How to digitally market yourself: a beginner's guide for students and academics

Handy tips and tricks to start building a digital presence

Having talked to many established academics and students, it is often unclear what digitally marketing yourself means. I am defining digitally marketing yourself as reaching your personal marketing goals through the application of digital technologies and media. Digitally marketing yourself starts with the understanding of your online presence. Developing a strong online presence may reinforce your online identity and what you offer to others.

What is your ‘online presence’?

Your online presence is simply the existence of all data and information about you on the internet. You may have come across the term ‘digital footprint’ which essentially means the same. Your digital footprint may be traced back to a myriad of digital sources such as social networks (like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter), online purchases, online memberships, data shared about you by others or anything else that may have been written or shown about you.

Being aware of the broad range of sources is critical because your digital footprint is the image that can be seen by others such as potential employers. In many instances, your online presence may be scattered across the internet. So being in control and being able to manage your online information and data may be challenging. From a professional perspective, however, learning how to control your digital footprint, stay safe, and maintain a professional social presence, is crucial.

While most academics and students have an existing online presence, there may be academics and students who do not have any online presence at all. Having an online presence is important at any time but is even more important in times of increased remote working and online recruitment due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not having an online presence may undermine your competitive strength in the professional world. If you do not communicate your achievements and skills online, then a potential employer may not be able to consider your candidacy.

Everything you do online is immediate and permanent

Social networks, for instance, are popular platforms to share your daily activities, photos, videos, socialise with peers and have a laugh about last night. These personal activities portray your image and create an impression that goes beyond your professional achievements and successes. They mean, your potential employer can see and get to know you as a social person, which many employers may like.

While this may work out positively, there may also be a risk of potential rejection. This problem may occur when employers discover your digital histories, which may contain badly written stories, inappropriate language, content, talks about drinking and partying, or even badmouthing or inappropriate commenting on others posts.

Anything you are doing, or you have done in the past is immediate and permanent and there is no guarantee that a mistake or an inappropriate action will stay hidden from a potential employer. Even after deleting a past comment or account, the data and information are still discoverable online, and you never own your digital footprint. Think before you post and assure yourself that what you are posting portrays a good image to the audience at large, including potential employers.


Professional online presence

An excellent resume and cover letter are no longer enough to compete in a job or further education selection process. It is crucial that you build your personal brand online to stand out from the crowd and ensure potential employers remember you.

The challenge may be that you never thought about the importance of your professional online presence and how to draw and manage the boundaries between your already existing personal image and your required professional image.

Having talked to many established academics about the persona and professional boundaries on social media, I can assure you that it can be a challenging task for anyone. The first thing to do is to be aware of the need to be professional online and to understand the impact your digital footprint may have on your image and your career. From that point, you may want to apply a few of the following strategies to develop and execute your digital brand successfully.

Clean up your old accounts – be strategic

If you already have personal accounts on digital platforms (like social media), I suggest you review your accounts’ history and content for appropriateness. You may want to double-check your privacy setting and only make necessary content public. If you notice that there is too much inappropriate content, you may wish to delete your account and set up a new one. Consider making a strategic plan when managing your persona and professional online presence. Here are some suggestions:

  • Decide which accounts to keep and which accounts to delete.
  • Review your digital footprint until you are sure it is professionally appropriate.
  • Consider keeping certain accounts only for personal matters and others only for professional communication.
  • Consider using your digital platforms only professionally until your career is more established and you have reached the job you want.
  • Follow good practice to have the same profile picture in all your professional accounts. The photo needs to be professional and of high quality (see below).
  • Use the same background picture in all your professional profiles to display consistency when recruiters are looking for you.
  • Have a clear goal of what you want to reach with your digital online presence and what your priorities are to build your future.
  • Use careful and appropriate language when communicating personal and professional issues online.

How to set up a professional LinkedIn profile

LinkedIn is a commonly used professional social network platform used by a myriad of employers. Setting up a professional LinkedIn profile may be very beneficial for you to apply for jobs and build your career. Amended from from a LinkedIn guide the following nine steps are a guide to developing a professional profile in higher education:

  1. Write an informative profile headline. Keep it short, professional, and memorable. It is good to look through other academics' and students’ profiles and see how they have written their headlines.
  2. Pick an appropriate photo. The photo needs to be of high quality. Your profile will be viewed much more positively if you are professionally dressed. Avoid any personal pictures for instance of parties or your pets. Think about how you want your potential employer to remember you.
  3. Show off your education. Include all your schools, certificates, grades, and other achievements. You should boast about your achievements and not hold them back. Remember you want to stand out from the crowd.
  4. Take time to write a professional summary statement. The statement is an accumulation of who you are, what you achieved, what you are doing and what you are looking for in terms of your career. The summary is a concise short piece of writing. Remember to look at other students’ summary statements.
  5. Add keywords to the “Skills & Expertise” section. Aim to include keywords related to the job you are seeking for recruiters to find you in automated searches. You can find keywords in existing job profiles and fellow students who have similar job interests.
  6. Regularly update your status. Posting updates and sharing of your work keeps your professional LinkedIn presence active and supports the development of your brand. For recruiters to recognise you, you need to ‘advertise’ yourself regularly without spamming your audience. You may mention current projects, books or articles related to your dream job, or show that you have attended professional events.
  7. Show off your connections. It’s good to join professional groups as they appear at the bottom of your profile and recruiters may recognise your professional commitment. Follow your university and other professional institutions. Make sure you specifically focus on your professional goal. It is also important that you form your network with the right people. Avoid connecting randomly because you want to show off your number of connections. It is much better to know who you connecting with and why. And remember to focus on your professional goal, not your personal endeavours.
  8. Collect recommendations. Depending on your professional history, it may be beneficial to seek one recommendation for each position. It’s good to try to obtain recommendations of people who have directly managed you or who you have directly worked with.
  9. Setting up your LinkedIn URL. Recruiters may find you easier if you have a unique URL containing your profile name. For instance: You can set this up when making your LinkedIn profile public.

If you are an academic the following three posts on Anne-Wil Harzing’s website on how to use LinkedIn in academia may be useful:

Stay safe and be successful

The last recommendation in this post is to stay safe online and avoid being hacked. The following guide shows 33 tips on how to avoid getting hacked.

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