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College Student’s Guide to
Using Social Media Responsibly

Odds are high that you’re on at least one social media platform, and if you’re in college, you might not realize the implications this can have on your future. Whether you’re an active user who posts daily or someone who casually scrolls, there are things you can do to help elevate your academic and professional outlook – as well as hurt it, if you’re not careful.

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WRITTEN BY: Taylor Cromwell
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REVIEWED BY: Edumed Editing Staff

Last Updated: 06/12/2023

Editorial Values and Practices

Social media is a critical tool in our lives: we use it to connect with family and friends, search for job opportunities, share memories, and showcase our creativity. And yet for students, it can be a dual-edged sword if used without caution.

Carelessly using social media with no regard for privacy, appropriateness and professionalism can cause problems for you later down the line. You’ve seen the headlines of celebrities and politicians whose tweets or online posts have resurfaced years later and tarnished their reputations or caused embarrassment.

How can you start cleaning up and using social media responsibly today? We’ve gathered up our top tips for polishing up your social media presence and the impact it could have on your college and professional career.

Social Media and Your Education, Networking, and Professionalism

What you post on social media can stay online long after you post it. Though you may just be thinking about having fun and living in the moment, you should always be aware of the potential consequences of your actions in the future. Even a short Instagram ‘story’ or TikTok video can go viral in a short amount of time.

As a college student aspiring to have a career one day, you should consider how your social media presence can impact your networking and career opportunities — both positively and negatively.

Building Your Network

Being able to connect with people outside of your social circle is one of the biggest advantages of social media. By accessing online groups and connecting with others, you can find and connect with new people who have similar hobbies and interests to you or with people who work in your desired field. LinkedIn, the professional networking platform, is a great option for this.

While you have the ability to attract potential employers and earn job offers through social media, it can also harm your reputation if you don’t use it with discernment. You should seek to maintain a professional and authentic presence on all of your social media platforms while building your professional and personal networks.

College Admissions

Social media can play a significant role during the college admissions process. Admissions officers may review your online presence to gain insight into your character, interests, and activities not mentioned in your resume and application.

If you can showcase a positive reputation, through things like community service, leadership roles, and extracurricular activities, you can show off your well-rounded personality in a positive light. However, if you post inappropriate or offensive content, you risk damaging your reputation and harming your chances for admission.

Employment Opportunities

Social media can be an incredibly powerful tool for helping you find a job through job searching and networking. The internet has revolutionized the job search process, while also giving you a platform to showcase your talents, accomplishments, and professional interests.

If you create a strong online presence and make thoughtful contributions to discussions, you can attract potential employers. Utilize platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and blogs to weigh in on relevant industry content, connect with other professionals, and gain insight into your career field. Keep in mind that most employers will Google your name during the interview process, so make sure what comes up is polished and professional — so you can start off on the right foot and set the best possible first impression.

Online Harassment and Cyberbullying

While social media offers numerous benefits, it also exposes students to the risk of online harassment and cyberbullying. The anonymity and accessibility of social platforms can enable the spread of harmful content and malicious behavior. Cyberbullying can have severe consequences on your mental health, self-esteem, and overall well-being.

It is crucial for you to be aware of your privacy settings. You should report and block abusive individuals and seek support from trusted adults or resources when faced with online harassment. Promoting a culture of respect, empathy, and responsible digital citizenship can help mitigate the negative impact of social media and create a safer online environment for all.

Personal Branding

Each social platform gives you a unique opportunity to define your personal brand: What do you care about most? What impression do you want to make on others? You have agency over the messages that you send out. By being mindful of your brand, you can curate your profile to express yourself in a polished and professional way.

Top Platforms and How You Should Use Them

In today’s digital age, having a presence on social media platforms is nearly essential for college students. From LinkedIn to TikTok, each platform serves a unique purpose and offers you the opportunity to connect with like-minded people, express yourself, and more.

