What College Freshmen and Seniors Need to Know About Social Networking

As college freshmen say goodbye to high school and living under their parents roof, they should also shed some of their social media habits.

Continue Reading Below

After using social media for years already, sites like Facebook and Twitter tend to be old news to incoming freshmen who are used to the exposure, but campus newbies might not be aware of the online image theyre projecting when they become part of the college crowd.

They tend to take it more for granted and are often not taking it as seriously as later generations who know what its like not to have a social network or digital identity, says Gordon Curtis,  author of Well Connected. [Adults might say] Ive got to be careful of this, Ive never had so much exposure in my life, whereas students just entering college grew up with the ability to be so visible.

The start of college is the perfect time for students to rethink their online profiles and clean up wall posts, comments and photos that are unflattering or dont jive with the person they want to be.

As college seniors gear up for their last year of school and start their search for jobs, any social media missteps could have long-lasting consequences.

No matter if seniors are planning to enter the job market after graduation or pursue another degree, Lon Safko, author of The Social Media Bible, says it is crucial to preserve professionalism online.

Those universities and hiring managers are going to be very critical because of the supply and demand and theyre going to be hitting social networks to screen those potential candidates, says Safko.

According to a 2009 CareerBuilder.com survey, 45% of employers surveyed say they use social media sites to screen candidates, an increase from 22% the previous year.

If they arent already, experts say seniors need to join a professional networking site such as LinkedIn. Not only do these sites allow users to follow companies they are interested in working for, they can locate possible connections within a field or sector.

Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation.com advises seniors immediately connect with alumni groups and organizations from their college to cultivate relationships with people with common professional and social interests.

That is part of the network that youve earned as a student at that school, so you immediately join and start to interact and find people who are interested in the field youre interested in, says Fertik.

Here are expert tips for every college student to follow and maintain a positive online image:

Stay On Top of Privacy Settings. Most social media sites allow users to set their privacy settings based on personal preferences, but according to Curtis, many users dont realize that those settings can change from time to time, which can catch users off guard and publicize posts that were meant to be private.

It only takes one bad post or response--anything that has profanity, alcohol, drugs or violence, he says, to taint a students online reputation.  People get lazy and totally forget that their pictures are accessible to their network and anyone can access your network. Think of it in terms of theres no such thing as a completely closed network and the content within it.

Safko suggests that students make a personal and a professional page.

Keep the privacy settings on the personal one really high; 82% of hiring managers use social networks to screen candidates and the other 18% [who say they dont], lie, says Safko.

Guilty by Association. Fertik warns students need to be aware of their friends behavior and online content just as much as their own, and that people are increasingly looking at students social interactions to learn more about them.

Curtis echoes this sentiment and explains that even a clean and professional profile, can be ruined with one bad apple.

Its important to set boundaries and to teach or instruct your network on how you prefer to receive information, such as dont send me anything like that again.

Dont Just Play Defense. Even as freshmen, its important for students to use social media and professional blog sites as a way to establish their reputation and experiences. Fertik explains that students online lives dont have to revolve around avoiding errors; they can also play offense and create opportunities through what they build online.

Especially as you advance in your years, you can build a track record that reflects that you care about the things that you care about, says Fertik. Create a digital trail that reflects who you are and what you want to be--the smart, future-oriented people are already curating their profiles on the web.

Safko encourages students to use sites like Twitter and Facebook to express their interests and generate a buzz.

I would take my Facebook page and talk about the industry that I want to work in, he says. I would encourage other people to come and post on my wall and have this interactive conversation so that any time someone looked at my Facebook page, they'd say thats someone who I'd like to have in our organizationthey get it.

For students lacking real-world job experience, social media and professional blogging sites are a way to demonstrate their interest in a field.

If you can blog your own thoughts and your insights, you create something called Google juicemore and more pages that link keywords in your industry to your name and to your blogs site, says Safko.  When a hiring manager looks at your thoughts and ideas, you're probably going to be the only one out there that has set yourself up as an expert in the industry because the others havent quite figured it out.

The experts also suggest moderating a discussion on LinkedIn and to get involved in groups related to specific industries to catch employers attention.

Being the facilitator of a discussion, by association, youre beginning to be viewed as a thought leader, says Curtis. You are creating a dialogue where the collective intelligence of the group is really valuable.

Nurture and Manage Accounts. Students should monitor their account every few days to remove any questionable material, update their profile and see what others are saying.

People do read a book by its cover, and the new cover is your digital cover, says Curtis.