The Rules of Social Media: MBA Grads May Still Need to Learn and Master them

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Congratulations, Class of 2014! You navigated your way through accounting and calculus, macroeconomics and marketing — but have you mastered the algorithm necessary to be a "social professional?"

Social professional may sound like an ironic hashtag, but it has come to describe a serious business requirement. Nearly all of the companies surveyed for a 2013 Jobvite report said they used social media in their recruiting. Perhaps more importantly, recruiters are making hiring decisions based on social media. The same Jobvite survey found that 42% of recruiters had reconsidered a candidate (for better or for worse) based on a social profile. Ahead, find a social professional crash course that you shouldn't venture into the corporate world without having passed.

Create Social Accounts

If you thought having a LinkedIn profile was optional, it’s time to reconsider. "LinkedIn is an absolute must for any professional," says MBA admissions consultant Stacy Blackman. The numbers bear that out:  Some 94% of recruiters use LinkedIn, according to Jobvite.

LinkedIn isn't the only place future employers might be lurking. Among the recruiters Jobvite surveyed, 65% use Facebook and 55% use Twitter. "Today’s professionals need to be on LinkedIn and Twitter," says Clara Shih, chief executive officer of Hearsay Social, a provider of social business software to companies. Facebook tends to be more popular for personal networking, so Shih advises her clients to keep privacy settings tight on the social network. And don’t forget to use a professional profile photo. "This online brand follows you forever," says Blackman.

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Use social networking to — well, network

Shih says, "MBAs don’t need me to tell them that they need to network but, of course, online and social networks can be a great way to grow their social network." Mastering social networking means knowing who to connect with—and who not to connect with. Follow companies, schools, and people with influence in your industry of interest. Don't overlook the obvious connections. Idinopulos says: "Connect with your classmates. That may seem like a pointless thing to do because you know them, but the thing is in 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, these people are going to be all over the country, all over the world and all over industries."

On the other hand, Blackman warns, "Don’t friend on Facebook the director of admission, but you can follow them on Twitter." The same goes for job interviews and future employers. Connect with schools, companies, and LinkedIn figures of influence but don’t try to connect with people you don’t already know. Idinopulos says, "Twitter is a good place to meet people. LinkedIn is not."

All that networking may sound like a lot of work, but it can pay off. Shih says, "All of my job opportunities have come through social networking sites."

Maintain and clean up existing accounts

Don’t think you've covered your bases just because you've got an online presence. You're likely to be forgetting the digital detritus you've left on the Web over the years. Think hard. Does a dormant Twitter account from 2009 still have your name on it? Does your Facebook page still say you work as a high school lifeguard?

"Rule number one: Look at your online profiles early and often. We sometimes forget how quickly we change as professionals," says Michael Idinopulos, chief marketing officer of PeopleLinx, a software company that helps companies improve employee engagement on social media. This means adding skill sets and updating certifications, training, and tools. Plus, be sure to add a summary and keywords to your LinkedIn profile. This will help boost your profile in recruiter searches.

Once you've created and populated social profiles, don't forget to remove inappropriate photos and update privacy settings. Only about half of the current crop of MBA hopefuls are wise to this: A survey Blackman conducted found that 48.3% of business school applicants plan to review and clean up their online profile. Blackman says students and professionals should apply the "Grandma Test." If you wouldn't want grandma to see it, your employer shouldn't, either.

Find your voice

Shih says, "The underlying advice is: Authenticity is key. It can’t sound too mechanical. You have to balance that personal and professional." So don’t be afraid to post on Facebook a photo of Central Park, live-tweet your 5K benefiting breast cancer awareness, or post on Instagram your meal at L'Artusi. At first, it may feel strange to share hobbies or personal interests, but it’s better than radio silence. Shih says, "Don't just never update your profile or never post anything."

Oh, and lose the #Humblebrag. Shih warns, "Don't be overly self-promotional. That can backfire."

Do your homework

Networking is great, but when you finally meet a dean, mentor, or future employer, what are you actually going to talk about? Says Shih, "Once you connect, the real work begins." Idinopulos says, "You should always look at the LinkedIn profiles of who you’re meeting with in advance. Use their information on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to find things to talk about with them." You should assume they've done the same regarding you.

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Be agile

Be prepared for this list to seem as outdated as your flip phone in 5 years. But now that you’re a social professional, take solace (and constructive paranoia) in knowing that while the networks and platforms might change, the social connections you build — and the party pics you tweet — will follow you forever.

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