Effective use of social media in the professional context: The graduate student perspective

Incorporating and harnessing social media tools into your professional life

By Jason Van Allen, MA

In our advancing technological era, we can sometimes feel “behind the times” if we aren’t utilizing social media to keep up with professional relationships and/or organizations. Combine that feeling with a culture clash between graduate students who grew up immersed in a social media world and our mentors who invariably came of age with less access to technology than their mentees.

As you consider your own professional development, you might find yourself asking a number of questions: How much social media interaction is appropriate? How do I use social media for both personal and professional use? Which platforms are the best avenues for my social media communications (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, etc.)?

We address these topics below as a way of starting your thinking about how to best use social media as a graduate student.

Facebook : The lord of the realm

A variety of internet-based services are available to get you connected electronically to friends, family, professionals, companies, organizations and more. Facebook provides users with an extensive array of social media interactions through their profile page, group pages, business pages, games, classified ads, photo and video sharing, discussion boards and more.

Originally designed for only college and university students, Facebook is now open to anyone with a verifiable email address as well as to companies hoping to promote their products.

Overall, the comprehensive nature of Facebook can be both an advantage and disadvantage to psychology students hoping to use Facebook in both the personal and professional realm. For example, Facebook does not allow individuals to create separate accounts for the same person; so individuals hoping to keep the personal and professional worlds clearly delineated will need to be more diligent with regard to their privacy and other account settings. On the other hand, more individuals use Facebook than any other social media outlet, which provides a larger audience and more potential connections for students.

Twitter : Penny for your tweet

Twitter is another social media outlet with unique advantages and disadvantages for students. For instance, individuals can create numerous accounts on Twitter to more clearly separate personal and professional interests. In addition, Twitter has become an attractive source of information from news outlets and other press releases. In fact, Twitter has become a attractive medium for individuals 25-44 to consume news reports (Purcell et al., 2010). Despite its strengths Twitter does have less extensive reach in comparison to Facebook.

LinkedIn : Did I shine my shoes for this?

LinkedIn provides an additional source for professional connection. LinkedIn was originally created to connect individuals with potential employers or customers, and allows users to make connections with other individuals to develop a professional/career network online. LinkedIn allows users to maintain profiles that are very professionally oriented, and thus may facilitate connections with other professionals that might not otherwise be available via other outlets.

Google+ : Friends have secrets too

Google+ is a new initiative from Google that is designed to give users the “best” of Facebook, with additional and simplified privacy settings. In Google+, users can assign various groups of people to “circles” that are only allowed to view certain information that you have designated for those circles. It should be noted, however, that Facebook has recently made it possible for users to disseminate individual wall posts, videos, pictures, status updates and more to specific “friend groups.” Previously, Facebook only allowed for broad privacy standards to specific friend groups; now, individual content you share can be customized more than ever.

What is right for you?

Overall, the social media landscape is vast and can be intimidating for students who would like to increase their social networking footprint, but who would also like to limit the risk that they offend a colleague, potential employer, professor or others. At minimum, students should make sure that they understand the various privacy considerations between and within each social networking option, and choose how they use social media based on those considerations.

Students may benefit from establishing profiles on various social networks given the increased integration of these services in student and professional organizations (such as SPP) that may not provide the same information in other avenues. Further, maintaining an account or profile doesn’t necessitate that you use your profile to share personal information; in fact, the first author’s Twitter account has rarely been used to post anything personal, but has been a fantastic source for news and information regarding research and other psychology related topics on a near daily basis.

Ultimately, risks should be weighed against the potential benefits, as well as against the availability of profile customization to further limit risks without losing the reward of greater connectedness to friends, colleagues, and family.