You’re most likely already familiar with most, if not all of the top social platforms we’ve listed below. But you may be surprised how you can use them to both enhance your studies and prepare you for professional success. Keep reading to learn how you can best navigate the digital landscape.

Facebook

Facebook is one of the largest social media platforms in the world. Students can use it for a variety of reasons: to connect with other classmates, join private and public groups with people of similar academic and professional interests, sign up for events, buy affordable products from the marketplace and more. Facebook can also help you get involved with local communities on campus.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the most prominent social networking platform for professionals that can be invaluable for you as you start your career. You can create a profile to showcase your work experience, interests, and achievements.

LinkedIn’s job board allows you to search for jobs and internships as well as browse companies that you may be interested in working for. By maintaining a public presence, you connect with fellow professionals, discover networking opportunities, and get noticed by potential employers.

Instagram

Instagram is a visual-driven platform, where users post photos and videos (known as “reels”) to showcase their creativity, passions, and day-to-day life. The platform is a great resource for students for many reasons: You can connect with your peers and maintain relationships outside of the classroom and you can build a visual portfolio that gives a glimpse of your skills and interests.

Reddit

You can go on a Reddit deep dive for just about any topic. On Reddit, users create subreddits on a wide variety of topics (think everything from r/productivity to r/politics) in which people post questions and start discussions.

As a student, you can use Reddit to explore academic topics that you might need a deeper explanation on or explore other niche topics and hobbies that you’re interested in. You can expand your knowledge and engage in enlightening conversations.

TikTok

TikTok is the platform for short-form video that’s surging in popularity. And it’s not all just videos of people dancing.

TikTok allows students to express themselves creatively through video. What’s unique about the platform is its “for you page,” the landing page that serves up content for users. Its algorithm helps identify content you may find interesting or connect with. The algorithmic nature of TikTok also offers the potential for content to go viral, which gives students the potential for increased visibility. College students have tapped into the power of TikTok to build individual brands and even companies.

Twitter

Twitter’s fast-paced and concise format makes it ideal for real-time news, discussions, and networking. Students can utilize Twitter to stay updated on industry trends, connect with professionals and influencers, and engage in meaningful conversations. By actively participating in Twitter chats, sharing valuable insights, and leveraging relevant hashtags, you can establish yourself as a knowledgeable voice in your field(s) of interest.

YouTube

YouTube is a video-sharing platform that’s used by more than 2 billion people around the world. You can likely find a wealth of videos on any topic you’re interested in, from educational to entertaining. For academic purposes, you can find tutoring channels like Khan Academy where you can find in-depth explainer videos.

Students can also create their own YouTube channels to showcase their expertise, share tutorials, or start vlogging. If you can produce high-quality content, you have the potential to grow a subscriber base, gain recognition and potentially monetize your channel in the future.

Common Social Media Mistakes College Students Make

Knowing how to engage on each social media platform is crucial, both for your safety and wellbeing as well as your reputation and professional presence. Social media can be a dual-edged sword for students, offering vast opportunities to network and express themselves but it can also present risks and inflict damage that lasts into the future.

In this section, we’ll cover some of the common mistakes that students make in college and how you can avoid them to maintain a positive presence online.

Connecting with Strangers

Yes, you’ve probably heard this time and time again. You should always be cautious when connecting with people you don’t know in real life. Try to keep networking on a professional level and look for people you may already have a mutual contact with.

While expanding your network can be extremely valuable, you should also be selective when you are associating with new contacts. Prioritize connections with trusted peers, professionals and organizations within your relevant communities, school or industry.

Cyberbullying and Trolling

Engaging in cyberbullying or participating in trolling behavior can have severe consequences on both personal and professional fronts. You should be aware of what this behavior looks like.

College students should prioritize kindness, empathy, and respectful online communication, fostering a positive digital environment that supports and uplifts others.

