Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Where to Draw the Line: Personal Social Media Presence and the PR Professional

We’ve all heard the stories of irresponsible social media users who’ve compromised their careers due to a careless post on Twitter or Facebook. Whether it’s bashing the president’s daughters on your public Facebook page, tweeting profanities about a past employer, or posting one too many Instagram photos of a night out on the town, these familiar stories are constantly resurfaced in media for the rest of us to chuckle at, gasp, or shake our heads in dismay.

Despite our relatively quick dismissals of such acts of carelessness, there is always a lingering fear that this could possibly happen to us. We’ve all been there. Once in a while we may want to vent about our bosses, and once in a while we may have a few too many drinks. But is social media the appropriate outlet for these most personal aspects of our lives? No – and I’ve learned this the hard way.

I’ll admit, although reluctantly so, that in high school I was obsessed with the Jonas Brothers. As many other celebrities do, my beloved Jonas Brothers offered their fans a chance to win free tickets to their Toronto show by means of a contest. This contest called upon Jonas-obsessed teens like myself to replicate one of the band’s music videos. Obviously my friends and I jumped at the idea, and a video of us rocking out to “Burnin’ Up” was on YouTube as fast as our 14-year-old-selves could possibly manage. Although this video was never detrimental to any employment opportunities, I did have some acquaintances stumble upon the footage in recent years, which resulted in enormous embarrassment. Needless to say, the video was almost instantly deleted – as soon as I managed to pry the laptop out of their hands, of course.

This was my first lesson on where to draw the line with social media usage – to keep all social media accounts CLEAN and free of potentially embarrassing content. You never know when a post you made 8 years ago – say a video of you dancing around to an outdated boy band – will come back to bite you in the butt.

Since this most unfortunate occurrence, I’ve been able to fine-tune my social media skills a little more to ensure my online presence is not detrimental to my professional life. Of the many valuable lessons I’ve learned as a student of Mohawk College’s Public Relations Graduate Certificate Program, managing social media accounts effectively and appropriately has been one that I will never lose sight of.

I’ve often struggled with determining the parameters of appropriate social media usage and managing my online presence. As future PR professionals, my classmates and I walk a fine line in the social media world. We must represent ourselves professionally on a platform that was designed for personal use. How can we showcase our knowledge and usage of the platform without taking it too far?  How can we draw the line between what's humorous and what's damaging to our professional reputation? Luckily, we’re all part of a program that can help us to better determine that barrier.

One of the most significant lessons we’ve learned is not to be boring on social media. Personality is tremendously important to most employers, and should be clearly evident in your social media usage. On a class trip to the well-known PR agency, Hill and Knowlton, we’ve even heard that swearing is acceptable on social media accounts (of course given that it is in moderation.) Currently, I’m working on mastering the art of respectable humour and determining appropriate online expressions of my own personality, and this is no easy feat.

However, social media usage should not only be thought of in terms of what to avoid, but also as a tool to promote oneself. Social media sites like LinkedIn provide wonderful opportunities for people entering the workforce to make connections, build their networks, and showcase their academic and professional accomplishments. More and more, employers are looking to social media for prospective hires, and this platform’s opportunities to promote one’s personality and prowess of the social media tool should not be overlooked. However, users must be wary of the content they post. If in doubt, turn those privacy settings ON.

While my social media presence and public image are in constant negotiation with my relationship to the world of PR, I’ve learned a great deal already about how to better manage these divergent forces. The learning process is still in effect as social media continues to grow and more opportunities open for methods of personal and professional expression. As for me, I won’t be uploading a video of me dancing around to the Jonas Brothers anytime soon. Instead, I look forward to learning many more lessons as I navigate my way through the social media and PR worlds – this time, the easy way.

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