February 26, 2013
Over the past few years I’ve noticed an increase in how much students are thinking about how they present themselves online, their professional online identity.
This is good news because according to a CareerBuilder survey, 37% of employers look up perspective employees on social media before hiring. (Personally, I was surprised by this – 37% to me seems a little low). Certainly what we say and do online impacts how others see us.
If you teach social media, you likely follow many of your students on social media. Sometimes I cringe when I see the things some students Tweet.
Every semester for the past few years I’ve taken time in class to talk about presenting oneself professionally online.
This semester I decided to go about it a little differently. I decided to go a little more in depth. I am building a concentration of courses in our department that will emphasize strategic social media, and because the Principles of Public Relations class is the first class in the concentration, I decided I want to get students thinking about the professional uses of social media from the get go.
Here’s what I did in my Principles of PR class this semester:
- Early on in this semester we talked about being professional online, the fact that many employers look up a potential employee on social media before making a hiring decision, and watched this video about the business of researching potential employees on social media (embedded below). I had them read Dr. Karen Russell’s great list titled “PR Students: What not to Tweet” over at teachingpr.org.
- I then had students fill out an in class activity about what being professional online means to them, and how they would want others to see their identity online (see it on Scribd). I photocopied the form and gave a copy back to them. I kept a copy.
- I told the students to start using Twitter, if they hadn’t already. (I decide to focus on Twitter, though I’ve come to find that many of our students don’t use or like Twitter. So maybe I should broaden my horizons in the future).
- After several weeks, we were discussing public opinion and how the failure of co-orientation between an organization and its publics can lead to misunderstandings of stance on an issue that can harm the relationship. (Chapter 8 of Cutlip & Center’s Effective Public Relations 11th edition) I told the students to: “Write a brief paragraph about how you want others to see you as a professional person who works in your career field choice.”
- I then gave them a little homework assignment (on Scribd). They were to print out tag clouds of their Tweets, their Tweetstats, and their profile and bring them to class the following class.
- The following class, I gave students a few minutes to look over the things they’d printed the night before (their stats, profile, etc.) and had them answer some questions (found on Scribd here) about the sort of things they post, and whether what they post reflects how they want to be perceived professionally. We revisited Dr. Russell’s list of what students should not Tweet. Students checked whether they were following Dr. Russell’s guidelines, revisited what they’d written several weeks back about what being professional on social media meant to them, and revisited their statement from the class before about how they want others to see them professionally in their career of choice.
The purpose here was to see if the students identified differences between how they had seen themselves and how they discovered through the exercise how others may see them based on what they post online. Through this, we were able to make a connection to our discussion the class period before about the potential harm brought on by a lack of co-orientation between an organization (the org being the student in this case) and its publics.
Students who weren’t afraid to share what they post on Twitter to the class had their tweets projected on the screen using VisibleTweets.com.
After, we talked for a while about professional behavior online. Many students expressed that they were increasingly conscious of what they post online, particularly out of concern that a future employer might see what they post. When they were younger, some said, they didn’t think as much about what they’d posted. Many felt it was unfair that people were judged for things they’d posted long ago, pointing out that people change, grow, and mature.
I continue to see some students who throw caution to the wind, using social media as a place to vent all those frustrations and share those things they wouldn’t normally say to someone. But overall, I’m impressed by how much students today are considering the implications of what they post on social media. A few short years ago, this was not my experience.
How about you? Do you discuss professional self-representation on social media with your students? If so, what have you found effective? What challenges have you faced? It is a difficult subject and I’m constantly looking for ways to reach students on this issue. Please share in the comments section below. Thanks!