It’s somewhat ironic that it’s now important to utilize social media websites to create a professional image online. As with most cultural phenomena that start out below the radar, social networking has now become mainstream and highly commercialized. The extreme case is MySpace, which is now more of a business model (i.e. – intended to sell things to you) than a networking model. But really, social media started as an outgrowth of the strange allure of AOL chat rooms. In fact, the first social site that I can remember hearing about was Hot Or Not. The concept was as simple as you may have already guessed. People load a portrait of themselves, and the audience rates the person’s “hotness” on a scale from one to 10. There wasn’t much interacting, but it was essentially a Web 2.0 concept. The audience contributes to the site and provides reviews for the “content.”
I heard about that site in 2002. Needless to say, a lot has changed in the past six years. By 2005 people started realizing that they need to exercise at least some caution about what they post on these websites, even if it is semi-anonymous. For individuals getting a kick out of the brave new world that the Internet offered, this wasn’t always a fun realization. Some sites did choose to protect the adventurous nature of the web. By 2007, Facebook had ramped up their security features, so that you can specify what parts of your profile will be visible to which people.
Still, the Internet feels a lot different now. Pretty much all our online activities can be traced to us in some way. That makes us more accountable for our actions, and, in some cases, more cautious. I’m confident that the benefits of the Internet will always outweigh any possible disadvantages. And even as things do change, being web savvy allows you to take advantage of the system. Students and recent graduates are in a position to utilize social media to the fullest potential. I didn’t hear about LinkedIn until early 2008, but now it seems to be the number one professional networking site on the web.
The best way for graduates to utilize social media is to stay on top of the wave. Being familiar and practiced with the sites and services as they become standard will make you a desireable employee in this increasingly digital world. Take our internship for example. In the first week we worked with blogs, LinkedIn, Naymz, AboutUs.org, and ZoomInfo, to name a few. If graduates show that they can capitalize on the emerging technologies and tools, they won’t miss the best of the surf.
This also means minimizing or hiding the “recreational” activities like Hot Or Not. If you wouldn’t enter a hot body contest at your local pub, maybe it’s best to follow suit in cyberspace.