Creating a Discoverable Social Media Presence is an Essential Skill

Currently, the chances that a student’s social media activities will be scrutinized at some point during the transition from high school to college and then from college to career is closing in on 100%. Social media review is nearly inevitable, so learning how to use it advantageously to create and disperse an authentic, reflective, discoverable, and informative digital presence has become an essential life skill that is rarely taught in schools.

Social Assurity was thrilled to have been selected to present a social media workshop at November’s IECA Fall Conference in Washington, DC. We could never have imagined receiving a warmer and more welcoming response to our message from the IECs in attendance. Many of the IECs we met at the conference told us they are often called upon to deliver social media guidance to their college-bound clients. Some opt to instruct their students to remove social media from the equation altogether by hiding behind aliases and maximizing privacy settings while other IECs counsel their students to clean things up and start posting positive content. Neither of these bookend approaches address the core issues lying at the intersection of social media and college admissions - that can be best explained by answering the three things we heard most often at the conference:

  1. I have tried telling my students to post positive stuff on social media but they ignore my advice.
 
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We need to realize that social media is an important element of teens’ social lives. For many, it is the hub of their social activity and the online persona they curate for their friends is critically important to them. Attempting to control student activities within their peer-to-peer social cycle is typically a non-starter for most teens as their future does not outweigh their present. 

Advising students to “clean up” their social media and/or post “positive stuff” without also providing meaningful techniques to bifurcate their social activities from future-oriented activities is empty advice. 

First, it interferes with the way they believe their friends will perceive them (perhaps making them look less cool). For most teens, upon hearing this advice, their only rational choice is to hide behind an alias and then move their “social” social media activities away from where they think parents, teachers, family, colleges, and employers will be able to find them. Students who attempt to hide their social media activities by using aliases or relying on privacy settings need to learn these techniques seldom work (see e.g.: Harvard Rescinds Acceptances).

Second, this advice will not change their behavior nor help build an easily discoverable digital presence that will work to their advantage for college and career opportunities.

2. What if my student doesn’t use social media?

While over 92% of teens are active on at least one social media platform (and many parents are often unaware of the full extent of their teens’ social media activities), there are some teens who honestly choose not to participate in this social scene. For these students, social media can be introduced as a way to find and then engage with people and groups who share their interests.

 
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There are social media platforms that cater to just about any interest. For example, Litsy is a community for book lovers while Tandem allows users to connect with native speakers of other languages around the world as a way to learn a new language.

For all students looking to build an outward-facing digital presence, the first step is to choose one or more greenfield social media platforms best suited for this type of engagement. Twitter is a perfect place to start following and engaging with like-minded thinkers and influencers. LinkedIn is a great platform to engage with college communities, employers, and other interest groups.

3. “Creating a digital portfolio seems contrived.” 

We are big believers in teaching students how to create an authentic, compelling, and discoverable digital presence on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. These platforms are closely indexed by Google and provide the student with the ability to weave together various elements of their story without interfering with their personal social media activities. 


Google and Google+ can be used to establish their unique digital identity, Facebook to convey their character and community involvement, LinkedIn for building their digital portfolio, and Twitter to expand the organic reach and productivity of their social network.
 

The best-crafted student digital portfolios authentically rely on the student’s own voice to tell their story. Once students learn how to harness the powers of these platforms they can let their creative juices flow as they start showcasing their accomplishments, interests, service, and activities in robust and imaginative ways. Remembering that today’s students are digital natives, they are much more comfortable working with digital tools and resources than they may be with writing an essay or building a resume.

What may seem contrived to adults is often an exciting project for students. Scanning social media profiles gives colleges and employers the context and detail they may not find in an application or resume so creating a reflective and discoverable digital presence is a priority. 
 

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