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Students: How to Use Twitter as a Professional Development Tool

Twitter logo Larry bird

Logo used with permission

If you read this site on a regular basis, you know I’m a huge proponent of Twitter. After all, I met both my fiancé and my first agent through Twitter (but those are stories for another day). The more I interact with students, however, the more I hear that you don’t know how to use Twitter to further your professional endeavors. I recently asked a group of around 30 students I was giving a speech to last week how many of them felt like they knew how to use Twitter for professional development. Not one raised a hand.

I’ve already given you a post on How NOT to use Twitter, so I wanted to follow up with some advice on how you should use Twitter. If I were giving you advice individually, it would vary according to what you want to do with your career. However, I do think I can give you some generic advice that any of you can apply to your situation.

Approach Twitter as a professional development tool

If you want to use Twitter to further your career, then approach it like you would approach LinkedIn, not Facebook. Don’t focus on following and conversing with your friends. That’s not to say you can’t follow your friends or have a tweet with them here and there, but it shouldn’t be your primary focus.

Many of you have asked if it’s acceptable for you to have both a personal and professional Twitter account. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that. If I were looking to hire you, I wouldn’t care if you had separate accounts. That being said, you should still expect employers to view your personal account (if they come across it) and should keep it clean. The question I think you should ask yourself is if you have enough time to devote to two accounts. If not, I’d ditch the personal account. Use Facebook to keep in touch with your friends and set your privacy settings high. (And, at the risk of overemphasizing it, still keep it clean!)

If you do choose to go with one account, I like the 90/10 rule. Your tweets should be 90% geared towards your professional goals and 10% can be used for personal observations and comments. (Although, again, those personal tweets should follow the guidelines.) I think it’s important to have those personal tweets to make you more relateable to others and show your personality. However, the majority of your tweets should be focused on professional development.

Post relevant tweets

So, what do you tweet about if you’re still a student with not much experience (if any) in the industry you’re pursuing? Anything related to what you want to do. If you’re a female student who wants to work in sports marketing and you read an article about the growing number of female sports marketing professionals, tweet out a link to the article with an interesting fact you learned. Maybe you want to cover sports business. When you see that Nebraska has signed a new deal with Adidas, tweet it out.

One thing I think students get caught up in is they don’t see any value in tweeting out facts/news already out there. Your goal at this stage is not to break news. It doesn’t matter that a sports business reporter (like me) has already tweeted out Nebraska’s Adidas deal. Instead, your goal is to prove your interest in sports business. If an employer is looking at your Twitter feed they’re not looking for you to be the first to report something – they’re looking to see do you keep your Twitter feed clean and appropriate and do you have a real interest in the position for which you’re applying. If I (as an employer) look at your feed and it’s full of links to the latest sports business news, I’m going to feel confident this is something you have a real interest in doing professionally. In fact, I find so few students using Twitter this way I’d be downright impressed.

Follow the right people

Who the right people are to follow will depend upon what you want to do with your career. An easy place to start is to follow people who do what you want to do. For example, let’s say you want to be in public relations for an MLB team. Every single MLB team lists their front office staff on the team website. Pull up that list and then Google those folks to see if they’re on Twitter. Start following them. Add them to a list where you can easily look in one place on Twitter and see what these people are tweeting about on a day-to-day basis.

Wait, you’re thinking, I have to go to 30 team websites and then Google the five or so people in each PR department to find their Twitter handles? Yes. As Jimmy Dugan would say, if this were easy everyone would do it. If you’re already grumbling about this little bit of legwork, then you’re probably not going to make it in sports. Sorry.

Great example from a speech I gave last week at University of Wisconsin. An undergrad told me he has his first internship with a minor league baseball team this summer in their sponsorship/promotions department. He asked me if I had any ideas for something he could do to really impress them. I suggested he follow every minor league team in his team’s division – more outside the division if he really wanted to go all out. I told him this might give him the opportunity to see tweets about sponsorship activations or promotions other teams are doing. Maybe it leads to a new idea he can share with his team. Perhaps his team will be discussing possible promotions one day and he can speak up and share a success story or failure he saw another team have with the same promotion. I know if I were his boss and he was able to contribute because he’s spending some of his free time following other teams, I’d be impressed. That’s someone who wants to succeed and is serious about doing the job.

This young man I advised at Wisconsin tweeted me just hours later with a screenshot of the teams he was following on Twitter. He doesn’t have to throw around the word passion. He’s proving it.

Put your goal right in your profile

Imagine if your profile says something along the lines of, “Aspiring MLB public relations professional.” Plenty of people look through the profiles of those who start following them. Your profile shows up right in the email alerting them to a new follower. For me, I sometimes click on profiles when my Twitter feed shows a new follower. If you tell me right up front what your goal is, I might be intrigued. If it says “Aspiring sports business professional,” I might check the last few tweets in your feed (which is why the advice above about what to tweet how much of your feed should be professional comes in handy) or even click on your website link, if you have one. I think it’s pretty cool when someone wants to do what I do. I’m probably not the only professional who feels this way.

I think the ideal profile for a student would say where you go to school, your degree program, your year in school and your ultimate goal. Saying, “I love the Braves, my dog and afternoons on the beach (in that order),” doesn’t perk my interest. You’re just another follower. Instead, tell me who you are and why you’re really on Twitter – which, after reading this post, should be for professional development.

For more advice on how to use Twitter, check out these Twitter Advice posts and stay tuned for more!

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