Social Media for Career Enhancement: An Introduction

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Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series of career tips written by physics todaypartners of the American Institute of Physics Career Network.

These days, many people have at least one social media account. Maybe you use yours to keep in touch with friends or for personal entertainment. But social media can also be a powerful tool to advance your career. This article is a primer for people who are interested in the professional benefits of social media but have limited experience with three widely used platforms: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Before you sign up for Twitter or enter your resume on LinkedIn, decide what you want from your online interactions. If you’re willing to invest the time, social media can help you achieve a variety of professional goals, including:

  • Enrich your professional network.
  • Keep abreast of current developments in your field.
  • Be recognized as an expert in your field.
  • Build collaborations.
  • Transition to a new type of work.
  • Practice succinct communication.
  • Inspire young scientists.
  • Help non-scientists understand your field.

All three platforms are free, although LinkedIn charges for premium features (used primarily by recruiters). Once you have created an account, you can connect with other users. On Facebook and LinkedIn, this requires other people to accept your connection requests. Most content on Twitter is public, so you can follow someone to have their posts or tweets appear in your personal feed.

Depending on your goal, you might want to focus on reading what others post and only occasionally contribute your own, especially at first. It’s a common approach, especially on Twitter, where a 2019 analysis found that around 10% of users are responsible for 80% of content.

Following the right people and organizations can be a great way to familiarize yourself with the social media platform and keep up to date with your field. Many have feeds on all three platforms, and they often cross-post. So pick a platform, find and follow a few people or organizations, and start taking advantage of the wide variety of opportunities to build your professional network and reputation.

Here are some tips for capitalizing on each of the three platforms:

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the only platform designed specifically for tracking professional connections. Your profile starts with the content of your resume or CV, and you can add more details about your professional skills, achievements, etc. (LinkedIn may also suggest additional information to include in your resume.)

On LinkedIn, you can connect with current and former colleagues, classmates, supervisors, and collaborators. You can also join groups that bring together people from the same industry or with common interests. If you indicate in your profile that you are open to job opportunities (check your settings), you may be contacted by recruiters. Many companies will post jobs, and you can follow specific organizations to see their posts and let them know you’re interested in their work.

Twitter

Twitter users post messages with a length limit of 280 characters, which forces brevity. Accounts on Twitter don’t have detailed profiles, just a brief description. Many tweets include a link for more information. Twitter uses an @ symbol before a feed/user name (e.g., @PhysicsToday) or a hashtag (#) before a keyword or phrase that users can click to search for related tweets. Some accounts, including physics today‘s, post jobs and links to career development articles. You can also follow specific scientists, departments and science journalists.

In addition to brevity, one of Twitter’s strengths is immediacy. It is often used for real-time conversations about current events. For example, during a conference, attendees and non-attendees can discuss the presentations as they unfold. Many professional companies create hashtags for their events, such as #APSmars for this week’s March Meeting of the American Physical Society, which you can use to find tweets about events happening at that event, including live chat about presentations and in-person meetups. In addition, sometimes scientists or journalists publish tweets on a complex or controversial issue, which often generates a discussion. Participating in the discussion and adding value can improve your professional reputation.

Facebook

Facebook, in general, is more personal than LinkedIn and Twitter. Many users post information about their family, friends and activities and include photos. For each post, readers can react with an emoji or add a comment. You can use Facebook to connect with former colleagues or classmates and keep in touch. A platform service called Facebook Messenger allows you to send messages directly to other users and organizations. And, like with LinkedIn, you can join groups centered around common themes or interests.

Over the years, Facebook has grown to include pages for organizations and businesses. Many company pages are designed to attract job seekers, and they can be a good way to learn more about company culture and programs – valuable knowledge if you end up interviewing for a job there.

Lisa M. Balbes has been a technical writer and freelance writer with Balbes Consultants LLC for nearly 30 years. She has published over 300 articles on career development for scientists and given over 300 presentations in the United States and abroad. She is the author of Non-Traditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas for Chemistry Careers (Oxford University Press).

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