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Presence on social media balancing act for students

Chandler Wright

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When Sarah Papadelias started graduate school at the University of Florida after graduating from The University of Alabama in 2012, she said she didn’t anticipate worrying about the evaluation of her social media accounts as a part of her second-year coursework and, potentially, bar exam.

“I have now been in two classes that require an active social media presence as part of your grade. One for my journalism graduate program and one for law school,” Papadelias said. “I’m not sure if they look at social media profiles prior to admission, but I know [now] that the law school, as well as the Florida Bar, will factor in social media behavior when assessing your character in order to pass the bar.”

Papadelias said she created a separate Twitter account for her class but that she also wanted to build a social media reputation separate from her personal Twitter account, particularly when considering the possibility of the Florida Bar consulting her accounts.

(See also “Facebook, social media warrant occasional breaks“)

“I didn’t want to start professionally tweeting from my personal Twitter and have my followers sift through things that I may not necessarily want clients or my colleagues to see when looking at what I do professionally,” Papadelias said. “People may argue that professional accounts seem ‘forced’ or ‘fake,’ but that’s the overwhelming societal expectation when it comes to your online presence. They don’t want to see the partying or the Instagram photos. I believe that setting up a solely professional social media presence is a great habit to get into. As a professional, it’s going to get you into a lot less trouble if you start an account with a ‘professional’ persona in mind.”

Although Papadelias was encouraged to create a separate professional account, Suzanne Horsley, associate professor of advertising and public relations, did not advocate for separate personal and professional accounts, but instead emphasized the importance of professionalism on social media.

“I don’t believe in separate accounts for professional and personal use. For one, employers will probably find both, and it will just make you look inconsistent or, worse, like you are trying to hide something,” she said “Social networks allow you to create your own personal brand, so why mess it up by trying a Jekyll and Hyde approach to managing multiple accounts? Be truthful and be professional while devoting your time to building your personal brand.”

Max Heine, editorial director for Overdrive magazine at Randall-Reilly, however, said Randall-Reilly does not use social media as a major role for hiring.

“It’s not a big factor for us. It just varies. We look more for experience, speaking for editorial jobs,” Heine said. “You know we look at just what people have done, which may or may not involve an emphasis on social media.”

(See also “Athletes should not have to apologize for voicing opinions on social media“)

When consulting social media, though, Heine said the hiring team looks at how an applicant’s engagement with social media might assist in the position they’re applying for.

“Well, again, just speaking editorially, we might be looking at just the quality of the writing or any kind of apparent engagement with whoever might be visiting their site,” he said. “Just generally the quality of what they are doing whether it’s photography or video and their familiarity with that particular medium.”

Horsley said while she regularly consults social media when considering potential interns or research partners, she also uses it when asked to write a recommendation for a student.

“I also check social networks before I write letters of recommendation for my students and advisees,” Horsley said. “I need to know what the employer is going to find out before I decide to recommend that student.”

Horsley said students should not view their social media accounts exclusively as expressions of their personality or beliefs.

“Social media is also [an outlet] for expression of who you are as a contributing member of society,” Horsley said. “You have to expect that anything you post on social media, or that others post of you, will be public, regardless of any privacy settings you have used.”

Despite the recent creation of her professional Twitter, Papadelias said if she was hiring, she would not consult social media.

“In most instances, it feels like an invasion of privacy. What you can normally turn up on social media reflects people’s personal habits in a way that I don’t think would jeopardize work or school,” Papadelias said. “Otherwise, I think that this stigma that we’ve placed on your ‘online reputation’ may be a little too much. You can’t edit everything you do in your personal life, and I don’t believe you should feel pressured to.”

(See also “Professors wary of sharing social media with students“)

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Presence on social media balancing act for students