For better or for worse, social media has become an integral part of our personal and professional lives. Whether you’re applying to college, searching for a job, or just trying to find the “perfect” significant other, you can rest assured that your counterparty will be combing through your online presence at some point. In fact, in the “Recruiters Nation 2015 Survey”, 92% of recruiters said they used social media in at least part of their process of recruiting candidates. Roughly 86% of respondents reported using LinkedIn, followed by Facebook and Twitter at 55% and 47% respectively.
Additional studies have suggested that recruiters and other third parties will even Google your name as part of their process, likely giving them full access to your whole online presence: everything from your blog to that selfie you posted on Instagram a few years back. This can be a huge positive, or negative, depending on how strategically you curate what information you post on the interwebs. While you might think that selfie might not make you appear to be a more attractive candidate, industry data suggests that simply posting to a personal website on occasion can give you a big leg up. In a study conducted by Workfolio in 2013, 56% of all hiring managers stated that they were more impressed by a candidate’s personal website than any other personal branding tool; however, only 7% of job seekers actually have a personal website. Moreover, it wouldn’t surprise me if both the numbers discussed above have increased in the two years since the survey was conducted, but either way, it’s clear that candidates with a personal website have a quantifiable edge over their peers.
The stats above show that social media has, without a shadow of a doubt, become an extremely powerful force in today’s society. Despite that, many resources seem to be allocated toward educating young people on the negatives of social media and what to avoid doing, rather than on how to utilize this dynamic tool to their advantage. I understand this statement is based on anecdotal evidence, but I’ve spoken to a number of my college peers and they seem to have had experiences similar to mine. It’s also understandable why these concerns are at the forefront of educators’ minds since the same survey discussed above indicated that 54% and 75% of recruiters, respectively, viewed details about alcohol or marijuana consumption negatively. It’s important to be aware of what not to do online, but I think it’s an equally as significant pitfall to not be fully utilizing this powerful tool to build and expand your personal or professional brand.
Instead of writing another article focusing on the negatives, I’d like to utilize my experiences to share some tips on how to utilize the power of social to your advantage. But first, some context.
During my Freshman year of college I began learning about financial markets and trading as a hobby, with the intent of eventually exploring the world of finance as a career possibility somewhere down the road. I was learning a lot from classic investing and trading books, but soon stumbled upon the Twitter and Stocktwits platforms, as well as a number of blogs from active market participants. These platforms had an amazing community of people interested in the world of finance, and allowed to me interact with some of the best financial professionals in the world. From this I learned a valuable lesson early on about the importance of collaboration.
So in August of 2013, I started my own blog and began sharing ideas on both Twitter and Stocktwits to help further my own development and to enjoy the experience / exercise. Never did I expect to gain any traction in terms of followers and was ecstatic when my friends / family humored me by reading my posts. A little over two years later I’ve managed to reach roughly 20,000 social connections across a number of platforms and am a contributor to three finance related websites, with a few of my pieces even being picked up by prominent media outlets such as Yahoo Finance. My experiences have helped lead to developing a great network, obtaining internship and job offers, and many more tangible and intangible results, with the most recent being winning a trip to Stocktoberfest in Coronado, CA. None of this happened because I’m special in any way, it all happened as a result of me putting myself out there and sticking with it long enough to allow the power of social media to work it’s magic. Oh, and a little bit of luck never hurt anybody.
Important lessons I’ve learned along the way:
- Just Start: If you’re waiting for the “perfect time” to start blogging, you’ll never begin. There is an immense amount of pressure and emotion that comes with putting yourself out there in the public domain, but the sooner you begin, the sooner you can start to reap the many benefits associated with the process. The truth is, you’re not going to know how to do a lot of things, but I’ve found the best way to approach this journey as a “sink or swim” exercise. Jump in first and figure it out as you go along.
- Commit 100%: You won’t get the most out of this process unless you’re consistent. Decide on a minimum requirement for how often you’d like to post and stick to it. Sometimes the work you put out is just not going to meet your “perfect” standards, but put it out there anyway. Each step you take, whether or not your satisfied with the outcome, will contribute to your development in some way, shape, or form. Oh, and some days you’ll feel like going out with friends or watching Netflix rather than tending to your blog, but remember, anything worth doing is difficult and requires sacrifice.
