What Students Need To Know About Social Media Personal Branding

The University of Indiana set a precedent recently with the announcement of a comprehensive Student-Athlete Bill of Rights.  The first of its kind, the document lays out a list of benefits to incoming athletes that includes a “lifetime degree guarantee,” medical and health services, academic services, and even specialized social media training.

As schools seek to make social media training part of their regular education programs, there are four important areas of curriculum that should be considered: privacy, best practices, personal branding, and cyber harassment. In this fourth of the series on how to put together a social media training for students, we’ll address the issue of personal branding. Links to the first three parts of the series are at the end of this article.

Step One: Buy-In

We constantly remind students of all ages that every tweet and every post they send is building a personal brand or reputation. But why is that important to an 18-year-old? First and foremost, any discussion of how social media can build or ruin a reputation must address why students should care.  There needs to be an immediate value for them personally.

In order to answer that question of value, we must first understand how and why different age groups use social media. Knowing that different ages have different pain points when it comes to the concept of personal responsibility will help us understand how behavioral decisions are made. I’ve found that buy-in for responsible use of social media comes in different forms at different ages. Where middle school students just want to experiment with independence, high schoolers and younger college students may be using social media to establish their position in the differing communities they belong to. Most middle school kids give little thought to how social media affects their ability to get a job. Consequently, their buy-in to responsible behavior looks different than a 22-year-old.

Build Your Brand

There are aspects of personal branding that appeal to every age group. The key is finding which piece of school curriculum it fits into. Whether it goes in career exploration, citizenship classes, leadership development, or technology, it should be age appropriate to their whole education experience.

Specific points for differing age groups:

Middle School

Social media use is fairly new to this age group. Although many of them are users already, it is likely they have not received any instruction on using it responsibly. Education at this age level concentrates mostly on privacy and managing the personal settings of social accounts. However, since this is the typical age for introducing career exploration, social media should be introduced as one of the tools students can use to pursue their career interests. Social media can be a resource to help students research a specific career. When job tools such as resumes and job applications are discussed, social media should be put in that mix. A cursory introduction to the importance of social media as a way to get the job you want can start here. Show real world examples of social media profiles like LinkedIn and Google Plus. Give students an understanding of how these are ways that potential employers look for good employees.

High School

Personal branding needs to go to the next level here. In high school we start to blend the importance of privacy, best practices, and personal branding into one curriculum. Students need to be taught the practical process of putting together professional online profiles. Since this is the key transition time for young adults, the importance of how social media helps them get to the next level must be emphasized. Real-world examples of how behavior can either build or wreck their reputations become more important at this age. They need to connect the dots between how they use social media and the consequences of using it irresponsibly in the real world, i.e. jobs and scholarships.

If you’re charged with educating college-bound athletes, stories from college coaches of students they did not recruit because of social media use are impactful. Statistics start to play an important role in this age group. How many coaches look at the social media of recruits? How many employers are searching the social media of job applicants? How many people lose jobs or scholarships because of bad social media?

It’s a good idea to remind students about the importance of personal profile information as well. What do their avatars look like? What about their bios? This is also a good time to teach students how to put together an online resume on a site like about.me. The variety of templates gives students a chance to express an individual personality as well as highlight their personal strengths, accomplishments, and career aspirations. This gets them prepared for the more “adult sites” like LinkedIn and Google Plus.

College Age-Athletics Specific (First Year)

I think it’s important to gauge the competency level of incoming freshmen when it comes to personal branding on social media. This can be done with a simple survey or through interviews in individual team meetings. Know what you are up against. It is possible some students at this age know nothing about the digital world of personal branding. Some may need very beginning information, similar to what is described above at the high school level. A refresher also gives more savvy students an idea of what is expected of them at this level.

I believe that this age group needs to be coached to set up personal profiles on both LinkedIn and Google Plus. For many, this will be their first effort at building an online resume. Help them understand that their other public channels (Facebook, Twitter,etc.) are a part of this mix so maintaining digital consistency of character and reputation will be important. I’ve found that many students revert to privatizing their social media channels at this stage. Many have not had much public scrutiny of their social media channels yet, and this is their wake-up call. Remind them that people they do not know, like media and fans, will be looking at their social media and possibly re-posting their exploits to the public.

I also like to help this group understand the scope of their personal brands. I’ve used a graphic similar to the one below as a starting point in the discussion. Many of them need a broader understanding of how different roles shape their personal brands.

personal branding graphic

College Age (Seniors and Graduate Students)

The first step for this group is a comprehensive social media audit against a checklist that includes avatars, bios, privacy settings, and inventory of online resume information. After the assessment comes instruction on how to set up social media profiles for professional success. The blueprint starts with making sure they have basic profiles set up on sites where potential employers are looking: Google Plus, LinkedIn, about.me, Twitter, and other professional resume sites. Give them a template for setting up a LinkedIn profile correctly, or bring someone in from Career Services who can help.

This is the final social media check-up before they leave your charge. Address the need to change their personal content emphasis from college student to adult. Make sure they remove pictures and delete posts that are inappropriate from their social channels. Also, have them adjust their picture tagging settings on Facebook (if they haven’t already) so they have control over where their images are shared.

I think it works best if these workshops are done in small groups so students can help each other as you move through the curriculum. Since we know search engine results are now based on personal algorithms, one enlightening exercise is to have students search each other’s names online and see what they find. Students might be amazed by what shows up at the top of the results of an organic search.

Even though this is a quick overview of how to approach personal branding in your social media training, you are welcome to contact me with any questions you have at chris@cksyme.com.