Neglecting Privacy Settings

You should regularly check your privacy settings on each social media app. What information is shown publicly vs. only your followers? Certain personal information, like your address, should be kept private for your security. When it comes to sharing content, you should decide what you feel comfortable sharing to a wide audience versus in intimate settings.

Overestimating the Power of Deleting

Social media users tend to delete any content that ends up being inappropriate. However, just because something is deleted doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or is unfindable. Once something is posted online, it can be screenshotted, saved, shared, and even archived by others. You can never really ensure that something is gone forever. You should think twice before posting anything that risks your reputation and not rely on deleting posts in the future.

Ignoring the Professional and Educational Potential

Many students often online think of using for personal reasons and forget the potential of using it for professional and education reasons. While just sharing photos and memes is how people use social media, you should explore what else you can use it for. When used correctly, social media platforms can give you a wealth of opportunities to network, connect with other professionals in your industry, access educational content, and more.

Oversharing Personal Information

Oversharing personal information is a common social media mistake among college students. You may think that you are just communicating with your close friends, but in reality what you post online is accessible to the public — even what’s shared in private messages. Sharing too much personal information can lead to privacy issues, identity theft, and even potential physical and emotional harm.

Posting Inappropriate Content

A good rule of thumb is to not post anything you would be uncomfortable with your family seeing. What may seem like a funny joke or a harmless post in the moment can have serious repercussions later down the road. Not only would inappropriate content damage your personal reputation and harm your employment chances, it could also have legal implications.

Sharing Misinformation

Misinformation runs rampant in all corners of the internet and it can sometimes be hard to discern between fact and fiction. However, you should practice internet literacy and do your due diligence posting things online. In the era of fake news and viral rumors, it’s important to verify information before sharing it with others. Sharing misinformation not only spreads false narratives but also undermines your credibility and integrity.

Spending Too Much Time Online

Spending too much time online can harm you in a number of ways. It can lead to chronic health problems and can negatively affect your productivity and mental health. While social media can be a great way to stay connected with your friends and find entertainment around the clock, it is easy to get lost in the incessant scrolling. You should be mindful of your online habits and ensure you allocate sufficient time for studying, self-care, and real-world interactions in-person.

Reset and Refresh: How to Clean Your Digital Profiles

Cleaning up and maintaining a positive online presence is crucial for college students in today’s digital-first world — where most things live (somewhat) permanently. Rather than having to do damage control later down the line, it’s better to be proactive about your presence.

In this section, we will explore various steps to reset and refresh your digital profiles, enabling you to have a better social presence and project a professional image online.

Audit Privacy Settings

Every social media app gives you the ability to choose certain privacy settings. Regularly reviewing and adjusting your privacy settings ensures that you have control over who can access your personal information and content. This helps to protect your privacy and maintain a sense of security on social media.

Check Tagged Content

You should also periodically review what content you’re tagged in, whether it’s photos, videos, or a social post. Though you can’t control what other people post, you can control what content is associated with your account. By going through your tagged content, you can make sure everything that shows up along your profile is favorable to the image you want to display.

Clean Up Your Friends List

Cleaning up your friends list is an important aspect of maintaining a clean digital profile. As you navigate through college, you meet various people and make connections on social media platforms. However, over time, some of these connections may become irrelevant or even undesirable.

Take the time to review your friends list and consider removing individuals who no longer align with your values or who may have a negative impact on your online reputation. It’s crucial to surround yourself with a network of friends who positively contribute to your online presence and support your personal and professional growth.

Consider Your Usernames

Your usernames play a significant role in shaping your digital identity, so it’s essential to consider them when cleaning your digital profiles. Evaluate your existing usernames across different platforms and assess whether they project the image you want to convey.

If you find any usernames that are unprofessional, inappropriate, or no longer representative of who you are, it’s advisable to update them. Choose usernames that are simple, memorable, and reflect your personal brand or professional aspirations. Consistency across platforms can help establish a cohesive online identity and make it easier for others to find and connect with you.

