In the early 2000s, when a pre-teen Nicole made her first foray into the digital world, the idea of “social media” as we know it wasn’t yet fully formed. We had AOL Instant Messenger, MySpace and LiveJournal — digital outlets for adolescent angst, safe from the prying eyes of adults. Facebook was still “college students only,” which meant that what happened at school, stayed at school. Above all else, most young adults on these networks went to great lengths to keep their digital presence on the down-low, lest their parents discover their accounts.
Times have obviously changed. Now, everybody’s on social media — not just your parents, but your friends’ parents, your former teachers, your childhood friends, your co-workers, your boss and maybe even your grandmother. This lack of boundaries has profoundly impacted how we choose to present ourselves on networks where our past, current and future employers see the same posts as the people we hang out with on the weekends.
Because your career and professional reputation are so linked to your networking activities, you want to establish yourself as someone who’s knowledgeable about their industry. But you also don’t want to seem like a robot who only posts about work. Especially for younger professionals, the ideal personal brand on social media offers a well-rounded view of an individual’s life, both in and out of the office.
If you’re looking to develop a single social presence that’s appropriate for all audiences, here are a few guidelines you can follow.
1. Know your network.
Every social media channel is different and has its own best practices. You probably have accounts on multiple platforms, so it’s important to understand what makes each one unique and tweak your content, format and hashtags accordingly. A platform like LinkedIn, where people share articles and have group discussions, is primarily text-based. Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat, on the other hand, are all about images, and any captions or hashtags take a backseat to the photo itself. Words, pictures or a combination of both are all equally at home on Facebook and Twitter, but the main difference lies in each one’s brevity: A long paragraph is better suited to a Facebook post than a multi-tweet thread.
2. Look beyond self-promotion.
A social media account that’s all about you can come across as narcissistic, and frankly, a little boring. Rather than only posting your own work, give others a chance to shine by sharing articles, infographics and photos from around the web. Be sure to give credit where it’s due and take time to tag the original sources, as well as one or two people you know who might be interested in it. This is not only courteous, but also serves as a way to spark a conversation. While we’re on the subject…
3. Engage with your connections.
It’s called social media for a reason. People share content because they want others to engage with it, whether that’s in the form of likes, shares/retweets or direct responses. If you see something that resonates with you, let the sharer know. Following certain hashtags and participating in Twitter chats can be a great way to make new connections and find interesting content. If you find it difficult to keep up with the various groups of people you follow, try using filters and lists. You can also use a social media management tool like TweetDeck (my personal favorite) or Hootsuite to help you stay organized.
4. Think before you post.
Be careful about how you address sensitive subjects with a mixed audience. For instance, in the current political climate, Facebook and Twitter have become soapboxes for many users’ opinions on politicians, legislation, etc. It’s great to stand up for what you believe in and show your support for social causes, but remember that not everyone who follows you shares your viewpoints. If you post a statement that’s highly polarizing and controversial, you may spark a debate that spirals out of control and ultimately diminishes your credibility.
Everyone has a right to share their thoughts, but before you send yours out, think about what your statement will add to (or subtract from) your public persona. Remember, just because you can post whatever you’re thinking, doesn’t mean you should.
A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.
Image credit: creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos (CC0)