Keith Petri ’10, founder of eBranding Me and a consultant to members of Generation Y on the effective use of social media in professional networking, recently led a great Career Services workshop on the campus titled “Reputation Management 101.” We thought it was fitting to make him the first Skidmore alum we feature in our series of weekly interviews in LinkedIn. It’s pretty long, but you’ll find a lot of good information in it.

Keith, since some students and alums may be new to LinkedIn, let’s talk first about effective strategies for networking here. Perhaps we should start by explaining how it differs from Facebook, since that’s a space with which virtually every student is familiar.

PETRI: Simply put, Facebook is a social-networking site, while LinkedIn is a business-networking site for professionals. Both services contribute to your personal brand, but rules and etiquette for the members of each community are very different.

Generation Y students are very familiar with Facebook and its many services. Facebook is a social network built to enable communication between college students. However, it has matured into a web space with personal profiles, photos, videos and applications available to all Internet users. Facebook allows programmers to develop third-party applications for the over 500 million Facebook members, but these plug-ins are mostly geared toward games, social groups, quizzes and other non-professional activities i.e. distractions from work.

LinkedIn offers a clear alternative to Facebook for professional networking. Its user interface is uncluttered and focused on allowing users to find and share opportunities with each other. Once a user has completed their profile, he or she is easily found online as an experienced employee in their field, with their personal page highlighting their past experience, education and capabilities.

LinkedIn offers current college students the opportunity to establish their professional presence on the Internet, stay in contact with peers, professors and others, find experts and join discussions, and finally, explore opportunities. Successfully navigating this online tool will help in career advancement.

The first step a current Skidmore student should take is to complete their profile (100 percent). To do so, requires a few simple steps:

  • Upload a Professional Photo
  • Current Position: “Student at Skidmore College”
  • Two Past Positions (i.e. lifeguard, internship, etc…)
  • Education (Skidmore College, and high school)
  • Profile Summary (personal branding statement or “elevator pitch”)
  • Specialties (i.e. Microsoft Word, Excel, Photoshop, etc..)
  • Three recommendations (ask professors, past employers, religious leaders, or even group members for school projects)

Once you have a complete profile it is 40 percent more likely that you appear in search results (according to LinkedIn). If a potential employer is searching for a candidate to fill a position, LinkedIn can help make YOU the candidate they go after.

Creating a LinkedIn profile makes you easy for prospective employers to find when they’re doing a search, but it also serves as your platform for proactively interacting with Skidmore alumni and others who might be in a position to help open doors for you. Let’s talk about how to make the most of LinkedIn after you create your profile.

PETRI: Sure. Once you complete a profile with the most up-to-date information on your past work experience, education, specialties and current position, it’s time become an active member in the LinkedIn community.

First off, connect with your peers. Using the LinkedIn “Add Connections” feature, you can find past or present classmates here at Skidmore or from any school you’ve previously attended. Since I list Tenafly High School, Skidmore College and the National University of Ireland Galway in the “Education” section of my profile, LinkedIn prompts me to “get connected and never lose touch again” with classmates from these schools. I can even adjust the search results for class year, making it easy to display only those who graduated in my class.

Secondly, you can join a group that’s relevant to your professional interests. Groups are organized around a subject, organization or industry. LinkedIn allows you to join a maximum of 50 groups, so be selective. By contributing to discussions and interacting with other group members, you can build a stronger network of contacts, become more involved in an industry and present yourself as a knowledgeable individual in your field.

Find groups that are of interest to you by visiting the “Groups Directory” and searching for a keyword. So that you’re not deluged by LinkedIn emails, be sure in each group you join that go to the “Settings” option and tell the system that you want updates from the group to be emailed to you weekly, not daily.

One of the first groups you’ll want to join, of course, is the “Skidmore College Connections” group, which has nearly 2,000 members and is growing daily. It’s a great tool for conducting research, finding a summer internship, or just connecting with other Skidmore alums in a new city. The opportunities to connect are endless. Just reach out!

‘Advanced Search’ is another powerful LinkedIn feature. Say I’m a Skidmore senior looking to enter the marketing field after graduation but am only interested in living in Boston or New York City. Using Advanced Search and adjusting the Industry and Location settings, I can select the list of “Skidmore College Connections” members and filter the search results to display only those who are in marketing in those two cities. Connecting with them is as easy as a click of my mouse!

A final suggestion: When you’re interviewing for a job, you’ll want to always check LinkedIn to see if your interviewer has posted a profile. Knowing something about your interviewer’s background shows that you’ve done your homework and can help you establish a rapport. That can make you really stand out.

That pretty well covers LinkedIn, so let’s talk about Facebook. Should we regard Facebook as a space for professional as well as personal networking? What strategies do you suggest?

PETRI: Whereas LinkedIn is a professional networking site, Facebook remains a social networking site. If you’ve joined Facebook, you’ve probably done so because you want to share personal news, personal photos, and personal videos, and you want to interact online with friends or family members in the same ways you do in the “real” world.

In LinkedIn, you add a “connection” or a “contact” to your network. In Facebook, you add a “friend.” That says a lot about the difference.

