It’s the end of the semester which means that I’ve received what I’ve now come to regard as an end-of-semester tradition: the Facebook friend requests from students who were in my classes.

Since my students are millennials who grew up in the digital era, and since I do spend so much time speaking about social media in my classes, it’s not strange that they should seek me out or otherwise find me on the Internet. Let’s get real: when’s the last time you’ve had someone be a part of your life for any significant period of time and didn’t bother to Google or Facebook them? As I’ve so often said, the Internet is a monstrous facet of the modern era and it’s not going away. We can either embrace it, or be doomed to obsoletion.

This shot of the BPL can, for instance, be found on my Instagram. And yet? I fear it not.

This shot of the BPL can, for instance, be found on my Instagram. And yet? I fear it not.

So yes, I do connect with my students via social media. My twitter feed is public (as is my Instagram, this blog, and most of my Pinterest boards), my Facebook profile has enough security checks on it that I am comfortable with what’s available to the world being public information. If and when students find me, I approve friend requests.

I know that this can cause no small amount of anxiety amongst teachers of any age. I think the vast amount of social media anxiety in regards to one’s students stems from either a lack of understanding about privacy features, or a lack of understanding about digital boundaries.

So let’s discuss how and why I keep my feeds so public.

Social media is an excellent networking resource. I have personally met future employers, kept track of contract employers, and connected people I know who could usefully utilize each others’ talents via Twitter and Facebook (connections which otherwise would have been difficult or impossible to make). I have made a digital portfolio available to potential clients via my Facebook and blog updates (I always make certain to blog or micro-blog from projects to keep this sort of record on hand). If you want the best summary of why I’m the right girl for a job, just spend some time looking at my social media feeds; they’ll tell you how hard-working I am, my relative fields of expertise, and enough about my personality that you’ll know if you want to work with me but not so much that you’ll feel like you’re looking at a tabloid.

It’s important to understand that social media doesn’t have to lay your soul open for the world to see. Social media is, very much, what you make of it. Do I occasionally do and say things which might not be construed as the most professional/that I wouldn’t want my students to find out? You bet I do. I’m human; it comes with the territory. Am I going to discuss those things or even advertise them via the public forums that are my social media feeds? Absolutely not! If I don’t put it on the internet, then it’s not magically out there waiting for someone to find.

I can understand the argument that, sometimes, others will post things to your feed which might hint at previously mentioned not-so-awesome activities and that might keep a working professional from connecting with mentees in cyberspace. This is truly a matter of knowing thy privacy settings. There are ways to ensure that content others post either doesn’t turn up on your public feed, or must be approved before going public. Understanding these options will allay the fear of being exposed in a way that you’re not ready (or willing) to be.

Social media connections are not synonymous with unhealthy mentor/mentee boundaries. In fact, I look at these connections as an extension of my mentorship. In a world of poor Facebook-public decisions, I hope that my students can view my social media feeds as a good example of how to handle a digital persona. After all, how are students meant to understand the best way to build themselves a valuable digital presence if those skills aren’t taught, discussed, or demonstrated to them? This is a teaching opportunity which can assist my students in developing life-skills which will carry them into the job market, far past their careers at the University.

This is not to say that it’s “wrong” to keep your social media feeds private. Everyone has their own comfort level with technology, and that needs to be respected. But just as the choice to maintain a locked-down internet presence is valid, so is the choice to curate a public online persona and to utilize that persona to further enrich the lives of your students.

Tweety Bird

I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about social networking recently.  This has led me to believe that perhaps it’s time for a little chat about social networking… again.  You might recall my series on social networking (and if you don’t, it’s totally worth a read… and not just because I wrote it).  I’m not planning to reiterate everything I said there.  I want to talk about twitter today from a slightly more advanced perspective.  There are plenty of blogs devoted to how to set up twitter and get started; I’d like to pick up where those blogs left off.

So, you have a twitter account.  You have the twitter ap.  What the heck do you do with it now?

Think of twitter as a party.  A large, loud party where everyone is shouting at the top of their lungs and has had a little too much to drink so they’re really only half paying attention to the people around them.  Content posted on twitter is extremely ephemeral; like Dorothy says “people come and go so quickly here”.  Because of the LARGE amount of tweeters most people follow on their twitter feed, and because twitter is so quick and easy to update, content scrolls past on an extremely disposal basis.

