Social media has truly become a Jack-of-all-trades.
To some, it is a relaxing pastime, best spent scrolling leisurely through endless Twitter and Tumblr feeds, reblogging and retweeting anything that strikes their fancy.
To others, social media is a source of knowledge — providing space from which various news outlets can upload and share their top stories and breaking news.
Sites such as Facebook and Twitter are especially conducive to communication — allowing you to stay in touch with friends both down the street and across the pond, and in doing so creating yet another use for social media.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, social media can be the perfect platform for branding, both businesses and individuals. By posting your personal content to your personal account, you’re creating an online resume of sorts — though an admittedly less professional one than you’re used to.
I always remember when social media first began emerging — or at least, when it first popped up on my radar. I was a preteen during the era of IMing and the pre-Timberlake Myspace, and although I desperately wanted to be a part of the new online culture, I was prohibited by my Internet-wary parents.
I vaguely remember a tour of the FBI headquarters in Charlotte giving by a family friend who worked there. At the time I was a few desperate pleads away from finally securing my own Myspace account — I had been pressuring my mom for ages and I could tell she was ready to give in.
At some point during the tour, and I can’t quite remember when, someone mentioned how dangerous the online world could be. Had we heard about the boy who was abducted because he gave out his personal information in an online chat room? Had my mother heard about the girl who ran away with a boy she met on Myspace? I could feel my IM username and Myspace account slipping through my fingers. Sure enough, when we arrived home I was informed that my parents had thought long and hard about it, and had decided that it was best for me to remain offline.
I’m sure I wasn’t alone. Though many of my peers were active online throughout junior high, I think they — and many others who saw social media through its early stages — were hesitant to put personal information on the Internet. We all received the chain emails warning against using your real name or information when communicating online (as well as the ones promising ten years of back luck if we failed to forward it to twenty people).
It then seems illogical for us to put so much of ourselves online nowadays. Between our Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, about.me, Pinterest, and LinkedIn profiles, anyone can find almost anything about us with just a few clicks of the mouse.
And while our first instinct may have been to shy away for the more personal details and keep our accounts set on private, to do so now would put us at a disadvantage. So many opportunities for both businesses and individuals can be found through social media and it greatly benefits us to keep our accounts unlocked.
I had a cousin who remained completely private on Facebook for quite some time. In fact, I had no idea that she even had an account until she finally decided to go public. And granted, Facebook is meant more for individuals to connect with friends and family and less about finding opportunities. But on other sites, keeping an open profile allows other to stumble onto your work.
And by all means, if you’re using your account to post NSFW pictures or to pen vicious rants against your boss, please keep it private. But if you have the restraint to keep your posts clean and presentable, it would behoove you to keep your account open to the public.
Businesses also need to keep their profiles open (which I think is a no-brainer, but just in case) in order to allow customers the ability to easily find them to get the latest details on products and events.
I know that when I’m about to meet someone or check out a business for the first time, it has become habit to do a quick Google search and check out his or her Twitter or Facebook page. If it’s not easy to find, I lose a little bit of interest. Whether I mean to or not, it’s been subconsciously ingrained in us that social media is an important fixture in our daily lives that we can use for reference or to gain information about an individual or group.
My dad once told me that he had a friend at work whose son lived close to me and was able to drive me home from college during a break last year. I was all set to go until I realized that this guy didn’t have an online presence. I felt weird not being able to do a quick search to verify the guy I was supposed to be getting a ride with beforehand. And it’s not that I think that my dad would ever refer me to someone who wasn’t trustworthy — in fact, I’m sure this guy was great. But the fact of the matter is that social media has created a way to feel more secure about the people you meet or the businesses you frequent.
While we were once scared of the strange man lurking on the Internet, we’re now afraid of the individual not on it.
One word of advice: once you’re on social media and you have committed to your accounts, stay on. Too many individuals and businesses allow themselves to fall off the wagon and let their accounts whither away. Today, most people are savvy enough to know that an online presence is invaluable for both individuals and businesses. If you’re not on, you best believe that your competitor is.
Every time you hesitate sharing your latest blog post on Twitter, know that the girl that you’ll be up against at your next job interview as already uploaded hers and two more on top of that. If you own a business and don’t feel like keeping up with social media on a Friday night or over the weekend, remember that the new store down the street has probably already posted five tweets and is giving away multiple prizes on social media in order to steal away your customers — and it’s working.
Top of the Hill Brewery and Restaurant on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill has a little less than 4,000 Twitter followers and posts multiple times a day. The account retweets customers and keeps followers updated on the latest deals and events. It even tweets later in the night, which is a time of high traffic for the restaurant. It’s moves like this that seem like a hassle at the time, but could ultimately prove useful for your business.
Having a well-maintained account speaks to the quality of the establishment. TOPO is able to recommend itself through its postings, without being in your face about it.
But that’s not to say that your whole day needs to be spent cultivating your social media accounts. You have to go out and do something first before you have anything worth sharing. But a steady stream of tweets or posts helps to keep you in the game.
Another Franklin Street staple is the Yogurt Pump, which also boasts a respectable Twitter following with a little over 1,700 followers on the site. This business has chosen to post only about once a day, but even this is an effective course of action because it proves that you’re committed to your customers and to maintaining your business.
Individuals should also strive to utilize social media to sell their “personal brand.” My mom has always told my brother and me to anything off our profiles that we wouldn’t want a potential employer or college admissions advisor to see. I think that’s served us well over the past few years.
You don’t have to put out disturbing amounts of details about your life in order to create a meaningful online presence. Do you aspire to work with food? Create a food blog where you try a new restaurant every week. Want to work as a photographer? Upload your pictures to different sites and see if anyone notices them. Maybe you’re not getting the thousands of views a day that you dream of, but it’s not about the quantity of views, but the quality of views. And by that I simply mean that 1,000 views from random Joes and Janes off the street seems cool at first, but I’d rather have 1 view from an individual who can offer me a work opportunity than those 1,000 views. It only takes one person to see your work one time for it to change everything.
In fact, I’m writing this very blog because I happened to have a public Twitter account and a few blog posts to my name. You never know who’s going to find you on the Internet, and as long as you play it safe and smart, you’ll be just fine.