Students gain control over their digital footprints

By Joshua Rall

Having an online presence can stretch much further than simply connecting to friends and relatives who are miles away. Among one of the many benefits, it can help you to create the image you want to present to the rest of the world.

“If you’re smart about it, having an online presence can do nothing but benefit you,” said Jake Miller, junior public relations major.

Miller runs his own online business along with his brother where they post hunting videos for the hunting community to view.

“If you post continuously positive things and use that social media site to kind of build your own personal brand and try to show people who are out there online, who you don’t know, what you’re all about and what you represent, it’s going to be a benefit for you in the long run,” said Miller.

Renée K. Nicholson, creator of SummerBooks!, an online podcast where she and her friend Natalie discuss books that they read, agreed.

“Having an online presence allows you to be ‘on’ 24/7. And if you craft the way you’re viewed, it can be a powerful message you send to others about what you’re all about,” said Nicholson.

“I think the biggest benefit to having an online presence, like a personal website, for example, is that you are putting yourself in control of your digital footprint,” said Sarah Stubbs, sophomore English and journalism double major. “It’s a great way to brand yourself and present yourself wholly for everything that you do. I recently went to a journalism convention and one of their biggest pieces of advice was to have a personal website so that you can showcase different kinds of writing and multimedia projects that you’ve done.”

Nicholson says having an online presence can also help to connect students with the field of study or career community that they may want to be a part of.

“The best benefit from the podcast has been growing the network of writers and writing people we know,” said Nicholson. “Natalie and I have cultivated relationships with many of the authors we’ve read and the people who run their presses. It really gives us a sense of being in a writing community.”

Miller said that they first started putting their hunting videos on YouTube and people started to notice.

“We decided to create a Facebook page and a Twitter and page and an Instagram to post pictures and random stuff just to have fun, and it took off. People across the country started to follow our accounts because of the content that we posted. The first sponsor that we got was called Roots Outdoors, out of Kentucky,” said Miller. “And from there we decided ‘well if this company is interested in us, why don’t we send information about us to all of these other

companies to see if they’re interested?’ And after sending 120 e-mails or something, we got five or six other sponsors, and now we have about twelve that we work with.”

Having an online presence also helps to cultivate improved communications skills. In a Wired Magazine online article, writer Clive Thompson said that after a study of 14,672 student writing samples, Andrea Lunsford, a professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford University, found that technology wasn’t killing people’s ability to write, it was reviving it.

“Lunsford’s team found that students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to get their point across,” said Thompson.

“It was a learning experience, definitely,” Miller said about contacting people to be his sponsors.

“You start typing an e-mail, and you think it sounds good, and as you continue to type that same structure of an e-mail; now I go back and read that and I’m like ‘What was I thinking?’ Improper grammar, and just not very professional. We did the same thing with the videos that we do now too, because now we have editing software and can make them look more professional,” said Miller.

Of course there are problems that come with creating an online presence.

“The biggest negative I see would be bordering that line of professionalism and personal life. You don’t want to put too much of your personal life on the web, but at the same time you want to look like a normal person who does normal things–like going to the movies and posting about it, for example,” said Stubbs.

“The hardest part about dealing with [social media accounts] is that line again with professionalism and personal life,” Stubbs continued. “All of my accounts are public, so I get

nervous sometimes if a friend tweets at me and uses a curse word or mentions me in a tweet with a funny video that might have inappropriate language. I kind of get scared that professionals might judge who you’re associated with, so I am always pretty aware of where my name is being mentioned and in what regards.”

Miller agrees with Stubbs that putting too much of your personal life on the web can often get you in trouble.

“If you get a Facebook page and you post pictures of you with booze doing all kinds of stupid stuff all the time, obviously that’s not going lend itself to your success,” said Miller.

Miller also said that one of the challenges he faces is trying to appeal to the audience that he’s trying to get to.

“And I guess you have to do the same thing when you’re posting personal social media stuff. Future employers are going see that,” said Miller.

But again, creating an online presence gives people the chance to direct their life: where they want to go and what things they want to be a part of.

“I would encourage students to start an online presence. But before that, figure out what you’re really interested in and passionate about,” said Nicholson. “What will you put the time and care into that will showcase you best as the unique individual that you are?”

“The idea is to find the people you should most connect with—just like Natalie and I did with the podcast and the writing community,” Nicholson continued. “Who is your community or ‘tribe’ and how can you interact with them, even across space and time? If you think about that, it’s a powerful ting to create an online presence.”

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