Social Media Explained

About a hundred years ago someone first used the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words”.  Today, when you Google the phrase “social media explained” the first entry is a bunch of images, including this one:

          Three Ships Media

Three Ships Media

Does that clear everything up for you?   Perhaps we Darden folks would better understand social media if coffee is the object rather than donuts; fortunately there is an infographic “Social Media Explained with Coffee”.  Did you pause and scratch your head at the word “infographic”?  It’s just a fancy word that means use of graphics and visual representations to convey information, data or knowledge.  In fact infographics have been around forever in the form of maps, charts, graphs and such, but the exchange of that kind data is accelerating and changing given the proliferation of online applications.

There are a bewildering array of tools, concepts and terms that that seem to pop up overnight in our plugged-in culture.   Even our language is adapting;  we Google to find out about people and things, tweet our ideas and use words like hashtag and emoticon.   When I attended Darden in 1996 I wrote an article for the Cold Call Chronicle (the paper version) entitled “Technology@Darden:  Get Literate” where I defined such terms as “Netscape” and “home page” (how quaint!). Today I use the urban dictionary to decipher previously unimaginable words.

Most alumni I advise express some frustration about all this.  There are too many tools to choose from, too many new concepts to grasp, and no clarity about what best serves one’s professional career.    Learning to use an online app isn’t difficult, but understanding why I would use it, and how best to use it, are the real challenges.  I’ve found that a custom approach is essential, one that first asks what are you trying to accomplish?.   At the start, you’ll have to decide whether to take a passive stance (watching others, learning, gathering information) or active role (posting, sharing, and connecting).    In Alumni Career Services we work one-on-one with alumni to consider how best to engage with social media tools given a person’s particular career goals.   We also developed the workshop “Professional Image in the Age of Social Media” a case-based discussion where we dig into the concept of personal branding and social media use.

We hope to see you in one of our workshops in the coming year, but until then you can begin to work on your brand and approach to social media.  Think about what makes a brand succeed. Think about something with a strong brand and what images and words that brand brings to mind.  It could be a product (like an Oreo), or a company (like Apple or maybe even where you work now), and even a famous person (like Oprah).  The brand brings to mind particular attributes; we know these based on its public image, performance or activities. A brand becomes distinctive because of the unique and pervasive qualities that set it apart.

That is true of personal branding as well; individuals create a public image given their choice of media, frequency of use, and messaging.  Your brand image is revealed whether it’s conscious or not.  If you want to become better at developing your own personal brand, go back to the fundamental question:   What are you trying to accomplish?  What makes you different….special…..valuable?  How do you communicate that in your daily life (the ‘off-line’ world, if you will)?  Your roles, skills, and personal qualities are the essential elements of your brand.

Extending personal brand through social media is not a prescriptive, one-size-fits-all endeavor.  Once you first have a strong sense of yourself, what you want, and how you’re creating a brand in everyday life, then you can start to engage in social media activities that further establish what is unique about you.  In our workshop we discuss each of the major platforms – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook (and also Blogs) – in terms of its reach (who is the audience using it), intent (what is the audience doing there) and result (what are the implications of using that tool).

Even if you’re a passive participant in social media, there is much to learn from the use of these few tools.  For instance, our 2012 all-alumni survey revealed that 97% of Darden alumni use LinkedIn for professional reasons.  It’s a great aid to networking and the standard tool for recruiters.  We hear from our alumni that it’s best to connect with others long before you need anything, and that doing company research using LinkedIn is essential during a job search.  We’ve also been introducing alumni to a great new LinkedIn add-on that helps you quickly find fellow alumni (www.linkedin.com/alumni).

Facebook is generally seen as primarily a fun personal-life platform, but we’re hearing more from entrepreneurial alumni that consider it the perfect tool to connect and sell to consumers.  Some people are avid users of Twitter as a news feed, while they never actively “tweet” themselves.  It’s a good idea when getting started with Twitter to be selective and follow just a few, such as Dean Bruner.  And even if you’re not ready to begin blogging as a subject matter expert yourself, finding a few relevant blogs to follow can be instructive (like our ACS Career Corner).

If you’re curious or confused about social media and personal branding, contact Alumni Career Services to see how we can help you learn more and meet your career goals.

Marty Speight (Darden MBA 96), Associate Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services, University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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