Delete Old Accounts

It’s common to accumulate various online accounts over time that are no longer relevant or actively used. These dormant accounts can clutter your digital footprint and potentially pose security risks. Take the time to identify and delete any old or unused accounts that you no longer need. This includes social media accounts, online forums, and any other platforms you may have signed up for in the past. By deleting these old accounts, you reduce the chances of outdated or misleading information about you being accessible online, ensuring that your digital presence accurately reflects your current self.

Review Posts and Photos

You should periodically review your past posts and photos. Go through your timeline or photo albums and evaluate the content you’ve shared. Remove any posts or photos that no longer align with your current values or that could be potentially damaging to your reputation. This includes posts with inappropriate language, offensive content, or those that portray you in a negative light.

It’s important to present a consistent and positive image online, especially as you progress through college and beyond. Taking the time to review and delete or hide such content can help you maintain a professional and respectable online presence.

Search Yourself

Have you ever Googled yourself to see what results come up? If you haven’t, it could be a smart move as you start your job search process. (And ideally even before then!) If you type your name in a search engine, you should see what is associated with your name, from social media accounts and blog posts to online mentions and news stories.

By being proactive, you can flag any content that you don’t want to be associated with and shape your online presence positively. This ensures that future connections, employers, and patients find information that you want them to know.

Start Creating Positive, Professional Content

Instead of solely focusing on deleting or hiding undesirable content, actively contribute to your online presence by sharing valuable and engaging posts.

Think about what topics you’re passionate about. Showcase your interests, achievements, and professional endeavors, whether it’s by writing posts, posting videos, or joining online forums. By consistently producing high-quality content that reflects your skills and aspirations, you can build a positive online reputation and attract opportunities that align with your goals.

Think Before You Post

Before hitting that “post” button, pause and think about the potential impact of your content. Consider the message you want to convey, the audience you’re addressing, and the long-term consequences of your post.

Taking a moment to reflect and ask yourself if the content is appropriate, respectful, and aligns with your personal and professional values can help prevent you from posting regrettable or damaging content. Remember, what you share online is a reflection of who you are, so it’s essential to think before you post and ensure that your content represents your best self.

Social Media and Healthcare Students: Special Considerations

As a healthcare student, you must navigate social media with caution and awareness. By maintaining professional boundaries, respecting patient confidentiality, projecting a positive image, and using social media as a tool for staying up-to-date, you can ensure that your online presence aligns with the ethical standards and responsibilities of the healthcare profession.

Professional Boundaries

In any profession, it’s important to maintain professional boundaries online. However, healthcare professionals should especially be mindful of these boundaries because of the sensitive nature of the patient-provider relationship. You should act in a way that builds trust and respect with patients.

To uphold professional ethics, you should avoid engaging with patients (or even inferior employees when relevant) on social media.

Patient Comfort and Perception

It’s common for patients to research and evaluate their care providers online. This can influence their level of comfort when choosing a provider. Healthcare students should be mindful of the content they share and the image they project on social media. It’s important to present yourself in a professional and respectful manner to inspire confidence and maintain a positive perception among patients.

Patient Confidentiality

Protecting patient confidentiality is a fundamental principle in healthcare. Healthcare students must be aware that discussing patient cases or sharing any identifiable patient information on social media platforms is strictly prohibited. Respecting patient privacy and maintaining confidentiality is paramount to upholding professional and ethical standards.

Representation of Institutions and Professions

As healthcare students, your actions on social media reflect not only on yourself but also on your educational institution and the healthcare profession. It’s important to be mindful of the content you share and the messages the contents convey. Present yourself in a manner that upholds the reputation and values of your institution and the professionalism of the healthcare field.

Staying Up-to-Date

Social media can be a valuable tool for healthcare students to stay informed about the latest research, advancements, and best practices in their field. By following reputable healthcare organizations, industry leaders, and professional associations on social media, students can access valuable information and insights that can enhance their learning and professional development.