Social Media: A Blessing, A Curse and A Tool

Like it or not, social media has changed the landscape of our society, both positively and negatively. If you take a blast to the past, say 25 years or so ago, social media was pretty much nonexistent; not even texting had been invented yet. If you wanted to meet new people or build a relationship, you actually had to talk to them. Weird, right? Social media has caused an entire generation to lose sight of the importance of face-to-face interaction. Instead, people hide behind their screens masquerading as who society wants them to be all for the sake of gaining a few extra followers.

And of course, I can’t forget to leave out what I like to call the plague of social media: cyberbullying. Sure, bullying has always been around. But like I mentioned, social media has given people an easy opportunity to have an alternate personality. A lot of times, these personalities are ruthless and hateful. One hateful comment, video or meme can go viral in minutes. Unfortunately, the comments or actions people take through social media cause their targets to feel worthless, depressed and alone. Sometimes, victims even take go as far to to take their lives.

But as in life, there are two sides to every story. The story of social media isn’t all bad; it’s not even mostly bad. A lot of good has come from the evolution of social media. Sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have connected the world it a way that it never has been before. Different people from different cultures find common ground without having met. News outlets share stories with readers without having to wait for the next paper to roll-out. Victims of school shootings establish activist movements that go on to inspire entire nations.

What I find to be the most beautiful aspect of social media, probably seems like the most insignificant. It feels like every time I log on to Facebook or Twitter, I see stories about hope. Whether it’s a friend who finally found their passion after years of searching, or a story of a stranger donating money to hundreds of teachers across their state, those posts show the best of humanity. Sometimes it’s hard to see past all of the terrible things going on in the world. But, social media lets people have a voice and gives them the opportunity to provide hope where all hope might seem lost.

Social Media as a Branding Tool

Like I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of people who use social media as an excuse to be someone they’re not. Social media can be used for the opposite purpose, as well. It’s a fantastic resource when attempting to amplify your personality and build your personal brand. Throughout my PR journey, professors have preached on the importance of personal perception. No matter the business field, employers want to know who they are hiring. What better place to find out than on social media?

While Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Snapchat are outlets for social interaction, it’s always important to keep in mind who might be watching. You know the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Yeah, that doesn’t apply here.  Employers don’t want to associate themselves with candidates who don’t reflect their company’s values or mission. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you’d be ashamed of your grandma seeing it, don’t post it.

Now, this isn’t my slick way of saying you need to be a cookie-cutter professional with no unique personality. That’s boring. Social media gives you the opportunity to show the world who you are and what you want to accomplish in your lifetime. Your personal brand on social media should set you apart by highlighting your values, skills, talents and goals.

Social Media as a Networking Tool

Public relations, much like life, is built on forming and maintaining relationship. That’s why I’m not mystified as to why a strong professional network plays such a large role in successful job or internship searches. You might be thinking, “I have over 500 connections on LinkedIn. I’m good.” I hate to be the one to break it to you, but it doesn’t matter how many connections you have on LinkedIn if no one is willing to advocate for you. So, no. You are not “good.”

Social media in itself is not enough to build a strong network. A strong professional network should be comprised of seasoned professionals who are willing promote your work. But, building connections on LinkedIn is a fantastic way to start. Don’t let that be the end of your story, though. Social media literally puts the world at your fingertips, giving you the ability to connect with millions of professionals around the globe.

Trust me, I understand that taking the first step can be slightly terrifying. When I started marketing myself as a professional, I was hesitant to connect with or reach out to anyone I didn’t personally know. Actually, that’s an understatement. I refused because, honestly, they really drilled “Stranger Danger” into me as a kid. As it turns out, strangers can actually be your allies in the business realm. Everyone has a different path and a different experience. It’s always valuable to reach out, listen to a new story and gain fresh perspective on your work.

When you take a risk, reach out and build a relationship, you’re elevating your personal brand. Your new network of professionals will likely connect with you on more than just LinkedIn; they’ll follow your twitter, instagram and your blog. More importantly, they will read and share your work with prospective employers.

As I continue on my PR journey, and through life, my blog and my social media will embody my values, passions and goals. Social media, like most things in life, is a blessing and a curse. But at the end of the day, its given each and every one of us something that no one can ever take away: a voice.