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Digital personal branding: four tips that can lead students to professional success

In today’s technologically advanced society, many students have built a digital personal brand prior to applying to university using popular social media platforms. Growing up with unlimited access to technology has allowed our newest generation to not only benefit from self-directed learning but also establish a social network and remain digitally and globally connected by staying attached to their phones. Nowadays, building and maintaining a social network by developing a presence on social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook has become the norm for many students and has now advanced into a business platform that allows them to display their professional brand and entrepreneurial spirit beyond platforms such as LinkedIn.

The following are tips that educators can use as a guide to help students cultivate their digital personal brand to prepare them for a professional future beyond higher education.

  1. Understand 'the brand'

Making the transition from high school to university can be a very overwhelming experience. As university students try to adapt to a new environment and create a balance between building social capital and exploring different majors, the focal point of their digital personal brand should begin to shift to reflect their passion, personality and newly acquired skill sets. At this stage in their educational careers, students who have grown up in a digital age need to learn how to use technology beyond what has now become the norm, which is social networking and generating the most 'Likes'.

Learning how to establish a digital platform to market themselves on a professional level is essential. Sharing who they are and what they have to offer prospective employers and/or showcasing personal opportunities for their businesses can lead to visibility and building a network that leads to professional success. Personal branding is an evolving process that varies from one student to the next based upon personal interest and life experiences. Hence, students need to understand that throughout their educational journey they may be required to tweak their personal brand from time to time, which may include deleting inappropriate photos or posts, friends, certain groups, or the account altogether.

  1. Realising your passion: connecting to your purpose

University students typically explore new opportunities and face new challenges in their daily lives. These encounters can lead to a process of discovery that propels students to consider asking themselves the following questions: “What am I passionate about?” “What do I enjoy doing” and “What steps do I need to take to achieve my goal?” Questions such as these are important elements that motivate students to do some self-reflection that allows them to connect to their purpose and cultivate their brand. Oftentimes, addressing these key factors enables students to make choices that result in pursuing pathways that make them happy. Furthermore, ultimately realising that it is not always about the amount of money you make, but more so your sense of fulfilment and personal satisfaction in what you have chosen to do. Therefore, it is critical for university students to develop some direction and avoid moving around aimlessly. With guidance from academic advisers or mentors sooner in their university careers, students can bypass a delay in accomplishing their academic goals, earning a degree, and pursuing their passion.

  1. Self-confidence: be comfortable with who you are

In addition to helping university students figure out what truly makes them happy, they need to recognise and understand their strengths and weaknesses. Being comfortable in your own skin can be stimulating for some students and arduous for others. However, when a weakness or lack of ability in their eyes can easily be transformed to a strength with a little insight from more experienced professionals, it can result in an increase in confidence and overall performance.

For this reason, students should be encouraged to seek feedback from the career centres at their institutions, as well as academic advisers, instructors, and experts in the field so they can reap the benefits of their efforts in the long run. Once a student has the ability to identify their own strengths and weaknesses, they should also learn how to emphasise the soft skills (i.e. work ethic, communication, problem solving and interpersonal skills) they have mastered, as well as the experiences acquired in professional opportunities (i.e. highlighting internships, study abroad, research, and work study) on their digital platforms that can potentially increase their chances to excel.

  1. Knowing your audience may require change

Staying true to yourself is crucial. While identifying and embracing your passion are a necessity, maintaining a certain level of humility and knowing when modifications are necessary is just as important. Many future professional opportunities will implore students to consider their audience. As a student’s audience fluctuates from a social to a more professional network depending on the market they are seeking to attract, making adjustments to digital platforms may be required. Consequently, students will be faced with determining whether or not to separate personal social media platforms from professional platforms and/or reduce the number of social media accounts overall because maintaining and cleaning-up various accounts can be demanding and tedious.

Finally, speaking to university students about academic choices is fundamental. At the same time, taking the time to actively engage students in discussions about their future careers by addressing their digital platform experiences in the present is also vital to preparing them for success beyond higher education. The result will be students who gain a better understanding of the digital space that occupies so much of their time in and out of the classroom, and the ability to instinctually make modifications as deemed necessary, which can later lead to professional success.

Melissa Cheese is an Assistant Professor of Reading at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.

Diamante Logan is an Assistant Buyer for Tommy Hilfiger.

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