You may have heard the old expression that charity begins at home. The same could be said for public relations: If you are pursuing a career in PR, there’s no better “client” to start with than yourself.
A prospective employer (or client, for that matter) is much more likely to be impressed with you if you know how to present yourself and your capabilities in the best light possible. That only makes sense; after all, if you’re shooting for a PR position and can’t even make yourself look good, how are you going to make someone else look good?
Social media can be a great tool to hone your PR skills and set you on the path to a successful career in public relations. More than likely you are already active on social media on a casual basis, but that isn’t the same as using it to enhance your career. And if you’re not engaged in social media to advance your job prospects, you are overlooking a great opportunity to impress prospective employers.
When you consider that many employers are now using social media to post job openings, it’s clear that if you’re not using this tool at all, you are probably missing out on making some crucial connections. That said, social media is a tool that you have to use judiciously; the manner in which you present yourself to the world can make or break your employment prospects.
Here are three rules to help ensure that your social media activities are PR assets rather than liabilities for you.
1. Keep your focus.
Some people insist that you need to have a presence everywhere: on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube, Instagram, Flickr and every other social media site on the Web. That’s rarely necessary, and can actually hinder you, particularly if your time is very limited. At the very least, however, you need a Linkedin account, as Linkedin is specifically for professional networking (more on that below). A Facebook page can be helpful as well, as long as it shows you in a favorable light. A Twitter account can help you showcase your individuality, once you’ve mastered the art of being engaging and original in 140 characters or less.
Sites such as Twitter and Facebook can allow you to actually communicate directly with CEOs and hiring professionals, or other influential people. You don’t need to have a presence on every social media site on the Internet, but do try to hit the majors. Some experts suggest that you establish an online “home base.” For some people this may be a personal (or business) web site or a blog. But if you have neither, there’s no better place to establish your home base than Linkedin. Linkedin is often the first place that hiring professionals will look for information about you. Use your page to summarize your goals and aspirations, as well as your educational and job background.
If you are a recent graduate, you probably won’t have a lot of jobs under your belt, but don’t let that discourage you. List the jobs you had in college, even if they don’t seem to be pertinent to PR. List any professional organizations and activities in which you participate, and if you have a relevant blog or an online portfolio, be sure to include links. You might even ask your favorite professors or past employers to write a recommendation for you; Linkedin makes this very easy. Also be sure you regularly participate – in a positive, professional way– on relevant Linkedin forums. If you have the ambition to maintain a blog, this can be a wonderful tool to get your name “out there.” Just remember that the keys to successful blogging are to (1) keep your blog at least marginally relevant to your career aspirations (or at the very least, make sure that the blog is well written and engaging); and (2) keep at it. Starting a blog and then just letting it die on the vine won’t do you any good; on the other hand, creating substantial posts every few days or at least a few times a month – on an ongoing basis – shows real commitment and persistence. Blogging is a wonderful way to refine and showcase your writing skills. A well-written blog can be part of your “portfolio” and can be a useful tool at an interview, particularly if you are seeking a position that requires a lot of written communication.
2. Keep it clean and (mostly) professional.
Over the past few years much has been written about the disastrous results of documenting one’s indiscretions on Facebook and other social media sites. What seemed like a harmless lark while you were drunkenly posing and posting may not seem so innocuous in the cold light of day – particularly if you’ve seriously begun your job quest.
Even if you haven’t engaged in drunken escapades and documented them with embarrassing pictures, there could still be items on your social media pages that will make a prospective employer reject you without even bothering to consider your impressive skills and talents. You may have heard all of this before, but it’s worth reviewing some of the blunders that can turn a prospective employer (or client) off, such as:
- Racist or sexist jokes or remarks (or “liking” same)
- Excessive profanity
- Condoning of illegal or unethical activity
- Constant negativity and whining
- Poorly spelled or ungrammatical posts
- Wasting a lot of time on Facebook games
- Habitual sharing of Internet memes (particularly those alarmist warnings and conspiracy theories that have long since been debunked as urban legends)
This doesn’t mean that you have to be stiff and phony or paint yourself as a candidate for sainthood. It doesn’t mean you have to pretend that you have no personal life. You’re an individual, presumably one with opinions, and perhaps there are issues that matter deeply to you. And there’s a chance that your intense love for Candy Crush Saga won’t be a deal killer in the eyes of a prospective employer. The point is that you can express yourself in an honest or even (occasionally) impassioned manner without being overtly offensive or making yourself look uninformed or frivolous. Always think before you post (and please, do your research before sharing one of those horrific “Warning!” stories).
In any case, it is always a good idea to go through your social media and “clean up” anything that an employer might find questionable. Also check your privacy settings on Facebook, and take steps to control tagging – photo or otherwise – to help ensure that your “friends” are not compromising you.
3. Keep it in perspective.
Social media participation alone will not guarantee your success. Social media engagement is a tool, but it’s only one of several in your toolbox. Too many career seekers lose perspective and rely on social media entirely, but that’s a mistake. You have to be an active participant in your quest and not rely on any one tool or strategy to do all of the work for you.
Some people get seriously off track and look at social media as a popularity contest or a competition. While having 125,000 followers on Twitter may be impressive, that crowd of faceless followers is no substitute for a real, in-person network of people in your local community: people you can count on to help you on your career path (and vice versa, when the time comes). Used properly, social media sites can help pave the way towards building such a network, but they won’t guarantee that you will make meaningful connections. You will probably still have to exert efforts in some of the old-school ways, such as actually going to networking gatherings, professional association meetings, and trade shows.