Everyone knows that college campuses are familiar ground for social media. Students constantly share their thoughts, feelings, and photos in the digital space. Institutions are even getting the hang of channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where they can show off the best of their community and encourage student engagement.
For professionals working in the field, the social media landscape can feel a little more complicated – and often, college staff and faculty decide it’s easier to avoid these platforms altogether. The problem with that? In today’s world, having a digital identity is not an option. Managing your digital identity, however, is totally within your control and professionals need to develop a brand that will work for them.
If the idea of “branding” has you hiding behind your office door, you’re not alone. It can be an intimidating concept, but that’s no excuse for neglecting your digital presence. And those excuses? I’ve heard them all.
Excuse #1: “I don’t have time.”
Join the club. Most of us don’t have time to manage our digital identities. We also don’t have time to go to the gym, call our parents, or walk the dog – but there are consequences to inaction. Social media has opened up the world like never before.
With just a few keystrokes, we can connect with thought leaders and influential changemakers. We can chat with colleagues nationwide, sharing best practices and formative experiences. We can mentor up-and-coming professionals without ever being in the same room with them. If you’re not taking advantage of these opportunities, you’re doing a disservice to both your personal development and your potential career.
It’s surprisingly easy to work social networking into your schedule. You can scroll through your Twitter feed and make a post during your lunch break. During your train ride home, share a link to a great article you read on LinkedIn. Take twenty minutes after dinner to work on a blog post two or three times a week. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, so do what works for you.
It’s all about putting a positive presence out there and making sure search results for your name reveal information you actually want people to see. Take time to consistently participate in at least one digital venue, even if you’re just checking in once a day. Inactive or sparsely populated accounts will make you look ambivalent – or worse, lazy.
Excuse #2: “Social media is for younger people.”
Simply untrue. Social media is a broad, inclusive term. LinkedIn is a very different platform than Snapchat, which is very different than Twitter or Facebook. Go where the conversations that interest you are happening. For higher ed pros, Twitter is a fabulous forum, with discussions using hashtags like #SAChat (Student Affairs Chat), #HESM (Higher Ed Social Media), #AcAdv (Academic Advising), or #EMChat (Enrollment Management Chat).
LinkedIn also offers an excellent opportunity to connect with colleagues. Additionally, its recently added publishing feature creates a space where blogs can be hosted or cross-posted – right next to your photo and digital resume. What better way to present your best self to potential employers? Stop waiting for that once-a-year conference to put on your networking hat. Connect now, and contribute to the conversations that made you passionate about this work in the first place.
Excuse #3: “I don’t have anything to say.”
Would you ever tell a student not to bother writing a paper on a topic that someone else covered last semester? Doubtful. Far more likely, you realize that different perspectives on similar themes help foster a fruitful discourse. You are in the uniquely wonderful position of being the only person in the universe with your point-of-view. Others may talk about the same issues, but you’re the only one with your specific background, your individual experiences, and your outlook.
In short: Nobody can tell your story like you can. If you don’t speak up, it will never be told at all.
Excuse #4: “What if I say something that gets me in trouble?”
Higher ed is full of hierarchy, and with that comes a fear of cultural upset. In hierarchical structures, there are always at least a few people who are living comfortably in their current position. So saying (or tweeting) something to challenge the status quo can be provoking. This is where brand authenticity takes the reins. Essentially, your brand is a clear expression of your values and how you live them. Be mindful of what’s important to you. Live those values. If you truly believe in the worth of what you say, you’ll be ready and willing to defend your words.
Remember – social media is not a separate world. It’s just another, more public avenue for the same conversations we already have every day in person, on the phone, or via email and text messages. Don’t say anything you don’t want to be heard, and you should be just fine.
Excuse #5: “I have no idea where to start.”
Congratulations! You’re reading this blog, and that’s an excellent first step. Personal brand development doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s not the sort of thing that does well without consistent maintenance.
Do some research to figure out which media channels will fit best into your lifestyle and your busy schedule.
Ask around and see where respected colleagues are laying down their digital footprints.
When you read a blog post or article you enjoy, look up the author to see where they’ve established their digital presence. Once you’ve decided on a platform, you can visit the site’s FAQ page for technical details and how-tos. Ask a friend, colleague, or student to give you a tutorial. If you need a little extra help, there are professionals who specialize in personal brand management and digital identity development (including yours truly). As we always tell our students – If you need help, ask for it.
As higher education professionals, we cannot simply step back and expect students to figure out the implications of the digital revolution on their own, nor can we expect that our own careers are immune to its impact. By stepping up and taking the lead in our own brand identity, we set an example of modern professionalism and establish ourselves as reputable sources of advice.
Being an active participant in social media and the digital space puts us in a position to define our core values for the benefit of students, employers, and coworkers. During this era of moral dilemmas, economic upheaval and competitive job markets in higher education, the professionals at the forefront of these conversations can’t afford to not have a strong digital identity.
No more excuses.