The Role of Social Media in your Professional Life

Global social media agency We Are Social estimates that there are 2.31 billion social media users in the world as of January 2016, with 14 million of those in Australia alone. With nearly one third of the world using social media, platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are a great way to keep in touch with friends and family. In a survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review last year, 40% of respondents felt obligated to connect with professional contacts on social media. This leaves many wondering how to maintain their professional image while interacting with friends and loved ones in an authentic way.

It has become an increasingly standard practice for hiring managers to check the social media profiles of applicants at different stages in the hiring process, according to ABC. While looking at professional networking sites like LinkedIn has been common for quite some time, employers are starting to look more often at platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, where they can usually get a glimpse at a more personal, less polished version of the candidate. While things like trashing previous employers, inappropriate language, and other offensive material may seem like obvious deterrents for hiring managers, the Wall Street Journal points out that more subtle cues can raise red flags as well. One employer declined to hire someone who took too much credit for projects on LinkedIn, indicating that he may not have been a team player. In situations where there are a number of similarly qualified candidates for a single position, an employer might look to social media for cues about cultural fit, and as the ABC points out, a candidates’ general lifestyle.

On the other hand, Forbes mentions that information found on social media can set job candidates apart in a positive way. Online profiles can sometimes support candidates’ professional qualifications, show off creativity or communication skills, and indicate other desirable personality traits. In one survey, 35% of employers indicated that they are less likely to interview a candidate if they can’t find anything about them online. A lack of online presence could indicate that a candidate has something to hide, or that they fail to keep up with technology and business trends. It may come as a surprise, then, to learn that chief executives are among the most reluctant to use social media. An annual survey from and American cloud computing software company Domo found that only 39% of CEOs are active on social media, and 70% of those are only on one social network. This number is growing, but that growth has been quite slow, so having an active social media profile is an easy way for an executive to stand out and elevate their employer brand.

The key to enjoying the professional benefits of social media without sacrificing the personal aspect is to be mindful of your online presence across platforms. The Harvard Business Review offers three different approaches to managing your online identity: “open,” “audience-focussed,” and “content-focussed.” The “open” approach, or posting freely without restricting access to your online profiles, is the riskiest of the three, and probably only works for extremely well-established professionals. An audience-focussed strategy involves keeping professional and personal networks completely separate, for example directing all professional contacts to LinkedIn and keeping Facebook access limited to friends and family. A content-focussed strategy entails projecting a professional image across all platforms, and allowing colleagues to connect with them wherever they wish. Combining aspects from all three of these approaches to form a custom strategy is perhaps more realistic than using any one exclusively. For instance, you can allow colleagues to connect with you on Facebook but restrict the content they can see by adjusting your privacy settings. To show that you are competent across more than one platform, you could, for example, keep your Instagram private but create a public Twitter account. No matter which strategy you choose, you should conduct regular “audits” by searching for yourself in various search engines and checking what appears as publicly available information.

Social media is proving to be an increasingly common way to connect with others and grow professional networks and is not a passing trend. More and more, your online presence will be considered part of your whole professional image. While you certainly don’t want to give away too much personal information to colleagues, clients, and employers, having a blank social media profile can work against you. It’s important to find a strategy that works for you which conveys a positive image to anyone who searches for you when considering working with you.