Use of social media is constantly growing, and so is the need for responsibility and mature handling of new platforms for posting thoughts and ideas.
Earlier this semester, a Northwest Missouri State University teacher in the communications department was arrested for “joking” on Facebook, according to a Kansas City Star article.
He posted a response to another faculty member’s Facebook post stating, “But yes, that’s the beginning of the semester. I’m always optimistic. By October, I’ll be wanting to get up to the top of the bell tower with a high powered rifle — with a good scope, and probably a Gatling gun as well.” No charge was made for making a terrorist threat.
Social media allows a user to post any imaginable thought, but, much like the teacher from Northwest, there are serious consequences for crossing professional boundaries in a public forum.
This reporter sat down with Whitney Kinne, CAFNR assistant director of Career Services, and Courtney McBay, CAFNR Career Services intern, for a Q & A on the importance of a professional presence in social media.
Q: What does it mean to be professional with Facebook, Twitter or any social media? Specifically, what does it mean as a student or a student looking to be hired?
W: The way we consider who we are is not segmented. We are not only operating as a student, friend or a family member online. That brand is our personal brand regardless of where we are. Anytime we communicate online, we are representing ourselves no matter who our audience is. So, when you think of it that way and who you are as an overall person, you tend to not make those mistakes because you understand that it’s your reputation that you are presenting.
C: If it would offend your grandma, unless your grandma is some ‘cool motorcycle riding lady,’ or most people’s grandmas, then it probably shouldn’t be online. It’s kind of a general rule, but I do think there are some exceptions to that. Like alcohol, for an example, I believe there is a difference between holding a martini at a special event versus doing shots or beer bongs, even if you are of age.
Q: Should the public take threats and sarcasm seriously on social media? From a certain standpoint, it is hard to dictate tone via text. Clearly, an extreme example is the professor from Northwest. What about daily sarcasm from social media? Thoughts?
C: A less extreme example would be, “I hate this class. I want to kill myself.” I think it’s not OK to post that stuff, at all. But, I don’t think we should call 911 every time we see it. We have to take it with a grain of salt. I just don’t know why people would say that in the first place.
W: Sarcasm, complaining or anything negative does not put you in a ‘good light’ with an employer. It doesn’t show your maturity level to be able to turn something you may not enjoy into a positive. Whether you are badmouthing your class, professor or even the university, it shows that you lack loyalty.
C: My mom always says, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.” That definitely applies to social media. You don’t have to post everything you think. People are not saying anything different than they have been saying forever. The difference is everything is being said in a public way that will be recorded and anyone can go back and see.
Q: Whitney, you mentioned a personal brand earlier when you were referring to our social media presence. What is a social media personal brand?
W: A national brand would be considered Nike, Coca-Cola, or Apple. A person sees that logo or hears that name and immediately associates it with qualities about that specific brand. It is no different from our personal brand when people illicit different thoughts when they see our name, our twitter handle or our Facebook page. When people see our brand, we have the opportunity to help brand ourselves more positively by showing our optimism or successes.
Q: How can students re-route their online presence?
C: I blocked mine out. I got my Facebook in 2006 when I was a freshman in high school. I was a totally different person as a senior in college than I was as a freshman in high school. It’s unique, because our generation documents every step of that growth path. So, if you were to follow my past back to ‘freshman Courtney,’ a person may think, “that is Courtney.” But I know that is not me anymore. Instead of going through and weeding out everything, I deleted it.
W: I agree with that, if you have only used your Twitter as a personal message board and you haven’t made professional connections through it. Then, I think you can definitely start from scratch.
Kinne and McBay are at the CAFNR career service offices ready to help any student build a professional identity. Cleaning up a professional personal brand is a great way to start building a professional identity.
Tweet @Courtney_McBay or @WhitneyKinne for any questions concerning professionalism. Posting anything online is like an outfit people choose to wear before leaving home. It doesn’t necessarily completely represent them, but it certainly builds an identity.