There are many students who want to create a professional online presence, but don’t know where to start.
Nine times out of 10, this is a question of gaining confidence rather than skill.
It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that you can’t do it. You don’t have a professional network, your grades aren’t that good, all your friends work at Sephora and you’re not a PR or communications expert (yet), and you feel like you can’t add anything to the conversation.
[FREE GUIDE: Not benchmarking in PR? Here's why it's essential.]
Here’s how to bypass the “I’m not an expert” mindset:
1. Realize that no one knows everything.
That’s especially true in a wide-open industry like communications.
Factors such as technology, diversity and globalization come into play constantly. This forces professionals (newly minted and old guard alike) to review and adapt their processes and skills continuously.
When I was shifting from hospitality to communications, I had the realization that even the most senior managers sometimes had to face issues they didn’t know how to handle. Those unexpected challenges forced them to find solutions on the spot, and they learned from those experiences.
No one knows everything—but you know more than you think you do.
More important, it’s very likely you have access to people and resources to help you fill in the gaps. Your job as a student or graduate is to find ways to impress these managers.
When you position yourself as skilled and adaptive, especially in areas you are passionate about, you increase your chances of getting noticed by the right people and landing that dream job.
The first senior PR professional I worked for was a guest speaker at my university. When I reached out after the lecture and showed interest in his work, he offered me a job.
He told me he liked the fact I had my own website, which encouraged me to create a content strategy for myself. He also explained that job applicants with an active and relevant online presence (no drunken festival pictures) are preferred because they show skill in relevant areas: writing, website management, tweeting, video editing and more. It doesn’t matter if you talk about PR, horses or vegan restaurants, your practical skills will be evident regardless.
2. Build your network.
Create a LinkedIn profile. It’s not necessary to be highly active if that’s not your thing, but fill it out properly and keep it up to date. Future employers will Google you, and if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, it’s much harder for them to get an overview of your previous achievements.
Join your local PR organization. This is an excellent way to stay up to date with what is happening in your industry, and in your area. In Australia, we have PRIA, which is free to join for students studying PR. If you are a graduate or new to the industry and don’t want to spend the $99 on membership, then follow PRIA on social media for updates and free content.
Choose your social channels carefully. Find out where your audience or industry is and start there. Think quality over quantity.
On Twitter, for example, you have the opportunity to engage with people you would never have the chance to talk to in real life. You also get a front row seat to watch how issues and stories in the media play out in real time.
Talk to your tutors and guest speakers. If you need help or guidance, your tutor is the right person to speak with.If you have a poor attitude towards the people most eager to help, you aren’t likely to receive any recommendations at the end of your course.
Many of the speakers visiting campus are highly respectable professionals and experts, who are highly regarded in their industry. Do some quick research on the speakers before you go to the lecture and engage them with a few questions afterward.
3. Do some guest blogging.
There is an extremely high demand for new and fresh content online—and guest blogging is a good way to gain a foothold.
Every magazine, blog, and website requires more quality content than they can produce themselves. This means it’s easier than ever to get them to publish your article. It is helpful if you have your own blog or previous articles to showcase in your application, but it’s not a deal breaker. As long as you have relevant content, you’ll be a good candidate.
4. Keep educating yourself.
Your education doesn’t end with getting your degree.
Right now, there is so much free education online. There is no excuse not to improve your skills on a regular basis.
Whether you’re interested in Photoshop, Google Analytics, Instagram scheduling tools or podcast recordings, you can find tutorials on YouTube, Lynda (often free through your university library) or events such as MeetUps or seminars in your area.
These skills will help you improve your online presence and benefit you in your future place of employment.
5. Create your own website.
Some people argue that you need to “own” your content, meaning you must host it on your website. That way you are not relying on a social media platform that may or may not survive in the next few years.
It’s a good strategy, but not everyone will be ready to launch a website right away. It’s a lot of work.
Start where you are comfortable and with channels you’re already using. Try writing a few longer posts or engaging with people you admire in your field. Once you’ve published some content and found your ‘voice’ or style, then it might be time to build a site.
6. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
There is no point in turning your personal branding efforts into something that weighs you down. It should be fun and exciting.
Create a content calendar. A good old excel spreadsheet works just fine, or you can choose to use pro tools such as CoSchedule or Hootsuite. Plan what you want to publish on your channels. Create content in bulk, every night or every week, and then schedule it.
There are times when being visible can feel embarrassing. If you are suffering from “imposter syndrome,” ask yourself why that is. Remember, you’re doing this for yourself, to land that amazing job or have your article published in your favorite magazine.
Remember to be humble. You’re not an industry leader…yet.