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Understanding your sector
Understanding your sector

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4 Using social media and presenting yourself online

Described image
Figure 6

Have you ever googled yourself just to see what comes up? Unless you are frequently in the news, it’s likely that if you are a user of Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter it is these references that will be top of the list. Your use of social media will be reflected in your digital footprint. This means that people who don’t know you might be able to find you fairly quickly online through just a few searches.

There are a couple of important implications of this. Firstly, you will also be able to find many other people by using the same techniques, including people with whom you might wish to network. Secondly, if people do locate your online profile, you should consider exactly what they will think of this. Does your Facebook page give the right impression about you or does it let you down in some way?

Most social media work on the basis of connections. You may have heard of the concept of ‘six degrees of separation’ (Wikipedia, 2021), which reflects the notion that anyone on the planet can be connected to anyone else through six or fewer personal connections. Whether or not this is true, it remains the case that social media connect us in ways that would have astonished previous generations.

In early 2016, Facebook calculated that its users were separated by an average of 3.57 steps. On Twitter the average is slightly more at 4.67 steps. The professional networking site, LinkedIn, describes its members’ connections as:

  • 1st-degree – People you’re directly connected to because you’ve accepted their invitation to connect, or they’ve accepted your invitation.
  • 2nd-degree – People who are connected to your 1st-degree connections.
  • 3rd-degree – People who are connected to your 2nd-degree connections.
(Source: LinkedIn, 2021)

This all means that the people you need to know might be closer than you think!


We’d like you to concentrate on LinkedIn, as this is a dedicated professional network with than 770 million users rather than a social network like Facebook. At its most basic, you can use LinkedIn to connect with other people that you know professionally and to keep in touch with them, but it is worth exploring whether it has any other uses that would allow you to network more proactively.

At the root of the system are the many millions of personal profiles that users have placed on the system about their jobs and careers, their qualifications, their skills and interests, and their colleagues’ endorsements and recommendations. These provide the bedrock of the system and your professional presence online is one that you can control and update whenever you wish. The profiles are the reason why employers are also interested in having a presence on LinkedIn; it allows them to keep in touch with many potential employees, clients and customers.

LinkedIn can also help you to research career paths by joining professional interest groups where you can post comments and discuss topics of mutual interest with others. By doing so, you will establish a professional presence on LinkedIn that may gain you credibility with other users. This will help you if you then decide that you would like to connect with these people for networking purposes. Many of these groups are connected to, or even organised by, the kind of professional and vocational bodies that you looked at in Week 4.

In addition, LinkedIn allows you to find out about companies that you are interested in. By searching on a company name, you can access statistics and other useful information including job vacancies, and by following a particular company, you can receive updates including job notifications. Conversely, employers, job agencies and headhunters can use LinkedIn to search for suitable applicants for their job vacancies.

LinkedIn also has a news feature that allows you to keep up with the latest developments within your industry or sector. These often take the form of emails from LinkedIn containing news about the contacts and companies that you might be following. You have control over these features so you can manage the type and frequency of these messages. There are new features and functions being added to the platform all the time so it’s worth keeping up to date with these.

Activity 6 Exploring LinkedIn

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

If you are not already using LinkedIn, spend a few minutes thinking about the potential uses of the following features that it contains. If you are a user, then consider how you might use it more effectively. When was the last time you updated your profile, for example?

Table 2 Using LinkedIn effectively
LinkedIn feature Potential use/more effective use

Professional profile

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Professional groups/networks

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Company profiles

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News updates

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If you are not already using LinkedIn, then why not try it out to explore how it might help you to connect with others in the interests of your career progression? If you are already a member, then think carefully about how you can use such social media more proactively in order to get the most out of it.

While LinkedIn is not the only network available, it is the biggest professional network specifically designed for career planning and progression purposes. Other platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be used, to some extent, in a similar way to make connections, to follow people or organisations, or to keep up to date with news and developments.

On these sites, however, it is important that you manage your online presence and reputation. In particular, as so much of the information you put online is publicly available, you should think twice before posting material, photographs for example, that you would hesitate to share with an employer. You may argue that your private and professional lives are separate but others may not see things this way and may judge you on this basis.

There is research to indicate that many employers use social media to check applicants’ profiles before making job offers. So you should ensure that nothing that exists online about you – those fun photos from your last holiday in Ibiza, perhaps – is likely to make an employer reconsider their decision. This is equally important if you are contacting an employer for information or seeking advice from someone. Make sure that there are no skeletons in the online cupboard!