This past summer, I was introducing myself to someone at a networking event, and after saying my name she asked “Will Vaughan as in @willvaughan on Twitter”? I stood there, mouth slightly agape and eyes wide before mumbling some sort of affirmative reply. For the first time that I can remember (outside of family friends who squeeze my cheek and reminisce over how tiny I was the last time they saw me), someone knew who I was before I met her in person. While it’s always been a conceited fantasy of mine for this to happen when meeting someone new, I had never really expected someone to know me from Twitter. Who knew people were actually reading the beautiful bits of prose I’ve scattered across the web?
Over the past few months I’ve started going to more and more technology and entrepreneurial networking events around Boston, and at almost all of them my name tag has said @willvaughan. You could still swap business cards when you meet someone you want to connect with later on, but they often stay forgotten in your wallet, replaced by an instant Twitter-follow from your smartphone. The MassTLC unConference I went to this week even had a custom app that listed everyone at the conference and sent an automatic tweet to each person I’d just met.
While Twitter has taken the tech community by storm, it still suffers from a lack of recognition and use in the general population. Whenever I try to convert friends to Twitter I get the age old “why would I want to see what people are eating for breakfast” response. While I may be guilty of the occasional #breakfasttweet (how can one not share his child-like excitement over finding toaster strudels in the freezer?), Twitter has much more to offer than silly messages about your day.
The easiest and most popular way to use Twitter is to keep up to date with people and concepts that are important to you. Want breaking news? Follow @cnnbrk. Is knitting more your style? Hit up @knitting for links to cool knitting supplies. Want to get a message every time there’s a new entrepreneurial networking event in Boston? @GreenhornBoston has you covered. Whatever your interest might be, you can guarantee that people and organizations are tweeting about it. (wefollow.com<http://wefollow.com> is a great place to get started).
And you could take it one step further by sharing your own thoughts and ideas with the entire world in under a minute. Have a new article published in a super cool campus magazine that you’d like friends and potential professionals to know about, for instance? Just compose a new tweet and hit send. #theobserveristhebest.
Above all, I’ve found Twitter to be a fantastic way to make a mark on the Internet and start creating an online presence, which could be a real asset in the job hunt. By default, your tweets, who you follow, and the people who follow you are all public. This creates a fairly detailed picture of what interests you and who you like to interact with. While this may seem intimidating or invasive, you can use it to your advantage. By choosing who to follow, you can generate a public page that not only acts as a profile detailing your skills and interests, but also serves as a mini blog, where people can read what you have to say and see what you believe is worth sharing. And here’s where the most unique aspect of Twitter comes in. With nearly everyone on Twitter using a public profile, you can have informal dialogue with people and professionals who would normally be entirely inaccessible.
For me, Twitter has been indispensable in staying abreast of the fast-paced changes in the tech, design, and entrepreneurship communities. With @LadyGaga recently becoming the first person to reach 15 million followers, Twitter is clearly not just for geeks like me. But where does one go to directly connect with professionals and actively participate in discussions about a particular field—to stay linked in, if you will, to what’s happening in your professional community?
Remember in High School when you found out that your favorite (or not so favorite) teacher was on MySpace and/or Facebook and all you wanted to do was add them, but it was pretty taboo and would just create a weird situation in class the next day if you tried? Well, fret no longer because now you can add them on LinkedIn. Instead of nerdy or creepy, it’ll make you look proactive and professional. I originally signed up for LinkedIn the summer after my freshman year. I registered, filled out my resume with my previous work experience, and sat back with a smile, content in knowing that my information was out there on the Internet for any prospective recruiter to see. And then I forgot I had it. I wasn’t going to update my LinkedIn status with the latest tidbit about my life, nor did I really have anyone or anything to interact with. It sort of sat there, an occasionally updated static page highlighting my valuable career experience at Market Basket and CVS.
It wasn’t really until this past year that I began to understand the actual importance of LinkedIn. As my classes began to have more real world implications, and I started to see connections forming between what I was learning, what interested me, and where I might want to work, I realized the importance of staying up to date and involved with the professional community. I joined a few user experience and design groups on LinkedIn, became part of the Tufts professional network, and started to read and even post in discussions about topics that interested me. More recently, LinkedIn has allowed me to get in touch with a Tufts alumna and organize a tour of a company. Generally speaking, it’s allowed me to engage with people notoriously hard to contact, connect with people I’ve met at conferences, and even track the people scoping out my profile so that I could see whose interested in me.
All of us are familiar with how social media has completely changed the way we keep in touch with and keep track of our friends, enemies, and lovers, But the social media revolution is very much happening in the professional world. Sign up, log in, and start sharing. A connection on LinkedIn or an awesome tweet to the head of marketing at Hill Holiday may be the key to getting your dream job right after graduation. Or, if nothing else, it will hopefully raise your Klout score.