Any smart employer is going to Google prospective employees and, in general, MBA students these days are aware of that. There is a broad understanding that you have to manage your online reputation. There are consequences to posting pictures of yourself looking drunk, for example.
But what is less understood is the importance of proactively creating a positive digital footprint. Not enough people take action, so, if you do, it is a competitive advantage. We read a lot about online reputation management, which is often just a synonym for damage control. But how do you create a digital presence that draws employers to you?
How should MBAs manage their online reputation?
If something questionable appears about you online, it is often difficult to erase it. If a friend has shared an unfortunate picture of you, you can ask him or her to take it down but digital traces are likely to remain.
Instead, the secret is to start now to establish an online presence that reflects what you want to be known for, which will crowd out any errant information. Create a detailed LinkedIn profile and start blogging and tweeting your views on developments in the industry you want to enter.
You can also launch a podcast where you interview famous or successful alumni from your school and leading business thinkers — this is great for networking too.
Even if you are not getting to speak with chief executives of Fortune 500 companies, fantastic opportunities abound with powerful executives who are slightly less prominent but wield great influence.
Google will reward you for your stream of informative content, as it is far more likely that your first page or two will reflect the image you would like to present rather than random or negative titbits.
You do not have to think too hard about search engine optimisation. Google is smart enough to recognise that when people search for your name, your LinkedIn profile, blog and Twitter account are highly relevant.
The question you should ask, however, is what you would like to be known for. If you are hoping to land a position in finance, make sure the content you create is consistent with that. For instance, start tweeting about issues on Wall Street or blogging about policy issues that may influence the markets.
How can MBA students create content while maintaining their busy schedules?
For most time-starved MBA students, one to two hours a week is sufficient to represent yourself well online. You can create your own mix based on the social channels you want to prioritise — perhaps you are starting a design-focused or creative business, so invest time in Pinterest or Tumblr. This will showcase your design skills and knowledge.
In general, I would suggest spending one hour per week blogging. You could upload content on your own site using WordPress or share it via LinkedIn’s blogging feature.
Also spend half an hour sharing content and interacting on Twitter and LinkedIn. Retweeting articles about the field or industry you are interested in — preferably with a short comment attached — shows that you are staying on top of key issues and have a point of view. Asking follow-up questions, sharing genuine compliments or reaching out to an executive quoted in an article can help you begin to develop online relationships that, if cultivated, may turn into real connections.
What else constitutes a good LinkedIn profile?
I would encourage MBA students and recent graduates to invest a little additional time on LinkedIn for two purposes. First, sharing at least one piece of content per day — something as simple as a magazine or blog article — helps keep you on others’ radar and, over time, demonstrates you are keeping up with developments in your field.
Second, LinkedIn has been steadily rolling out the opportunity for regular people — not just the high-powered “Influencers” like Richard Branson — to blog for them. As soon as you are able, I would recommend sharing content there.
You can post when you have time, and it will be an impressive addition to your profile. The goal is to create so much content over time that your reputation speaks for itself and people begin to seek you out specifically.
The readership and engagement is high because it is a professional network — a crucial advantage over starting your own blog. If you get busy, it does not look bad to abandon it for a while, because no one is visiting LinkedIn specifically to read your blog — it’s simply a helpful addition to your profile.
In comparison, if you start an independent blog and start to accrue visitors and subscribers, there really is an expectation that you will be providing content regularly. Note that you risk alienating your readership if you let it lie fallow too long.
At a minimum, every MBA student should have a LinkedIn profile and be active on at least one social channel. You can adapt according to your skills and goals. If you are not a great writer but love public speaking, perhaps you might like to create a video blog, for example.
You can create content on multiple channels but in general it is better to focus on one or two and do them well, rather than spreading yourself thinly across several accounts.
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategy consultant and adjunct professor of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in the US