I was reminded again this week just about the importance of maintaining and protecting your professional brand—especially via social media.  As I was perusing the random and endless chatter on Facebook, I ran across a post from an acquaintance that I met during my undergrad work.  He was complaining about how difficult his undergraduate finance classes were and about how he needed “something or someone to sit down with me and literally hold my hand throughout the rest of these few months of college!”  Naturally, I felt a little concerned by the post.  Why was he having such a rough time, and how could he still be missing the big picture this late in the game?  And, most importantly, WHY would he post this on Facebook? 

I think that the seemingly desperate post offers a few areas for improvement for many young professionals; not only for how we look at our education, but also how we view the rest of our careers as a whole. 

Firstly, stop with the negative mindset. If you always approach issues with a pessimistic attitude, especially in a visible setting such as Facebook or any other social media outlet, you are sending the signal that “Hey, I think everything stinks, and I want someone to do it for me.  I’ll just be over there in the corner pouting until that happens.” Think about this: the guy (who I’m hoping will wake up and smell the branding coffee) inspired me to change what I was planning to write with his single Facebook post.  Think about what affect that could potentially have on the rest of his career!  If you don’t have anything positive to say, don’t say anything at all.  If you must write something negative, be sure to offer advice or lessons learned. 

Build up your professional brand with accomplishments, rather than tearing it down with complaints.  Save the negative comments for your family and close friends. When post about achieving your goals, leave out the thoughts about what was difficult. Not only does it give a positive impression, but it shows that you are driven to succeed, and do so with a positive outlook on the situation.  I have no idea how many times I’ve wanted to throw my hands up and say, “I give up. This is too hard!” But I chose to persevere, and I felt happy I did so.  

Focus on just getting through, while filling in the cracks with things you want to do as a career. In the case of my acquaintance having the issues on Facebook, sometimes it is a little too late to turn back (last semester of classes is WAY too late to change your major). I’m proof that you don’t always end up in the field your degree is in, sometimes you just kind of “pick one” and make the most of it—until you find yourself in school.  Once you find your path, focus on fitting in things that supplement that goal. 

As a student, to help you figure out what you want to do, set up a career-advising appointment with your career services office or take one of the many self-assessments that are available out there (your career services office can also direct you to these as well). Try this even if you just need to narrow down your focus.    

Bottom line: Social media can be a very powerful tool—either for good or bad.  As in the example of my acquaintance, do not use it for something that you will be used as an example of what not to do.  Build up your professional brand, network with the right people, learn things, and pay it forward by sharing what you learn.