Five Selfish Reasons Why You Should Embrace Social Media

What actions have you taken to boost your professional digital fingerprint?

Posted May 09, 2019

Many people, including me, have warned readers about the downside of social media (SM). While there are documented liabilities for extended and inappropriate usage, including the potential for addiction and cyberbullying, research reveals at least five reasons why SM sharing may be beneficial to stimulate your professional development and contribute toward your psychological wellness.

Slidebot/used with permission
Source: Slidebot/used with permission

First, let’s clarify that merely posting your beauty pictures on Instagram, whining about politics on Twitter, or trolling on Tinder won’t accomplish much beyond giving you a temporary ego boost.  For our purposes, let’s loosely define SM as the communications medium that “allows users to opportunistically interact and selectively self-present content designed to engage others” (Carr & Hayes, 2015, p. 50).  In other words, your postings, pictures, and ramblings on the World Wide Interweb (WWW) are deemed meaningful and valued by other people.

Social media engagement has spawned the term “social media competence,” a skill that is measured by researchers (Zhu et al., 2018) and taught at universities. In literal terms, social media savvy means that you make contributions to encourage conversation and you are part of an online community.  In practical terms, your social media competence is a skill that boosts professional career identity, which according to a recent survey of MBA graduates, is an underutilized but necessary asset sought by employers (Benson & Filippaios, 2015).

Ironically, if you have more work experience, you likely suffer from a lack of SM competence because generally younger individuals (generation Y, born 1980-2000) are more adept at using social networks for influence and professional growth (Haight, Quan-Haase & Corbett, 2014). Youth is related to “digital citizenship,” which includes the appropriate and ethical use of technology and awareness of how to leverage media for personal gain.  Of course, being a crafty digital citizen alone may not enhance your marketability, boost your self-esteem, or pad your bank account, but by elevating your digital footprint you might earn a competitive advantage when selling yourself to a prospective employer. 

Establish a professional digital identity

Slidebot/used with permission
Source: Slidebot/used with permission

Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, an 18th-century epicure and politician coined the phrase, “Dis moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es," roughly translated as, “What you eat is what you are.”  The 21st-century cyberspace equivalent is, “What you write is who you are.” Whether you are willing to acknowledge it or not, your web presence or lack thereof says plenty about who you are and what you value. Every Facebook post, LinkedIn or Twitter share, or Pinterest pin reflects your expertise, values, and character.  Leverage SM to create a professional identity because many prospective employers use tracking software to determine your interests and compatibility with their organizational values. According to SM expert Arik Hanson, “personal brand is everything because, in essence, your personal brand = your reputation.” 

Sell your brand in the right places

We all need to feel capable and competent according to one of the most well-documented and practical explanations of human motivation, self-determination theory (SDT, Deci & Ryan, 2000). In simple terms, SDT contends that we internalize different values, behaviors, and interests to create our personal identity. Online we sell a persona that is a digital photograph of how we want to be seen by the outside world. Maybe you prefer to be known as brave, empathetic, snarky, honest, frugal, or sexy. What matters most is awareness of your brand and what message you send about your passion and priorities. Are you sharing articles on Goodreads, LinkedIn, or a professional organization site, or do you spend your time selling jewelry on Etsy and writing reviews on TripAdvisor.com? Choose your digital street corner wisely as your virtual venue says plenty about who you are.

Make personal connections

A second key principle in SDT is the innate need to be part of a social group. Research reveals that in the absence of positive human interaction, your growth potential is limited because socialization contributes to knowledge and expertise (Ryan & Deci, 2017).  Regardless if you affiliate yourself with a religion, club, sports team, gang, or just people in your culture, workplace, or family, we all desire connections with others (although some people will deny the need for kinship). Do not underestimate the power of SM to help you identify and align yourself with people who think like you. SM is the electronic equivalent of networking, no different than walking into a room of complete strangers and trying to make a positive impression. Personally, I have found Twitter to be a highly advantageous platform, because Twitter audience insights allow you to collectively see the interests, occupations, and buying patterns of those who interact with your feed. In essence, SM is the virtual equivalent of meeting people at a conference, trade show, or networking group (without the exorbitant registration fees)!

Practice emotional regulation

Slidebot/used with permission
Source: Slidebot/used with permission

What do Donald Trump, Roseanne Barr, Kayne West, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Elon Musk have in common? (Hint: The answer is not money.) The linkage is making emotionally driven postings on SM that are regretted. In the case of Musk, one of his thoughtless tweets cost him $20 million. Think about the long list of politicians, celebrities, or even your friends and family who have foolishly responded to others when angry, insulted, or disillusioned by an outlandish opinion or accusation.  Ultimately, the people listed above, have learned the very valuable skill that psychologists describe as “emotional regulation.” The concept of emotional regulation means that we deliberately alter how we respond to emotionally-charged events by channeling our negative energy to a positive state to be unencumbered by the potential consequences of the negative emotion (Hoffman, 2015).  There is arguably no better way to refine your emotional regulation than refraining from SM outbursts.  Practice results in better self-control and often career longevity!

Generate passive income

Finally, an ancillary benefit of conscious digital citizenship is purely economic. Considering that SM is a platform that has almost 3 billion users, it is realistic to believe that even a minuscule slice of the market has the potential to boost your earnings.  While it is no secret that sites like Facebook and YouTube will send you money if you have sufficient fans, and advertisers will pay you for a high-traffic website, money can also be made based on your reputation. A strong digital footprint will result in unsolicited offers asking you to contribute to blogs, magazines, websites, and podcasts (even someone as relatively obscure like me gets offers weekly). Although it takes time, those individuals perceived as “influencers” can result in endorsements and digital appearance opportunities on a pay-per-click basis. SM experts like Neil Patel offer many suggestions on how to gain an audience.  Remember, EVERYONE starts the reputation process with zero followers, but unless you deliberately focus on enhancing your digital citizenship you will be surpassed by other more savvy and knowledgeable competitors.  Start today!

References

Benson, V., & Filippaios, F. (2015). Collaborative competencies in professional social networking: Are students short changed by curriculum in business education? Computers in Human Behavior, 51, 1331–1339.

Carr, C. T., & Hayes, R. A. (2015). Social media: Defining, developing, and divining. Atlantic Journal of Communication, 23, 46–65.

Haight, M., Quan-Haase, A., & Corbett, B. A. (2014). Revisiting the digital divide in Canada: The impact of demographic factors on access to the internet, level of online activity, and social networking site usage. Information, Communication & Society, 17(4), 503-519.

Hoffman, B. (2015). Motivation for Learning & Performance. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. ISBN-13: 978-0128007792.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York, NY: Guilford Publications.

Xu, S., Yang, H. H., MacLeod, J., & Zhu, S. (2018). Social media competence and digital citizenship among college students. Convergence, 1354856517751390.

Zhu, S., Hao Yang, H., Xu, S., & MacLeod, J. (2018). Understanding social media competence in higher education: Development and validation of an instrument. Journal of Educational Computing Research, xx, 1-21. doi: 0735633118820631.