an online diary. Out of all the platforms in this article, this one is the hardest sell. The first objection is usually: “I have nothing interesting to write about.” That might be a problem if you are blogging for a company, but as a student developing a brand, the goals of blogging are slightly different. Maintaining a blog is not only a good way to hone your writing and communication skills, a blog is also a means of defining your opinions and your personality. When you are faced with the black-suit-red-tie-man-who-holds-your-future-in-his-hands, you will no longer struggle to express your individuality and make an impression.

The other objection is privacy. Why display your journal in public? The same reason you would give your resume to a potential employer. Companies are increasingly searching for individuals who are not afraid of expressing themselves. In addition to the GPA, interviewers are attracted to students with character and opinion. A blog is the perfect way to express those opinions. Bottom line: Blogging is a great way of developing your personal brand and displaying it proudly.

Twitter (Graphic: Twitter icon)

I saved my favorite for last. In all respects, Twitter is a microblogging service—a term that means exactly what it says. If blogging is a way of defining and expressing your individuality, Twitter is a way of doing the same, except faster and more frequently. A “tweet” is often mistaken for a status update on Facebook, but there is a vital difference I cannot emphasize enough. While a facebook status is released into your social network (ignore recent privacy issues for now), a tweet is released into the Twitterverse, much like shooting an arrow into space. There is no expectation of an immediate feedback. On its own, it is less a tool for conversation and more a method of projecting your thoughts. Also, it is an effective way of accessing information; hashtags (this character: #) allow users to monitor specific topics or join in conversations. Businesses use twitter to advertise updates and news, celebrities use it to establish a personal connection with their fans, and you can use it to find people who share interests.

Bottom line: Use Twitter in the same way as you would blog, but do it more often. A follower list you interact with regularly will be extremely useful when you need connections (see LinkedIn description). PS, append ‘#uww’ to all future tweets to build our U-dub-dub twitter base!

Lastly, it is important remember that alone, each of these platforms are near useless. A seamless integration is essential to developing a wholesome brand. Link your profiles together, direct your twitter followers to your blog, and connect your LinkedIn profile to Facebook page. Repeated appearance on multiple platforms with a slightly different flavor each time will solidify your brand and turn the effort of differentiation into your natural demeanor. But remember, it is easy to get carried away. Social media is a mere (albeit powerful) supplement to your networking repertoire, do not let it replace your face to face communication skills. In the end, you must be willing and able to walk through the doors it opens.

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