The key to successful tweeting, then, is virality.  You’re not on twitter because you think that one tweet will change the world (unless your Lady Gaga who has 41,217,143 followers).  You’re on twitter in the hopes that someone else will retweet your content.

Say you have 208 followers (the average number of twitter followers per user, according to Craig Smith).  You tweet something; say a link to your most recent blog post.  At best, that tweet is seen by 208 people.  But, if one of your followers retweets the link, then you can double your audience with one click.  If two of your followers retweet the link, you’ve effectively tripled your audience.  You can snowball your twitter exposure by tweeting retweetable content on a regular basis.

But what’s retweetable content?  Tweet something that’s provocative.  Tweet something that will start a conversation.  Tweet something inordinately witty.

If you’re looking to get someone’s attention, tag them in the tweet.  For instance, if I’m blogging about large theatre companies, I will often tag them in a tweet with a link to my review.  I know that they have more followers than I do and, if I can get them to retweet my link, my exposure suddenly goes through the roof.

If you’re looking for followers, you need to put some serious thought and effort into cultivating relationships.  Technology enables quick communication, but that doesn’t mean that you should stop being a human presence.  The best way to get others invested in your content is to invest in theirs; when you retweet something add a little comment of your own.  “This is great!” or “very interesting!” shows the person you’re retweeting that you A) read the content, B) enjoyed the content, and C) think it’s worth the little extra time

Instagram has encouraged me to take the kinds of pics that I would normally tweet; like this one for instance of my new desk-Will

Instagram has encouraged me to take the kinds of pics that I would normally tweet; like this one for instance of my new desk-Will

to add a personal flair.  The more you do this, the more likely the effort is to be reciprocal.

Start conversations with people.  This is most easily done through the use of hashtags.  Hashtags, for those not down with the lingo, are those hot-linked words in a tweet preceded by the “#” symbol (i.e. #Shakespeare, #Daniprose, #busyday).  Have a look at the trending hashtags (there’s a list of them on the left of your feed if you scroll down a bit) and see if you can’t get in on that conversation somehow with your content.  Hashtags are an easy way to archive your content in a place where like-minded individuals are most likely to find it.

A common question that I’m asked is “how often should I tweet?”.  The answer to this is more than once a day, for sure.  Again, remember how disposable twitter content is.  The more you tweet, the more likely it is that your content will actually be seen.  The most common argument to this is “well I simply don’t have time”.  Tweets are 150 characters; make time if you want a healthy feed.  Install the twitter ap on your smart phone and tweet while you’re standing in line for coffee.  Take pictures on your commute and tweet that.  Remember that a tweet isn’t a commitment to the content, just a commitment to an aesthetic.  If you’re wondering what you should be tweeting, check out some feeds of large organizations or famous personalities upon whom you’d like to model your web presence.  What kinds of things do they tweet?

If you’re wondering whether you’re hitting your tweeting goals, check out your feed every now and again.  Look, honestly, at the content that you post.  Is it interesting?  Is it something you enjoy reading?  Would you follow you?  If the answer is “no”, try to determine why.  Too many retweets without added commentary?  Not enough frequency?  Or is this just not the kind of person you would associate with?  Objectively examining your social networking feeds on a regular basis is a healthy practice; you need to know how you come off if you’re looking to improve your web presence!

So tweet away, tweet-verse; experiment!  Grow, prosper!  Now, gods, stand up for tweeters!

Reputation, Reputation, Reputation!

Alright, so you’ve done some thinking about the cardinal rules of the internet.  You have an understanding of social networking platforms.  Now you need to figure out who you want to be online.

No, seriously, that’s really important.

The internet persona is the projected image of yourself that you put on the internet.  Through a combination of social media, blogging, and strategic web page contributions, you can curate an online presence which projects a very specific image of who you are.  This image can have as much (or little) to do with reality as you deem appropriate for your chosen objective.

These days, curating an online presence is an extension of creating a marketable resume.  Because trust me, one of the first thing your potential employer is going to do when your resume hits her desk is google your name.  So what is she going to find there?  Pictures of you making stupid life choices in your undergrad, or information to support the notion that you’re a responsible and respected professional in your chosen field?

This is the first image that pops up in google when you search my name (that's because it's my google+ profile pic); know how your networking effects your search results.