- Create A Clear Brand: Figure out how people are going to find your work. Whether you’d like to post under a pseudonym, a nickname, or your real name, make sure you’re consistent in your branding across social media platforms. Developing an online presence is important, but it does little good to you if your image is bifurcated as a result of inconsistent branding. Also, develop a niche and stick with it until you’ve refined the process. If you’re going to write about economics, write about economics. It’s okay to pepper in a few unrelated posts here and there, but I’d suggest you develop a core competency that people associate with your brand before trying a bunch of new things.
- Don’t Worry About Views: Create great content and you will develop a high quality following over time. You don’t want to become known for click-baiting people to your site or for spamming links to your post in an effort to draw traffic. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be strategic about when / where you post things, but getting views should be toward the bottom of the “importance” list.
- Take Risks & Make Mistakes: When you first start out you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. It’s inevitable. That website you built on your own is going to crash, your posts will be riddled with grammatical and formatting errors, and you may even write something that’s counterfactual. If you’re going through the process of learning a topic for yourself, embrace mistakes. Most often (in hindsight) they’re some of your best learning opportunities. Also, take risks while you can. When you’re first starting out, expectations are a lot lower, so you can afford to try a lot of new things without a ton of people watching. Go ahead, email your favorite DJ that mixtape and ask for feedback. Maybe they’ll respond – maybe they won’t – but your reward if they do is a ton of great feedback and a possible relationship that you can further develop over time. You’ll also develop a thick skin and ability to stomach rejection.
- Garner Constructive Feedback: It has never been easier to access the smartest people in any industry. With a Twitter handle and 140 characters you can communicate with almost anyone you’d like, and if you’re thoughtful / persistent, they may even respond to you. Whether you’re using LinkedIn, Twitter, Stocktwits, the comments section on a blog, or straight up email, reach out to people in the industry you’re interested in and ask for feedback. Additionally, make sure to have a “Contact Me” section on your blog so that people can easily reach out to you. The downside here is that by putting yourself out there in the public venue, you’re going to encounter quite a few “haters” or negative people who are just looking to tear you down. Don’t let it affect you, because I can assure you that the number of people willing to help you grow and develop far outweigh the keyboard warriors who just like to throw shade. Be honest with yourself though, even some of the harshest comments out there may have some merit. If they do, use them to improve yourself and prove the “haters” wrong over the long-term.
- Engage In Healthy Debate: You’re not going to agree with everyone you meet, and you certainly shouldn’t. The purpose of an online community is to benefit each member through a give and take of knowledge and ideas, so share yours!
- Process > Outcome: The majority of the work you do developing, maintaining, and growing your online presence is not going to produce any significant tangible results, at least not initially. It’s important to remember why you’re doing this, to grow both personally and professionally. The technical skills, soft skills, and character traits that you will serve you in way more ways than you can imagine. It’s easy to get caught up in the short-term results, especially when you’re expending a significant amount of resources without receiving any clear reward in return, but do your best to focus on the long-term results of your efforts, both tangible and intangible.
- Don’t Put Ads On Your Site: I touched on it above; it’s not about the money, at least not initially. Those few hundred or thousand dollars per year that you can earn from putting ads on your site will not offset the resulting decline in user-experience that your visitors have to deal with. That being said, if you do choose to put ads, try to make sure they’re relevant and non-intrusive in nature.
- Enjoy The Journey: Lastly, enjoy the moment and make the most of it. Rest assured that there will be a lot of emotions throughout the process, but if you’re passionate and stick with it, the long-term results can be phenomenal.
In conclusion, social media, and the internet in general, has made the channels to collaborate and share content more accessible than they’ve ever been. Whether you’re a young market participant trying to get your name and work out there like me and my colleagues at DormRoomCapital, an artist trying to get distribution for your mixtape, or a photographer looking to showcase your pieces, you can be sure that there is an online community out there longing for your contribution. If you’re not currently taking advantage of its benefits for either personal or professional reasons, I’d encourage you to give it a shot. You won’t regret it.
As always, if you have any questions feel free to reach out and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
P.S. *Forgive the humble-brag. The context was provided to serve as a credible example of the long-term results I alluded to throughout the article, not to toot my own horn.