Social Media Do’s and Don’ts for College Students

Almost all college students are active on social media. If you’re in college, chances are you have at least a Facebook and Twitter account and you may also use Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn or other platforms. These sites are great for both socializing and making potentially valuable connections. However, there are also certain cautions you need to keep in mind. We’ve all heard stories about people who have gotten into serious trouble or even ruined their careers by making social media blunders.

In college, you may not think that there’s as much at stake as there is for, say, a professional athlete, movie star or CEO. In a way, this is true. However, you also have to think about your future. Whether you’re sending out your resume now or are planning to launch your career a few years from now, what you say on social media today may be found by someone in a human resources office. According to one study, more than half of employers search social media when screening job applicants. That’s why you should keep certain guidelines in mind as you enjoy your online social activities.

The Internet Leaves a Permanent Trail

One aspect of the internet, and social media in particular, that even the most tech-savvy people often overlook is that there’s a permanent record of every single thing you post. In some cases, you can delete posts or other content. However, if anyone has already shared it, there still may be copies floating around in cyberspace. In addition, even deleted content leaves a trail that someone doing a thorough search can find. There’s also the fact that most people who use social media use these sites extensively. You probably don’t even remember what you posted a week ago.

What Not to Post

College is a time for fun and socializing in between classes. You may not always be thinking about your future. You should remember, though, that part of the reason you’re in school is to prepare for your career. Today, companies are more and more careful about whom they hire. The internet provides a convenient way to find out facts that job applicants don’t put on their resumes. This can work in your favor or against you.

Suppose you are applying for jobs with conservative companies such as banks and you’re trying to convey a serious and professional image. If you have hundreds of Facebook photos that show you drinking and partying, you’re not going to be helping your cause. If you’ve posted these photos all over Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, it would be hard to track them all down and delete them. Remember also that other people can tag you and post unwanted content to their own social media pages. It’s hard to prevent this all the time. It’s something to think about before you take photos that seem fun in the moment. You can also ask people to be considerate about not tagging you without your permission.

You don’t have to be overly cautious about this. No one expects you to go through college as if it was a convent or monastery. If you appear in a couple of photos from a bar or party, it shouldn’t be a problem. On the other hand, you don’t want a pattern to emerge that makes it look like you spend more time partying than studying. Here’s a summary of what you should avoid or minimize when posting to social media.

  • Situations where drinking alcohol is the dominant activity. A little of this is acceptable, but don’t make it a major part of your identity.
  • Insulting or trolling comments. If you tend to be negative or argumentative online, try to curtail this. No one wants to hire someone with a bad attitude.
  • Negative comments about public figures or companies, especially if you plan to work in that industry. If you want to criticize someone, do so in a reasoned way and avoid personal insults.
  • Excessive profanity.
  • Anything involving illegal drugs. This could be enough to prevent you from getting hired or, if discovered later, get you fired.
  • Sexually explicit photos or videos. Many people have had this type of content come back to haunt them years later.
  • Anything that could be labeled as racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise offensive.

Using Social Media to Help Your Image

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news when it comes to posting on social media. Most of what you post is neutral and will neither help nor harm your reputation. There are certain things that can actually cast you in a more positive light. Here are some of the social media activities that help to build a good reputation.

  • Travel photos. Traveling shows that you’re interested in exploring new places and expanding your horizons. This, of course, doesn’t mean photos from Spring Break or sipping margaritas on the beach in Cancun. Post photos of yourself in front of monuments, artwork, interesting buildings and historical landmarks.
  • Thoughtful comments. With so much emphasis on visuals, it’s still nice to post your thoughts in written form. You don’t have to compose long essays. Jotting down your thoughts on social issues, politics or the meaning of life shows that you have some depth.
  • Intellectually stimulating content. Quotes by well-known writers, scientists, political leaders and others are always good. You might, however, want to authenticate quotes before posting them, as there are many misattributed quotes on the internet these days. Videos of TED Talks and other serious topics help to bolster your image as an intellectual.
  • Interest and hobbies. Employers and graduate schools like well-rounded people. Showing yourself engaging in various activities, such as sports, working in a garden, volunteering, sailing, making art or engaging in other hobbies convey that you have lots of interests.

Have Fun But Pay Attention

The major point to keep in mind is that you should always be conscious about what you post to social media sites. You don’t have to be paranoid about it, unless perhaps you’re planning to run for public office or work for the government. However, you should realize that everything you post contributes, if only in a very small way, to your overall image. When you apply for jobs, graduate school, law or medical school, grants or anything that may involve scrutiny, you don’t want to end up regretting something you posted in a thoughtless moment.