Professionalism (from Merriam-Webster):
- the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person (see 1professional)
- the following of a profession (as athletics) for gain or livelihood
In times past those who knew this definition were easy to identify. You could identify a professional by their clothing, their work ethic, their speech, and a host of other factors. All of these factors contributed to the “qualities that characterize of mark a profession or a professional.” In short, all of these factors were signs of professionalism. From the moment you met a professional you knew their status in their chosen field without a resume, a profile, or any other formal description of their work. You knew it by the way they presented themselves and from the very words they spoke.
Today we find ourselves in a much different position when defining professionalism. Gone are the days when our first impression comes during a face-to-face meeting at which we could instantly determine the level of professionalism demonstrated by another. Today we’re lucky to get a tiny picture of the person in question and a sentence of typed text. We can’t rely on looks, speech, resume, or any of the historical indicators of professionalism. So then how does one demonstrate professionalism in digitally social world?
Every Word Counts
First and foremost, to distinguish yourself as a professional in the age of social media you must watch every word you say. Whether it be Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or a host of other services every word has a far greater meaning when there are so few words by which someone may get to know you.
In addition, negative posts such as those talking about drinking, insults, or other unprofessional activities can quickly multiply your industry’s negative perception of you. Simply put, every word you type has to be of the same quality as the first sentence of a cover letter in application for your dream job. Each tweet, status update, etc has to be at a level that would make your boss proud.
This isn’t to say that all your writings have to be about work, but when they’re not they must be in good context and should never be the result of a moment of indiscretion. If you need to rant or act out online do so in a closed network in which the chances of your message being repeated are as close to zero as possible. Don’t be afraid to use privacy settings to your advantage this pursuit. You should never post for the public anything you wouldn’t want your own boss or mother to see.
One of the best ways to maintain professionalism while still allowing yourself room to rant is to segregate your networks. Keep a network such as Facebook, etc in which you have no professional interest and, as a result, hopefully no professional contacts as friends. While this still isn’t full-proof, it will allow you a measure of indiscretion while preventing that indiscretion from harming your image as a professional.
A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words
Nearly all of us like to put a name or words to a face. In social media this means that your face is akin to your own personal logo and must be treated as such. A picture of you acting goofy at a party might be fun for you and your friends but outside of that if could prove fatal to you in your professional life.
If you’re a job hunter or even someone looking to become an authority in your field getting a professional photo of yourself could go a long way in helping uphold your reputation within your networks. Make sure your photo paints you into the best light possible and then use the same photo throughout all your networks. For example, if you use Twitter to talk about the latest developments in your field and then post your latest resume on LinkedIn you should make sure that your picture is the same on both networks.
When someone recognizes the words you write as those of a professional they will instantly associate your picture with that professionalism and will pick you out more quickly when on other networks or websites.
Follow, Friend, and Connect
This is really self advertising. Make as many new connections as you can to people you don’t know. Use LinkedIn and Twitter’s who-to-follow lists. Search out like-minded people on Facebook. Grow your circles on Google +. Do whatever it takes to get your name and picture in front of others who are influential in your industry.
Most of us no longer have the luxury of an industry that is local to where we live and work. Because of this other professionals in our industries will never know us as a professional unless we approach them first. Introduce yourself and take every opportunity to grow your network and you will soon become associated as a professional yourself within your networks.
Show it Off
When we don’t work directly with others it is almost impossible for us to passively communicate just what we do that makes us a professional. We need to show others we don’t just look nice and know some of the lingo but we can also bring to the table a skill-set that any true professional should possess.
Depending on what we do, how we show off our work can take different forms. For a programmer it might include making available some of our programs in open source or other projects. For a designer or photographer a portfolio is a must. No matter what you do however, a blog can demonstrate not only that you just know your stuff, but that you’ve mastered it to a point at which you can share it with others.
Looking around the web the folks that are most likely to be recognized as a professional are those who can not only show you what they’ve done in the past (although this helps) but they are also those who can teach and help others move ahead in their own pursuits. To show off your knowledge by using it for the benefit of others is one of the surest signs of professionalism in a digital world.