Why Using Social Media Is Essential to Your Career—And How Best to Use It

May 9, 2016

Today, freelancers comprise 34 percent (53 million people) of the U.S. workforce. This percentage is expected to rise to 40 percent by 2020, meaning more people will be joining the “gig” economy in the next four years, and so more and more people will be independent contractors and thus moving between short-term positions. 

In this new environment, jobs will not be filled via resumes alone. Instead, jobseekers who want to attract attention and land short-term gigs will rely on digital footprints, or what employers can find about them online. These online profiles will help market jobseekers' skills and accomplishments to potential employers. And today, 52 percent of all employers use social networking to identify and research candidates.

Here's one hiring manager speaking about the importance of social media: “As we recruit, we keep in mind that every employee is also a brand ambassador, and we want to make sure our team is made up of those who will reflect our company in the most positive light everywhere—whether they’re at work or in the gym. We like to see responsible photos and content from people who take their personal brand image and work seriously. Our recruiting team uses LinkedIn heavily and we believe that it's the best place to judge candidates on who they are and what they’ve done in a public forum.” 

If you’ve avoided creating an online presence because you've been convinced that using platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can lead to losing jobs and not finding them, you might want to stop being skeptical and embrace these tools. If you create a positive, professional digital footprint, it could be the difference between landing an opportunity and continuing to look for one. 

What You Gain Using Social Media 

In addition to tapping into recruiters who expect to find a digital footprint when they Google your name, there are many other reasons to use social media, including: (1) It allows you to demonstrate your expertise to people who wouldn’t otherwise know about you; (2) You have the opportunity to meet new people and expand your network beyond what you could when networking in person; and (3) It provides resources and mechanisms to learn new information. 

Tell Your Story 

Have you ever been in a situation where another person is telling a group about something that happened to the two of you? It isn’t unusual for the person speaking to become the hero of the story, as you sit there, hoping your role in the adventure comes to light before the tale is over. When you don’t take the reins and tell your own story, you give control over what people learn about you to other people. In relinquishing this control, you lose opportunities to share your best information with someone you need to impress. 

When you fail to use social media tools, you’re allowing someone else to tell your story online. If you don’t post your own content online, what will people find when they Google your name? Will they come upon a mention of your participation at the latest school fundraiser? Is your Etsy buying account prominent in your digital footprint? Perhaps people will see a mention of your third-place win in a local basketball championship for the 20-40 age group. None of these are negative finds, but is this the information you want people to learn about you? 

If you maintain a LinkedIn profile, populate a Twitter account, or post information on Google+, the information you create would most likely supersede any other details available about you online. Using social media gives you control over what people learn about you, and allows you to “feed” Google information you do want people to know. 

Showcase Your Expertise 

If you’re an expert, but no one outside of your immediate circle of colleagues and friends knows about your specialty, how can you leverage it to help land a job? In short: you can’t. If you’re great at what you do, but few people know, you’re wasting opportunities to highlight your skills and accomplishments. Do so, however, and you'll be on the radar of those who need to know about you. The only way to ensure hiring managers and others who want to fill contract positions will discover you for your expertise is to create optimized profiles online detailing what you can do and why you’re great at it. 

How do social media tools help you demonstrate expertise? It’s one thing to say you’re a community builder, a team player, or a strong communicator, and quite another to prove it by using those skills consistently online. Imagine applying for a job that requires team leadership, and you’ve led a group on LinkedIn or another network for six months and grown it into a great resource for people in your industry. You’ll have the perfect way to illustrate the key skill. 

How you curate the content in your social media feeds also helps illustrate your expertise. When you select articles or posts to share with your community via any of the social networks, you make it clear you keep up with the news pertinent to your field. If you comment intelligently about the items and begin or join online conversations about topics relevant to your community, it’s obvious you’re plugged in and aware of the important topics affecting your colleagues. When you become the person everyone knows they should follow because you’re first to find and post useful news, you position yourself as a go-to expert. 

Expand Your Network 

How many people can you realistically meet in person? How much time do you have to run around to meet and greets? Not much? Luckily, social media tools give you many options to expand your network without ever leaving your home or office. When you join groups on LinkedIn or connect with people you’d never otherwise know on Twitter, you multiply your chances of winning a referral. Employers prefer to hire via referrals, so any opportunity to expand the pool of people who know, like, and trust you enough to suggest someone take a chance on hiring you will help you land a job more quickly. When you use social media, you give yourself that many more chances to impress someone with the authority to refer you to a job opportunity. 

Sharpen Your Message 

Hone in on exactly what you want to showcase about your expertise online. On networks with space limitations (such as Twitter), frequent use helps you focus your message and decide what you want people to know. When you curate and select content to include in your social media streams, you refine your message, which makes it easier for you to articulate why you’re good at what you do. 

Learn New Things 

Social networking tools provide an amazing opportunity to learn information easily and quickly that you would otherwise need to spend a lot of time to find. When you find people to follow or groups to join where people help curate massive amounts of information available into useful, resourceful streams of content, it becomes very easy to stay up-to-date on the information you need to know. You may find yourself among the first to learn news, including updates about available opportunities. If you can identify colleagues who are very active online, joining these networks may become the equivalent of attending a professional conference. You’ll be so in tune with what is “new and now” in your field that you’ll be qualified to present information at your next professional event.

by Miriam Salpeter

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