Editor’s note: This article is part of a career advice series contributed by Physics Today’s partners at the American Institute of Physics Career Network.
These days many people have at least one social media account. Perhaps you use yours to keep up with friends or for personal entertainment. But social media can also be a powerful tool for advancing your career. This article is an introduction for people who are interested in the professional benefits of social media but have limited experience with three widely used platforms: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Before signing up for Twitter or inputting your CV on LinkedIn, decide what you want from your online interactions. If you are willing to invest some time, social media can help you achieve a variety of professional goals, including the following:
- Enhancing your professional network.
- Keeping up on current developments in your field.
- Becoming known as an expert in your field.
- Building collaborations.
- Transitioning to a new type of work.
- Practicing succinct communication.
- Inspiring younger scientists.
- Helping nonscientists understand your field.
All three platforms are free, although LinkedIn charges for premium features (used mainly by recruiters). Once you set up an account, you can connect with other users. On Facebook and LinkedIn, that requires other people to accept your requests to connect. Most content on Twitter is public, so you can follow someone to have their posts, or tweets, appear in your personal feed.
Depending on your goal, you may want to focus on reading what others post and only occasionally make your own contributions, especially when starting out. That’s a common approach, especially on Twitter, where a 2019 analysis found that roughly 10% of users are responsible for 80% of the content.
Following the right people and organizations can be a great way to familiarize yourself with the social media platform and to keep up with your field. Many have feeds on all three platforms, and they often cross-post information. So pick a platform, search for and follow a few people or organizations, and start taking advantage of the wide variety of opportunities to build your professional network and reputation.
Here are some tips for capitalizing on each of the three platforms:
LinkedIn is the only platform designed specifically for tracking professional connections. Your profile starts with the content of your CV or resumé, and you can add more details about your professional skills, accomplishments, and so on. (LinkedIn can also suggest additional information to include on your CV.)
On LinkedIn, you can connect with current and former colleagues, classmates, supervisors, and collaborators. You can also join groups that bring together people in the same industry or with common interests. If you state in your profile that you are open to job opportunities (check your settings), you may be contacted by recruiters. Many companies will post job openings, and you can follow specific organizations to see their postings and to let them know you are interested in their work.
Twitter users post messages that are limited in length to 280 characters, which forces brevity. Accounts on Twitter do not have detailed profiles, just a brief description. Many tweets include a link for more information. Twitter uses an @ symbol before the name of a feed/user (for instance, @PhysicsToday) or a hashtag (#) before a keyword or phrase that people can click on to search for related tweets. Some accounts, including Physics Today’s, post job openings and links to career development articles. You can also follow specific scientists, departments, and science journalists.
In addition to brevity, one of Twitter’s strengths is immediacy. It is often used for real-time conversations about current events. For example, during a conference, both attendees and non-attendees can discuss presentations as they happen. Many professional societies create hashtags for their events—such as #APSMarch for this week’s American Physical Society March meeting—which you can use to find tweets about things happening at that event, including live discussions of presentations and in-person meetups. In addition, sometimes scientists or journalists post tweets about a complex or controversial issue, and this often spawns a discussion. Participating in the discussion, and adding value, can enhance your professional reputation.
Facebook, in general, is more personal than LinkedIn and Twitter. Many users post about family, friends, and activities and include pictures. For each post, readers can react with an emoji or add a comment. You might use Facebook to connect with former colleagues or classmates and keep in touch. A service of the platform called Facebook Messenger allows you to directly message other users and organizations. And, as with LinkedIn, you can join groups that are centered on common themes or interests.
Over the years Facebook has grown to include pages for organizations and businesses. Many corporate pages are designed to attract job seekers, and they can be a good way to learn about the company’s culture and programs—valuable knowledge if you eventually interview for a job there.
Lisa M. Balbes has been a freelance technical writer and editor at Balbes Consultants LLC for almost 30 years. She has published more than 300 articles on career development for scientists and given more than 300 presentations in the US and abroad. She is the author of Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas for Chemistry Careers (Oxford University Press).