Social media can be for more than memes and memories

Whether they’re scrolling through Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, college-aged people often connect with their peers through social media. College students are mocked and criticized by members of older generations for being glued to our smartphones, but social media isn’t just a platform to post pictures from parties and to tag friends in memes. Social media platforms can be used to engage with an audience and create a professional presence that employers will use to make hiring decisions.

Through social media, students bond over “only at GW” experiences, post pictures and videos from events at school and let our friends know what’s going on on other parts of campus. Naturally, we use social media for personal connections, but students should learn how to use platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to show employers that they’re engaged in the media world and are adept at captivating an audience.

Cartoon by Grace Lee

It’s pretty easy to understand why social media is important for communications or journalism students. But social media could also be used in business ventures, like ad campaigns or brand representation, or even in areas like public health to improve community health practices and spread information.

Lauren Glickman, a lecturer in the School of Media and Public Affairs and a social media strategist, says current college students will be valuable in all sorts of workplaces if they can show managers how to use social media in productive ways.

“Social media has forever changed the way we communicate. Anyone entering the workforce for the first time armed only with personal social media experience will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage,” Glickman said in an email.

I’m currently enrolled in a class in SMPA about social media that requires all students to tweet as part of class discussion. Before the class, I didn’t have a Twitter account that I felt comfortable using in an academic context. I had mostly used Twitter for nonsensical jokes and my unfiltered opinions on anything from current world events to fashion trends. My professor’s Twitter policy was a wake-up call because it reminded me that I’m going to have to use social media in my future career – in media or communications – and that it’s essential to have social media handles that can carry over to a professional setting.

Students need to recognize that how we use social media now has consequences. Tweeting an offensive hashtag or writing one nasty Facebook status shows potential employers that a candidate could be a liability. We should certainly be careful of what we post and avoid posting anything inappropriate or hurtful. But engaging in the beneficial aspects of social media make our generation the most ready to communicate and engage in a technology-dependent world. We have the power to create social media campaigns that raise awareness about a problem in a community – like the Twitter hashtag #BellLetsTalk that raises awareness for people suffering from mental illness.

There are several ways to use the fun social media platforms we are familiar with in a professional way. It may be useful to keep fun and friends separate from career life– perhaps by using Twitter direct messages to share jokes and keep in touch with friends and only tweeting thoughtful messages that outsiders may be interested in. Twitter is a way to follow and respond to news outlets but maybe not the place for making polarizing or reprehensible comments about current events. Instagram might be of better use for sharing experiences like traveling – not just wild nights out with friends.

Investing time in writing and developing meaningful content on social media, and tracking the impact of that content, is a good start to creating a professional social media presence. Using social media the right way can be helpful for students connecting with the professional communities they want to be part of.

Rachel Armany, a freshman majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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