BYU sophomore and political science major Sasha Sloan said she had one of the “coolest” experiences of her life after teaching a journaling workshop at BYU.
Sloan was chatting with participants and asked a participant if she was a BYU student. The participant told Sloan she followed her blog, which surprised Sloan.
“There’s a real person on the other side of the internet? Sometimes you feel like you’re just shouting into the void,” Sloan said.
Though it may feel like no one is reading, watching or listening, BYU Y Digital Agency director Adam Durfee said everything posted by social media users leaves a trail in the form of a personal brand and influences the hiring process.
“The reality is you are your brand,” Durfee said.
Durfee, who has worked as a hiring manager, said an important part of the hiring process across industries is screening candidates by checking their social media. In order to maximize social media use, people need to post things that brand them, he said.
According to a CareerBuilder study conducted in early 2017, 70 percent of employers are using social media to vet job candidates, which is higher than the 60 percent in 2016.
However, employers are not looking for people who only post about professional things, Durfee said.
“Corporations aren’t looking to hire small corporations. They’re looking to hire human beings,” Durfee said. “What we’re looking at is do you post in such a way that we can be proud to call you an employee or a coworker?”
Sloan is conscious of her brand and online presence, she said. According to Pew Research Center, 69 percent of U.S. adults use at least one social media website.
But Sloan uses more. Along with her blog, she manages Etsy, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and three Instagram accounts to promote her personal brand.
“I would say my brand is more explorer. My bio says blogger-slash-globetrotter, and I feel like that’s the best way that I’ve branded myself,” Sloan said.
Sloan said she made a conscious decision to build her brand around the goal of doing travel and adventure-based photography.
According to Durfee, maximizing a personal social media brand means a person should pick three or four things with which they can brand themselves.
“When it comes to your personal brand, most people just need to decide who they are, and that’s the type of stuff they’re posting,” he said.
Durfee said there are some red flags all responsible social media users can avoid. These include posting about illegal activity, drinking and partying, or writing dramatic personal rants.
Sloan said she avoids posting inappropriate language and her political views.
“I’ve seen if you put something online it can follow you forever and ever,” she said. “And unless I feel like I perfectly understand an issue, I don’t want to share my opinion knowing that it could change.”
Social media consultant Clare Bird said after she got married and had her first child, she and her husband made deliberate choices about what to share about their children on the internet to protect their safety.
She uses acronyms for her children’s names when she posts, avoids posting pictures of them without clothing and tries only to share personal details when they’re born, she said.
“I don’t want to define my kids’ lives through social media, because it is going to be such an important part of their lives,” Bird said.
Bird said one concern she had was her children being Googled one day for their first job, only to have their employer find pictures of them in the bathtub as a baby or doing something silly as a toddler.
Durfee said nothing is ever private on social media, even if the user has privacy settings. Everything they post belongs to the website they use.
“It’s part of your terms of agreement when you decide to use their software for free — that they get access to everything you’ve ever posted or clicked on,” he said. “Most of these companies will keep that information relatively private.”
Durfee said employers rarely look deeply into a job applicant’s social media accounts. They usually just look for a general online persona, which gives people the opportunity to “scrub” their social media, he said.
“It may be just a quick matter of deleting a few photos here or there,” Durfee said.
Sloan said another part of building her brand was deciding to use certain consistencies in her posting.
“I’ll use the phrase kiddos. I’ll be like, ‘Happy Wednesday, kiddos,’ and that’s kind of my themeology. I finish all my blog posts like, ‘XOXO Sash,'” Sloan said. “I think establishing a personal brand, having those things that are visible are what makes you unique and stand out.”
Sloan also makes deliberate color scheme choices for her Instagram photos. During her recent trip to Japan, she tried to make sure all the pictures she posted had red, green and white in them.
Durfee said when it comes to religion on social media, he feels very strongly people should share who they are on social media without over-sharing.
“You don’t want to come across as the kind of person that’s always trying to convert everybody you know,” he said, “because you do want to be a little bit mindful of that professional atmosphere.”
Durfee also said some people who “take a break” from social media and go off the grid raise questions in the professional world.
He said he remembers not calling an applicant for a job interview because he couldn’t find them on social media.
But feelings about social media are subjective, according to Durfee and Bird.
Bird, who said she has decreased her social media usage recently, said she feels that social skills in youth and mental health have been affected by social media use.
Bryce Anderson, a BYU sophomore studying physics, said he doesn’t use social media much and only posts about important life events.
“I don’t really feel the need to go out there and share whatever with everyone,” he said.
Durfee said those who are not interested in maximizing their social media can avoid being irresponsible by not posting “dumb” things.
For Sloan, who has built her brand through trial and error, social media represents a creative challenge for her instead of a race to see how many likes and followers she can get, she said.
“I think once you get your finger on the pulse of it and start to learn and understand the industry, it becomes so fascinating,” Sloan said.