Last week I attended the first ever LinkedIn3D conference at the University of Birmingham’s Business School. Advertised as an ‘un-conference’, I didn’t know exactly what to expect.
The idea behind LinkedIn3D was to bring together members of three different university departments: Careers, Alumni and Marcomms (Marketing and Communications). With so much overlap in what we do we were able to gain new perspectives on common practices and discuss some of the challenges that using LinkedIn brings.
The importance of digital presence
Eric Stoller (who tweets as @EricStoller) started the day with a great keynote on ‘Why your digital presence matters’ (you can see his slides here). After a brief tour of the social media cat galaxy, he went on to highlight the benefits of LinkedIn.
Anyone who is familiar with LinkedIn will know that it can be used to connect and network with people from all over the world, and to engage with others in group discussions and through sharing and reading content (e.g. original posts and links to articles). Eric also highlighted some other neat features such as the Alumni tool, which can be really useful for exploring career journeys (Eric called this ‘professional stalking’ and said we should all be stalking more!).
Three things to consider for careers advisers using LinkedIn
Eric’s talk covered a lot of ground, but I wanted to share what I thought were the three most important things he covered for careers professionals to consider when using LinkedIn (as well as other social media platforms including Twitter and Facebook).
1. Be yourself online: be professional but don’t be a robot
What we choose to share online is a very individual thing. Most workplaces are characterised by the presence of rules and rigidity, and as LinkedIn is a ‘professional’ space many people assume the same constraints are present. However, Eric argued that you don’t need to conform. You have to be smart about it, but as professionalism is a social construct rather than a real ‘thing’, there’s room for interpretation.
But what does ‘professional’ mean on social media?
To me, being professional on social media means I don’t post anything online that I wouldn’t be comfortable saying at work whether that be in an email or in person talking to colleagues.
Personally, I’ve got a clear idea of how I want to use social media , but some people might struggle to strike the right balance between being ‘public’ with their opinions and posting things that are relevant to their professional area.
At the same time, we need to match the tone of the space. Eric’s advice was to avoid sending the same content across all platforms: different spaces warrant different content.
2. Focus on the benefits rather than the risks
As Eric said, digital presence – just like employability – is a work-in-progress. It takes time to develop. Careers staff and services should also be aware of this when trying to establish their own presence online.
Most young people don’t realise the importance of digital identity to their employability. Getting them to improve their digital presence will mean potential employers can find them (and hopefully like what they see!) when researching potential new recruits, which is a good thing. As careers professionals we have the potential to unlock LinkedIn as a resource to improve student outcomes (Eric called university professionals ‘the true evangelists for the promotion of digital literacy’).
People tend to focus on the risks and potential harms of using social media – the fear that your ‘digital tattoo’ can’t be removed. Does this have an impact on students engaging? I believe it does, and not only that – it impacts on staff getting involved too. Although risk is something to be aware of, we need to encourage the use of these platforms and not scare people off.
3. Don’t be afraid to try new things
Being scared or fearful brings me to my final point. There are lots of things universities could be doing to engage with audiences on LinkedIn, but it’s sometimes hard to know how to stand out. Those working in careers will recognise that there’s a lot of ‘careers content’ already on LinkedIn, so in order to stand out in a saturated space we need to do things differently.
However, we often miss the opportunity to take advantage of LinkedIn as a platform because we’re fearful things won’t work. There have been a number of times I’ve thought about posting something and haven’t followed it through as I was worried about how it would be received. Content is all about quality, and intentionally posting thoughtful content showcases your vulnerability. Why should students listen when we tell them to stand out from the crowd if we aren’t prepared to do the same thing ourselves?
We also need to be creative; this could mean things like engaging and connecting with students/alumni to ask questions, getting them to run our Twitter accounts for a day or involving them in live Q&As. As Eric said, we’ve all got great stories from students, recent graduates and alumni but we need to share these on digital platforms in order to engage with others.
I hope you’ve found this post and the points it raises useful. I’ll be writing more about what I learnt through attending LinkedIn3D, including how careers advisers can use it to engage with students more effectively in a later post.