This is the first image that pops up in google when you search my name (that’s because it’s my google+ profile pic); know how your networking effects your search results.

Now.  This isn’t to say that you can’t have multiple online personas (you can); you will just need to be extremely careful at the personal information you share with each social networking platform (and keep clever track of your online dossiers).  Often times, even if your full name or e-mail isn’t available in a public profile, it can still be linked via meta-data to whatever network you are currently using.  So if you want to do the alter ego thing, you really need to be on top of who you are where and what your privacy settings look like at each port of call.

Personally, I think it’s just easier to keep my digital nose clean.  My job is the biggest extension of my personality anyway, and often the quirky personal details that I use to spiff up this blog, my twitter feed, and certainly my facebook lend credence to my framing argument: hire me because I’m passionate, knowledgeable, and (literally) live for this.

I do realize that I’m a special case.  I happen to love my chosen vocation and, even if I wasn’t getting paid to do it, I’d still be involved with it.  You can take the girl out of the theatre, but you can’t take the theatre out of the girl.  Additionally, theatre (and academia) are both life-devotions rather than professions.  I don’t have regular set hours, I am basically on-call all the time, and I never really “walk away” or leave my work “at work” because there’s actually no way to.  I will always be thinking about my research.  I will always be grinding on my next project.  My brain doesn’t compartmentalize very well.

Even if you function under more conventional rules of “work”, you should consider your web presence to be an extension of your professional self.  What qualities does your industry require to be the most successful in it?  What personal flair do you bring to a project?  What does your industry value in a worker?

This is not to say that your online persona should be a robot-you single-mindedly programmed to do nothing but work; far from it.  Your online persona should be personable; human.  Just a human built to do the job that you want to do.

Does your industry require tenacity?  Straightforwardness?  Verve?  What is it that makes people want to work with you in your industry?  What can you offer to a project that no one else can?  If you can figure out how to answer these questions, you can begin to craft a persona that exhibits these qualities.

Where would someone in your industry be expected to hang out?  Do in their free time?  Think about how your leisure activities reflect upon your human aspects (for instance: you will notice an inordinate number of tweets on my feed about going to the library, grading, and otherwise working on things…. That’s by design, folks).  What are the kinds of things that someone in your industry would be expected to notice from the places you go?  The

I am, for instance, the type who takes pictures of beautiful libraries (yes, this is a public library)

I am, for instance, the type who takes pictures of beautiful libraries (yes, this is a public library)

architecture?  The marketing potential?  Find a way to cleverly insert your observations into your tweets, facebook posts, instagram pics.

Social networking is a careful game of show and tell.  You assemble the pieces of a puzzle to resemble what you want to show people.  Sometimes, one piece out of place can get glossed over (perhaps one less-than-appropriate tweet).  Sometimes, the egregiousness of an already problematic infraction multiplies into proportions which swallow the rest of your public image (see: the recent Steven Taylor Twitter racism scandal http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/steven-taylor-could-charged-fa-6310354 ).  But this shouldn’t be a problem for you since you’re following rule one of the internet, right?  RIGHT?

Know Thy Platforms

One size does not fit all with social networking.  While it’s true that anything put on the internet becomes public domain, you should always keep in mind the forum which you are using.  Different platforms lend themselves to different kinds of information sharing (and different degrees of privacy).  Here are the ones I use and here are some general tips about using them:

Platform: Twitter

Privacy options: nominal; Twitter is the most public (and the most viral) of social networking.  Since re-tweeting is so easy and micro-blogs published via twitter are so digestible, a single tweet can travel pretty far.  Additionally, without toggling the one privacy option (you can opt to “protect your tweets” and only show them to approved followers, not allow them to be retweeted, and bar them from being crawled by google), your feed is visible to everyone, whether they follow you or not.

Ephemerality:  Since twitter is so easy to update, information appears and disappears

Twitter also encourages me to take shots like this so I can tweet them at the University.  Look at the campus being gorgeous and autumny!

Twitter also encourages me to take shots like this so I can tweet them at the University. Look at the campus being gorgeous and autumny!

quickly via this platform.  It’s extremely easy for a tweet to get buried in a busy feed (unless it’s been re-shared many times over in which case you’re relying upon virality to keep the information available rather than any platform-supported permanence).

