Let's get real about our virtual lives

Posted by Diane Gayeski on Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I had the pleasure last week of hosting our Park Distinguished Speaker, Randi Zuckerberg, who for 6 years led marketing and PR for Facebook. Emerson Suites was packed with students who had provocative questions about the future of social media -- not just as a tool for PR and media distribution, but also as an agent in our personal lives.

In my introduction to Zuckerberg's speech, I said that it was great to see so many people "in the flesh", since most of the audience spends a significant amount of time interacting with friends and co-workers online. Can we even remember life before Facebook -- or heaven forbid, WITHOUT Facebook??!!

Shaping our personal and professional identities is an endeavor worth serious consideration. We know that most prospective employers (and even internship sites) do online searches of candidates before offering them positions, or even a first interview. Staying off the grid of social media isn't really an option, either. As communications scholars and professionals, we more than ever need to create our own personal brands and develop some niche areas of expertise .. and that digital repository and image needs to be accessible 24/7, globally, and digitally.

This is one of the many fascinating topics we talk about in our freshman S'Park class, where we require our students to live tweet and to create their own e-portfolios. Recently, the class Skyped with alum Elspeth Rountree who is listed as a “2009 Silicon Alley Insider 100” and one of the “25 Need-To-Know Bloggers” by Mediaite.com. “Ellie” has appeared as an internet culture expert on major media channels and is co-creator of two highly successful websites, Rocketboom Tech and the Know Your Meme series. Both she and Randi Zuckerberg highlighted the importance of developing online communication skills as well as interpersonal skills -- and in fact, the most common question that our students asked of both of these experts was whether we as a culture are losing our real-world communication savvy and sensitivity.

We can't afford to become screen-creatures without the confidence and credibility to be effective in person. That's why I'm very pleased to see so many of our students taking advantage of the various "pitch sessions" we've been offering where students can deliver polished, short presentations on new business or creative ideas. We did one of these during alumni homecoming weekend; the Business School recently sponsored a business pitch competition; and the day after Zuckerberg's speech we hosted independent film producers Christine Vachon and Ted Hope who also heard ten students pitch ideas for their own films.

We now have many platforms on which to build our professional and personal identities. What's your own strategy and brand?