Think before you post: Social Media advice for college students

I have been seeing students (not just at my institution) post some things lately that have really caused me to think; how are we teaching them about social media? I don’t necessarily mean how to technically use it (though important). I mean how do we teach them proper communication with Social Media? I asked my student affairs colleagues in the #sachat community the following question:

The response was overwhelming. From the #sachat advice and my own thoughts and reflections over the last few years, I offer the following for undergraduate students (or anyone, really) to consider before posting:

There is really no such thing as privacy

Yes, you can (and should) set your privacy settings on Facebook. Your tweets can (but shouldn’t be) private. However, that does not truly protect you. Did you know that most Twitter platforms allow for private tweets to be retweeted? That’s right! If you post something about your weekend partying and your roommate decides she wants to retweet the photo, it is now public, for all the world to see. This is just one small example of how complex “privacy” can be with Social Media. My general rule of thumb is to do your homework and know how private your content is. Above all else, don’t post it if you don’t want it to be seen by the general public, your boss, or your grandma!

What you post should be (and is) a reflection of you

Whether you like it or not, what you post is a reflection of you. Peers, friends, family, faculty, employers, colleagues, future employers, and more are looking at what you post and assume that it is a true representation of you. This gives you great power. You have full and ultimate control of your online presence. You can use Social Media to positively reflect who you are and all that is great about you. Why not use it in a positive way to add to your personal brand? Ultimately, when someone googles you and reads your posts, you want them to get a true representation of who you are and leave them with a positive impression. Be genuine and authentic.

Stop being so negative

We see it often and you know who you are: the person who posts all the time about every little thing they are mad at or annoyed by. Instead of negative posting, be an agent of change. Send an email, call, or better yet, meet with the person or office that is the source of the anger and frustration and come up with a compromise and a solution. Saying that the person in the library is mean (for sake of a PG rating on this blog) is not helpful to anyone. Raise the issue appropriately. We have a rule with my student orientation staff called the 24 hour rule. Basically, the rule says that if your are frustrated or upset with someone, you have 24 hours to address it with them face-to-face or let it go. Social Media does not replace face-to-face communication!

Social Media is a tool

Social Media does not replace all other forms of communication. Email is still important, and in a college setting, is often the main form of communication between students and the University. Face to face conversations and spending time to get to know someone beyond their Facebook photos, tweets, and what they write on their blog is invaluable.

Student Leaders, pay attention

Social Media can be a great tool for you to showcase all you do and let your peers know what is happening with your club, floor, team, etc. However, it can be a double edged sword. We all know about the fish bowl: that as a student leader everyone pays attention to what you do. This is especially true online. While you may not connect with professional staff on Social Media, your peers and those whom you are leading see what you post. Don’t be a hypocrite. Role model proper behavior and use of Social Media.

Social Media is a professional tool

Social Media can be used as a tool to connect with professionals in your field and to showcase who you are and your value to a given organization or profession as a whole. Create a LinkedIn account, get connected with professionals in your field on Twitter, and create a blog. Become an active contributor to your profession. This will get you noticed and will keep you learning about what is happening then and now in your field.

Google yourself

Have you done this before? What comes up? Is it you? Look at the images. Are you proud of what comes up? Remember that Flickr account you created for that Spring Break trip? Didn’t know that would be seen in a Google search of your name did you? Spend some time cleaning up all of your accounts and presenting yourself in a way that is genuine and that you are proud of. Move from hoping that potential employers won’t Google you from hoping they will!

A few thoughts about email

A personal pet peeve of mine – you are college students, so use proper grammar and spelling! When addressing a member of the faculty or a staff member, “hey”, “yo” and “what’s up” are not appropriate ways to begin an email. Emails are not tweets or facebook messages and should not be treated as such.

I am not trying to be too preachy here, but feel it is important that student at least hear and think about some of this. Don’t let it come to your senior year and find out you did not get that job because of those pictures you posted or that rant you went on about not getting your way. Trust me when I tell you, potential employers will Google you and will dig deep to see who you are online. You are in ultimate control of what they see and read. Use these tools and this power to your advantage and showcase all that is great about you!

What additional advice would you give our students?

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