Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Social Media For The Soon-To-Graduate (Or How To Talk To Digital Immigrants)

Digital Immigrants?
If you are about to graduate from college, you likely think you know how to use social media.  You have grown up with it -- you are a digital native.

Unfortunately, most of the people who hold the keys to your employment post-college are digital immigrants.  This is particularly true in the business, law enforcement and national security intelligence communities.

Digital immigrants often have a surprisingly high level of expertise when it comes to networking but likely have a different definition of social than a digital native.  Likewise, there are a number of digital immigrants who arrived in the future only by way of forcible deportation and still pine for the "old country" where every copy of a classified document is printed and numbered "1 of X".
(A quick caveat:  The advice I am about to give is generic.  Different agencies and organizations, particularly within the three major intelligence communities, likely have different standards or advice.  Obviously, their guidelines trump mine.)
Given this, what should you do?  I think there are four things you can do that will at least reduce your frustration if not actually improve your chances:

Learn to use social media effectively.  Social media can be a competitive advantage for digital natives but few really know how to use it.  For example, did you know that when you apply for an internship through LinkedIn, it will tell you when someone actually looks at your application? Did you know that, in a recent survey, 98% of recruiters surveyed used LinkedIn to research candidates?

These are just a few examples of what I am talking about.  Every social media platform has a variety of bells and whistles that can be very useful to you as you look for a job and throughout your professional career.  Few students take the time to actually study and learn these tools and wind up losing out.

Use different services for different purposes.  Not all social media platforms are alike and some work better for certain purposes.  I like to use Facebook but treat it as primarily a social space.  LinkedIn and various email forums are where I have most of my professional conversations.  Finally, I use Twitter as a way to curate the web in real-time.

Of course, my interests occasionally overlap and spill over into all of the social networks to which I belong.  In general, however, I find using different networks for different purposes allows me to optimize my privacy settings.

Whatever you do, though, never forget that everything you put on a social network is theoretically or actually visible to anyone who looks.  Of all the digital immigrants who have become expert at social media, human resource people are some of the best...

When in doubt, do it old school.  One of the best lessons I learned early was, "If you don't know what the dress code is, wear a coat and tie."  If it turns out to be a casual event, it is easy to take off a coat and tie; it is not so easy to put them on if you guess wrong...

The same thing goes for using social media for professional purposes.  If you don't know what the social conventions are of a particular group on Facebook or LinkedIn, if you don't already have a history with a particular Twitter user, go formal first.  Start at the top and, just like taking off a tie, it is easy to become casual.  Make a bad first impression, though, and you may lose credibility or even access, to a crucial forum for your profession.

Social networking is as much social as it is networking.   No one owes you an internship, an interview, a job or even an answer.  More importantly, social media makes it very easy to ignore or block people who are clearly in it only for themselves. 

Ideally then, you should start early (like in your freshman or sophomore years) to develop relationships with people you can help and people who can help you as you progress in your career.  Ask yourself, "What LinkedIn or Facebook groups should I be following?" or "Who is worth listening to on Twitter?" or "Who's blog is worth reading?"  More importantly, ask yourself, "How can I contribute to the groups/tweet streams/blogs I do follow?"  Simply being a member is not enough - networking is a two way street.

Digital immigrants look at it this way:  Why should I place my reputation at risk for you?  Simply knowing of you doesn't really justify the risk.  I need to know what you can actually do.  Digital immigrants are also a little leery of things like grades and other purely numeric measures of quality.  Most of us can think both of a few all-stars who look mediocre on paper and of some paper tigers that turned out to be worthless on the job.

And if you didn't start early?  Start now.  Resign yourself to the fact that it is going to take some time to build your professional network (and even more time before that network is willing to invest time in you).  You might be able to speed the process up a bit but even if you can't, it makes no sense to continue to delay the development of a professional network.