 Contribution to your web presence: HUGE.  Since google crawls and re-crawls twitter, frequent tweeting can help to boost your SEO (google my name for example and see how high my twitter profile is on the hit-list; as well as how many items there are twitter influenced).

Things I generally use it for: witty one-liners, quick news updates, sharing pictures, publicizing blog posts, interesting links, networking at events (it’s a lot easier to connect with someone when you have an established twitter rapport than if you’re going in cold).

Things I never use it for: extremely personal items (my students actively follow me on twitter), reproducing unpublished work (my own or another’s; this is particularly important to remember when live-tweeting conference papers)

 Guiding analogy: Posting on twitter is like yelling something into a room crowded with all of your friends, family, coworkers, and potential future bosses: you never know what portion of it they will hear so you’d better keep it safe and interesting.

Platform: Facebook

Privacy options: Some.  You can adjust who sees which sections of your profile by way of creating lists and jiggering your privacy options.  For instance; only certain subsets of my friends lists can see pictures I am tagged in; I keep some status updates semi-public (available to the lists I specify).  This does require a time devotion because you need to go through and listify your five hundred something previous friends, but once you’ve set this up it require relatively little maintenance.

Ephemerality:  Medium.  Due to facebook’s constantly changing news list sort algorithm, only certain things will appear in certain feeds.  That being said, once they’re up those pictures last FOREVER.  I would highly recommend that you keep particularly your photographic facebook presence highly guarded, and highly professional.  If you have any silly shots of yourself that you want to post, make sure that you figure out who you really want to give access to before you post them.

Contribution to your web presence: some; it won’t readily pop up in a google search (especially if you have a lot of other things there), but it’s definitely a way to establish a digital network.

Things I generally use it for: Neat links, sharing pictures, status updates that are longer than 150 characters, crowd-sourcing casual queries (“hey guys, who studied at X actor training institution and what did you think?”), interacting with the latest news or buzzfeeds, contacting individuals without having to acquire their cell numbers and/or opening an e-mail client (really useful at conferences).

pictures like this should probably be locked down.  You know; the ones that are silly but maybe not 100% professional... unless you're a fight director in which case it's your job to play with arms and armor (see?  See what I did there?)

pictures like this should probably be locked down. You know; the ones that are silly but maybe not 100% professional… unless you’re a fight director in which case it’s your job to play with arms and armor (see? See what I did there?)

Things I never use it for: personal items that I am not comfortable sharing with a roomful of friends (and I am ALWAYS careful when I share personal items via the internet anyway because you just never know who will wind up seeing them), public messages which should be private (“Dear Housemate, let me passive aggressively post a status about something you did which bugs me so that all my (and your) friends can see it and judge you for it rather than talking to you directly like a reasonable human being”), news which I’m not ready to go viral (I have a short list of people that I tell big news items to before posting them on facebook).

 Guiding analogy: Posting on facebook is like whispering something in a sorority house; no matter how you modulate your voice or how many promises of privacy you wring from the recipient, the information is undoubtedly going to be given to everyone around you in a matter of days whether you want people to know it or not.

Platform: Instagram

Privacy options: Nominal.  You can have one of two profiles: very public (default), or private (which means that only approved followers can see and follow your posts).

 Ephemerality:  Reasonably permanent.  Instagram photos are crawled by google which

Instagram has also, unfortunately, made me the kind of person who takes pictures of my beer.

Instagram has also, unfortunately, made me the kind of person who takes pictures of my beer.

means that they are almost impossible to get rid of.  You can delete them purposefully, but once they’re out there they’re really out there.

 Contribution to your web presence: Nominal.  Even though my instagram account is linked to my full name, it barely registers on google searches (even google image searches).

Things I generally use it for: Pictures.  Duh.  Instagram is, honestly, rather new to me.  I mostly use it to get my artiste kicks out (and because I’ve recently become obsessed with the iPhone 5’s photography capabilities).

Things I never use it for: Pictures that are criminal/inappropriate, anything I would take issue with being projected on a wall behind me while I was giving a conference paper.  I don’t tend to post pictures of myself (simply because I see my instagram feed as an art project rather than a vanity project), but I wouldn’t have a particular objection to someone posting pictures of me so long as they were reasonably professional.

Guiding analogy: Posting on Instagram is like leaving your photo album on the table of a popular doctor’s office; you have no idea who is going to look, but you’d better not put anything in there that you regret.

