It probably comes as little surprise that a 2018 CareerBuilder survey revealed 70% of employers research current and prospective employees using social media. What might be surprising is the fact that 57% of those employers decided not to hire based on what they found. Beyond the obvious reasons, like posting offensive content, nearly half said they were less likely to interview someone who didn't have an online presence.
The good news is, a strong social media brand that clearly demonstrates communication skills, expertise, or simply presents a genuine reflection of your personality, can help you land the interview. It has also been shown to help self-employed individuals gain clients and can even lay the groundwork for a small business launch or the promotion of a personal project. Four UC San Diego Extension experts—a marketing pro, a digital communication specialist, a successful independent contractor, and a program manager—weigh in on how to craft an online brand that will set you apart.
Find your niche
Sharon Camarero is a marketing professional, and though she doesn't use her online presence specifically for her professional life, she has drawn on the principles of niche marketing to ensure her content stands out.
"After I got married and moved to San Diego, I took some time off work to start a new chapter in my life. I had some free time on my hands, so I decided to start sharing tips for getting healthy, staying in shape, and being a good housewife," Camarero explained on her Instagram account @shayafitmom. "I like to learn and improve myself, and I enjoy sharing with other people so they can learn something new from what I have been learning myself. Now my friends and people who follow me reach out when they need advice on topics I post about on social media."
Camarero feels that the two most vital elements of growing an audience are consistency and finding your niche.
"Share things that are within your topic of interest. For example, since I usually post about well-being, I won't suddenly post something about art because people who follow me are not interested in hearing about art from me; they want to hear about well-being. That's why they followed me to begin with."
Be relevant and visible
Most important of all is to be authentic, Camarero said.
"People who follow you are following a lot of people similar to you, so you need to keep being you and have your own personality. When you share something, it will be genuine, and your followers will not have seen it before. When that content turns out to be interesting, new or funny enough to catch your audience's attention, that's when you will get the shares and your channel will have increased relevancy."
Ron Weber has 23 years of digital marketing specialization with specific expertise in using online platforms to drive measurable outcomes for businesses.
"I've had the benefit of 'being there' when each of these platforms launched," Ron said. "And I have come across a number of people who were scared about signing up and being active. Those people have, frankly, been left behind."
Ron feels that one of the most valuable aspects of building an online presence is that it keeps you relevant and visible.
Don't be creepy
"Being active has kept my name in front of a number of folks who would have otherwise forgotten about me," he said. "I post on Facebook regularly, even hold a Friday music poll that garners hundreds of responses. I post on LinkedIn several times a week. I've had former colleagues, peers and friends send over business leads, job referrals and introductions to others that have helped me grow my network. It's the gift that keeps on giving."
In his expert opinion, there are a few rules one should follow when posting. "One: Be helpful. Two: Be visible. Three: Don't be creepy," he explained. "All are of equal importance, but if I had to choose one over the other, it's that you must be visible. If you post infrequently, the chances of being seen are low. Being helpful is the currency of social media, and being of service will benefit you and your audience in the long run. Not being creepy…well...that speaks for itself."
Enjoy what you post
Since consistency is key, you need to enjoy what you post. "Keep posting and stay active only because you love to, and any benefits that come your way, as a result, are icing on the cake."
Whether posting for your personal or professional accounts, Ron's advice is the same.
"Be you no matter what platform you post to," he said. "People can smell a fake, and your authentic voice needs to carry through regardless of platform or purpose."
Ron teaches the essentials of SEO & Content Marketing at UC San Diego Extension for those who want to learn to post like a professional.
"My class focuses on matching a goal and the content to your audiences—providing the right content to the right audience at the right time," he said. "Social media is a part of the distribution channel mix. We discuss social media at length and the many reasons why folks need to consider growing a better presence to be successful in digital marketing overall."
Start now. Stay consistent.
Rafa Lombardino is a certified translator and UC San Diego Extension instructor who decided to build her online presence about a decade into her career. After finishing her translation and interpretation certificate at UC San Diego Extension, she passed an English-to-Portuguese translation exam and wanted to stay connected to the American Translators Association.
"Being active online has helped me a lot these past 14 years," she explained. "I got to meet several translators and interpreters while attending ATA conferences and other professional events, and because of social media, I was able to stay in touch with these peers, who often recommend me for work they cannot do themselves, since they get to see what it is that I do and what I'm good at when I post on social media."
The key to her success online has been consistency. "I create a lot of content and share news and information about the industry that is relevant to my target audience, that is, translation clients who may hire my services, peers who may recommend me for a project, and translators who can take advantage of my educational materials," she said. "By consistently sharing this kind of information, I have been able to organically stand out from the crowd in my niche."
Give followers something to do!
She feels it is important to always stay on-brand. "It's a good idea to always have your target audience in mind while posting to social media, whether professionally or personally, because your posts can help you land or lose a project. Clients and peers are always watching."
She has also found that it is important to give followers something to do. "I use calls to action when offering educational content so that translators can sign up for my classes or buy a copy of my book, Tools and Technology in Translation, which is a companion to my UC San Diego Extension class of the same name."
LinkedIn is mandatory
If you're going to be an independent contractor, whether in translation or any other service-based industry, digital platforms are your most powerful tool.
"I wanted to raise awareness of the fact that you need to be easy to find online, so clients can come to you. I tell students and peers that, above all, they must have a "virtual office" where clients can reach them. A professional website is the best way to do that because it shows that you're committed to your occupation and developing your career.
LinkedIn is mandatory, of course, because it's where you'll have your resume available for viewing. Apart from that, having a Facebook page, Instagram account, and Twitter handle where you share professional information is also great for engaging with your target audience."
For students in her Tools and Technology in Translation course, hands-on digital development is required. "We spend an entire week creating a professional profile online―whether on social media or online job boards dedicated to translation, interpretation or freelancers."
Help customers find you
For Angela Miller, program manager for the UCSD Extension Lean Six Sigma programs, social media is also an essential business tool.
"I've been active on LinkedIn for over ten years, starting with my time overseeing continuing education programs at another university," she said. "For marketing purposes, it's a free way for getting our information out there, and it has become hugely important to the success of the program. Whenever we ask students how they heard about our classes, two-thirds say 'word of mouth,' and LinkedIn is the modern-day version of that."
Beyond the initial marketing of the program, Miller feels that the digital community her courses offer is also a huge selling point.
"For students in our program, they are gaining access to connections with 400 to 500 past graduates and board members. And program instructors, like Elisabeth Swan, Tracy O'Rourke, and Ric Van Der Linden engage beyond the classroom and create an inclusive, welcoming environment online where students and alum can interact," she said.
Make meaningful connections
Miller also uses the platform for her own personal networking.
"I've found that a brief in-person connection can be extended exponentially when you connect online, and folks recall who to return to when they are ready for their training needs," she said. "I've always enjoyed attending and exhibiting at conferences and have found that LinkedIn offers an amazing way to stay engaged with folks that you meet. I continue to DM (direct message) and connect with people who I met years ago."
Her only word of warning?
"Don't think of making LinkedIn connections like handing out business cards. It is more important to make meaningful connections," Miller said. "Instead of sending mass invitations, send a direct message to let your potential connection know why you are reaching out, whether it is someone you met in person or someone who's interests or values align with your own."
Wondering where to get started? All four experts agree that the best platform to use is the one you will use consistently.
If you are more visual, try starting with Instagram. Wordsmith? Try Twitter. Down-to-business? Explore the world of LinkedIn. Love videos and music? Jump on TikTok. Better yet, dabble in every platform you can until you find the one that feels most comfortable and start posting content that reflects your unique perspective on the world.