“Fake it ’til you make it”
It’s a clever cliche line we hear a lot, and though following the advice comes with some risky pitfalls, the premise is a good one…especially for students. Yes, you are learning. No, you are not an expert yet. However, you can build your online portfolio for the expertise you expect to have in the years to come. An online presence takes slow and steady work to build, and as long as your honest, genuine, and professional, there’s no reason to wait until you have a ton of experience to start right now!
Create consistency on your social media channels
You probably already have accounts everywhere – Vine, YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. It’s time to start using these channels to further your professional career, and not just for wasting time. Think of each channel like a billboard that advertises you. On Instagram, you’re going to show a more personal side. On Twitter, you might want to show off your expertise or interest in a particular article. On Vine, you might show behind the scenes of your life as a student or working on a project, etc. They all showcase a different angle of who you are as a person, but they should consistently have the same message. Work on these four pieces and add it to each profile you have. If you don’t have many social media accounts, that’s okay. Start with one and add a new one when you feel ready.
- Develop a tag line – It doesn’t have to be long or dry, just one or two sentences that say who you are, what you do, and who you serve.
- Write a concise bio – You’ll need bios for every platform. Write one that is a paragraph long, then you can shorten it for the accounts that give you only a certain number of characters.
- Get a professional headshot – Professional doesn’t mean expensive. It simply means a close up of your face, smiling and relaxed, without a full body shot or some logo/cartoon avatar.
- Carve out a niche – What do you want to be known for? Do you love claymation, journalism, futuristic graphic design? Pick a few of your most passionate topics and make your social media channels reflect those interests.
Getting your own website is virtually effortless in today’s market. You’ll need a bit of cash if you want something customized, but if you’re broke and unable to scrape up some pennies, a free WordPress.com account will work just fine. A website or blog is like the Grand Central Station of your online profile. You can have links to your social media channels, resources, and other tidbits of information that potential clients or employers might be interested in. If you don’t have a clear idea of your mission yet, you can use your name as your website URL. No need to be fancy. And remember, if your name is already taken, there are lots of domain suffixes to choose from besides .com. You can try .net, .us, .career, .me, etc. Look up available domains here.
- Use WordPress – There are two different sides of WordPress. If you need to go with free, go to WordPress.com and sign up for an account and a blog. You’ll get a website address that reads http://yourname.wordpress.com and you can customize it later. If you have some money to invest in a website, you can sign up for a hosting account with a company like Bluehost. Then buy your domain name and hosting package through them. You’ll be able to install WordPress easily, and have more customization freedom than a free site on WordPress.com
- Keep the design simple and mobile friendly – It’s tempting to add lots of color, cool navigation, and supersonic plugins, but simplicity is best. You’ll want to pick a mobile responsive theme (the WordPress default theme is responsive). This means it’ll look good no matter what kind of device a reader is using. Keep the title of your site the same as your domain URL if you can. Make sure there is a nice headshot (the same one you use on social media) plus a bio and a welcome message right on the first page.
- Update the site consistently- If you’ve never blogged before, you might be overwhelmed at the idea of writing some new on a regular basis. Remember, regular can be once a month. You can write about your classes, your projects, outside interests, an opinion on a recent film or new technology, etc. Regularly updated content will give people a reason to keep returning to your site, plus Google likes to see (and index) websites that are frequently updated. Another idea is to make a portfolio page where you showcase projects in progress.
- Make your contact information easy to find – Every website should have contact information either on the sidebar or in the footer, plus a menu bar tab that has a page dedicated to contact information. This is also a good time to mention that you should use an email address that’s “legit”. No more Star3492@aol.com. Try to get a Gmail account that uses your name. Or, if you happened to make a WordPress site with a custom URL (and not the free one), you can set up an email address like Julie@yourdomain.com.
A large part of a solid online profile has to do with your reputation in the community – both in the real world and online. If you can engage, share, and interact with people who are also writing and sharing their work, you’ll build connections that may pay off down the road. You’ll have to do some investigating to find people in your niche, and we have a post that might help. It’s called 40 Digital Media Blogs You Should Follow. You can start there and pay attention to people who comment on the blog because they might have their own website as well!
- Create a Feedly account– Feedly is an RSS reader that makes it very easy to follow and keep up with numerous blogs and other sites. If you plug your favorite sites into your Feedly (either on your phone or on a computer), you can browse through the day’s new posts in half the time it would take to visit each site. When you find something interesting, comment on it, and then share it on your social media profiles.
- Create a Twitter list – One of the fastest ways to connect with people you admire is on Twitter. Look up your favorite influencers (filmmakers, teachers, etc.), follow them on Twitter, and add them to a list you create in your profile. This way when you log in, you can check your list first and get a filtered Twitter feed that shows only your favorites. It ensures you have time to comment back, favorite, or retweet their tweets. You never know when and if they will notice!
- Sign up for your favorites by email – When you find a blog or website you love, look for a sign up on the side. Enter your email address so you get an email every time a new post or article comes out.
Create and manage your LinkedIn profile
LinkedIn is the “professional network” of the social media world. It’s not just a place for your online resume (though that is important). It’s also a place to make connections, showcase your talents and awards, and keep up with industry news. Frequently employers will look for candidates on LinkedIn and you might find yourself being recruited, rather than having to search for a job. Here are a few things to keep in mind about LinkedIn.
- Fill out your profile completely
- Use keywords in your tagline
- Professional photo
- Correct location (for job searching)
- Custom URL – you can then add this to your paper resume
- Work experience – be as detailed as you can
- Contact information
- Build connections- Connect with people you know, and use your introduction option to get to know potential colleagues and employers through the introduction option in LinkedIn
- Check the Pulse- The Pulse is where articles are published on LinkedIn. You can browse through the recent or most popular articles, and engage with the author by sharing or commenting
- Consider blogging right on LinkedIn – Did you know you can write long form articles right in LinkedIn? When your article gets a lot of shares or comments, it’s moved into the Popular posts area of the post, maximizing the chance that you’ll get noticed by the people you want. Consider writing an article right on LinkedIn in your particular field of interest.
Join groups or communities with likeminded interests
Online communities are a great way to meet new people. Facebook, Google Plus, and LinkedIn are the three best places to start. Pick one or two to start with, and make sure you introduce yourself once you’re accepted in. Since there are a lot of groups online, it might take a bit to find one that is relevant and helpful, as a lot of them can be overrun with spammy accounts. And if you don’t find one you like, consider starting a group with a few of your friends who are in the same major as you.
Share and listen, it’s the best networking tool you have
Even though this entire post is about how to make YOU stand out online, some of the most powerful influencers on the Internet today got that way because of their ability to listen and share what other people had to say. Building authority and credibility is the fastest way to climb the ladder of success on any social media profile. Show your followers that you aren’t all about you. That you are willing to share any information that’s relevant and helpful in your niche. People take notice when someone is willing to share content that isn’t their own, because it shows a willingness to always be learning.
When you finally have do have something of your own to share, there will be people there to listen!