Platform: Blogging

 Privacy options: Depends on your platform; if you use a pre-made blogging service (like livejournal), you can lock it down pretty easily.  However, if you’re using an independently operated blog, the general idea is for it to be a public forum.

Ephemerality:  Extremely permanent.  You always have the option to take down or hide posts which aren’t working for some reason, but really consider that whatever you put up there is going to be a lasting record until either you or your blog service choose to remove it.

Contribution to your web presence: Huge; especially if you’re a regular/frequent blogger.  Google crawls and re-crawls sites according to an algorithm that fluctuates based on many factors (among these are the instances of new content with each crawl).  Essentially, if google’s spider finds that your site is different on this crawl than on its last crawl, it will flag the next crawl to occur at a shorter interval then the last one.  In short: content makes SEO.  Update regularly, update frequently, and don’t update with identical information.

Things I generally use it for: If you are reading this, you don’t need glasses.

Things I never use it for: Extremely personal information (seeing a trend here?), actually generally personal information (I keep things here well within a crafter persona… more on that in the next post of this series), things that deviate from my theme (that theme being graduate school, Shakespeare, and theatre in general; sometimes divulging into what it’s like to be a woman in academia).

 Guiding analogy: Posting a blog is like keeping a diary in a public-access library: it’s there whenever for whomever to pick up and read, and it’s going to last until someone tears out or burns up a page.

I am purposefully leaving Pinterest off this list.  While I know that it’s technically social networking, to me pinterest has always seem like a time-kill or video game rather than anything else.  Also, I still don’t understand my pinterest privacy options, so I’d have a hard time explaining them to you.  Just stick to the general rules of the internet and you’ll be fine.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series: developing and cultivating an online persona.


The Internet and You

As a child of the computer age, I have been extremely fortunate in that many useful skills have come naturally to me.  Among these are social media skills; twitter, blogging, facebook utilization, keeping connected with my fellow man via technology and using these connections to expand my network in person.

But I know that I’m one of the lucky ones.  I actively work with (and have in the past worked with) both organizations (large and small) and individuals who don’t understand how to properly harness and utilize the full functionality of these tools.  Because of my experience, I’ve had the opportunity to explain these things to these powers/people and to demonstrate, through example, how social media can work in their favor.

You do this long enough and you begin to see some trends.  This combined with some recent incidents in my personal life have spurred me to action.  It’s come to my attention that perhaps the internet should come with a how-to guide.  Things which seem like common understanding are not always all that common.

Posting things on the internet can be like letting someone read your work over your shoulder; be careful what's on your screen.

Posting things on the internet can be like letting someone read your work over your shoulder; be careful what’s on your screen.

So I’ve decided to pen this series on how to better manage your social media and general internet presence.

Let’s start with the disclaimer and the most basic rule of the internet: the internet is a public forum.  No matter how private you think something may be, posting it on the internet in any form is akin to waving it from atop a billboard in Times Square.  Once it’s out there, consider it permanent.  Unless you have a very thorough understanding of the privacy options available to you (and the methods utilized by search engines when crawling for content), you really can’t know what might or might not make it back to what eyes.  Even if you can’t think of current personal stakes, consider this: often times, a google search is part of a job interview.  Do you really want to jeopardize your career for the sake of a series of questionable photographs which seemed so cool and soooo important for your friends to see in one blissfully irreverent moment?  Before you post: think.

Here are some things that it is never under any circumstances appropriate to post: complaints about your boss/co-workers (talk about an HR nightmare), information about yourself or your personal life that you wouldn’t be comfortable sharing in a roomful of strangers (some of whom may, at some point, be interviewing you for a job), passive-aggressive notes to people actually involved in your life (particularly: significant others, room-mates, coworkers, bosses), serious threats (I’ve certainly been known to twitter-bash starbux line-cutter guy, but since tone doesn’t convey itself well over the internet, you need to be careful about this; stick to innocuous things and life situations relatable to a general audience).

My basic rule is this: if I wouldn’t be comfortable with something being brought up at a job interview, it doesn’t go on the internet.

In the interest of keeping my posts here digestible, I’m going to break things down a bit.  Now that I’ve outlined the stakes of the issue, stay tuned for posts on the various social networking platforms and how they can be used, developing an internet persona, and further discussion of the internet and you.