Still, there are ways you can effectively use Facebook in professional networking, especially now that a new app called Branchout enables you to alphabetically browse everyone on your “friends” list by place of work (and previous places of work) rather than by first name. For the first time, you now can use your Facebook network as a true professional network.

Which means you have even more reasons to ensure that your Facebook profile is “employer-ready.” Here are five steps every job-seeker should take to deploy a professional Facebook profile:

1. Segment Friends By “Lists”. Facebook’s “lists” feature enables you to segment your Facebook contacts into different groups to which you may selectively apply your privacy settings, enabling some to view updates, photos, videos, and personal information, while denying such access to others. Create one list for “family members”, another for “closest friends”, another for your not-so-close friends, and another for “business associates,” and calibrate your privacy settings strategically.

2. Opt-Out of “Public Search”. By default, Facebook enables search engines to index your personal profile and display your Facebook Page on search queries (i.e. Google Search). If you don’t want prospective employers to find your Facebook profile, be sure you change the default setting and opt-out. This will have the added advantage of pushing your completed LinkedIn profile to the top of the results page. That’s probably that you prefer employers to see.

3. Audit Your “Likes”. Prospective employers can tell a lot about you by the pages you “like” on Facebook, and these are public to everyone who can access your profile. If you have “liked” the fan page for “Weed” or “I Hate My Boss,” for example, you’ll probably want to “unlike” it.

4. Check Your Applications. When you give an application permission to access your profile, you are in many cases enabling it to access not only your personal information but that of friends as well. So be selective in the applications you choose, and read carefully their explanations of how they will work and the information they’ll access.

5. Check Your “Facebook Places” Privacy Settings. This is Facebook’s first foray into geo-location services. It enables you to announce to your friends where you are so that you may potentially meet up with someone. Here’s the problem: By default, your location is made public on your Facebook profile and will appear on the newsfeeds of friends. Also, friends are able to check you into Places without your consent, which means that you could wake up one morning to discover that a friend, via Facebook, has announced to everyone you’ve “friended” that you were in a particular bar last night. To change all of your privacy settings, visit your “Settings” page. Customize what activity becomes public and control the amount of information available to Facebook users out of your network.

For more information on Facebook Privacy settings, visit the Skidmore Communications Department online resources here.

Blogs are another major feature of the “social Web.” What suggestions do you have for students in that arena?

PETRI: Blogs are now so widespread on Web that they scarcely need explaining any more. I define them as expressions of thought, experience and/or knowledge that anyone may produce in a simple (and free) content management system.

I’m a big advocate of blogging for professional reasons. It’s a proactive way to become visible on the Web, and it represents a big step beyond the online identity you’re able to create for yourself in LinkedIn or Facebook beyond. In fact, just about any blog software you choose (I recommend WordPress) will enable you to easily attach your blog posts to your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles, thereby making your blog an actual extension of your profile.

What should you blog about? Any subject in which you are passionately interested. That passion is important because you’ll consistently write and develop your blog only if it furthers and expands your interest. Just remember that any post you make represents your personal values and beliefs, and thus reflects on your personal brand.

In reflecting on subjects you might blog about, consider the following:

Topics Related to Your Major. If you’re an international affairs major, write about world events. If you’re a music major, write about the genres that most interest you. Report on lectures or films you attend, and critique them. Review books or television shows related to the topic. Share papers you’ve written as class assignments. Share links to news articles related to your interests.

Topics Related to Extra-Curricular Activities. If you’re a member of SGA, write about the issues you’re confronting. If you’ve landed a role in a play, write a daily chronicle of the play’s coming together. If you’re an athlete, write about training, competition, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

Challenges: College students are faced with living on their own for the first time, budgeting their money and making the right choices. All of these challenges offer the unique opportunity to lend advice to peers and chronicle personal experiences and lessons learned.

Make it a practice to read other blogs on similar subjects, and freely post comments when you agree or disagree. Or, even better, write your comment on your own blog and link your post to the other blog on which you’re commenting.

Ready to give it a try? Just contact Ben Harwood in Academic Technologies at bharwood@skidmore.edu and he’ll get your started. Also, download eBranding Me’s free eBook: “Guide for First Time Bloggers” for additional help.

Tell us more about eBranding Me. How did the idea of launching this enterprise come to you — and how’s it going so far?

PETRI: eBranding Me is a business still in its infancy. It all started at the beginning of my senior year at Skidmore. Like many college students, I began a traditional job search; sending out tailored cover letters and targeted resumes to potential job opportunities at companies that interested me. However, I saw little return on my time invested. I received limited responses, most of which directed me to resubmit my application closer to my graduation date. I wasn’t satisfied, so I changed gears.

I focused all of my attention on social media channels and developed my personal brand. I created a centralized location online, my personal blog, where I linked to all of my social networking profiles: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. I highlighted my resume and past entrepreneurial ventures, providing my sites visitors with links to learn more. Over time, I no longer needed to proactively search for open positions in my industry, social media marketing, but employers were seeking my expertise for open positions.

However, my entrepreneurial spirit drove me to take the path less traveled. Yes, I had other opportunities but I decided to become self-employed. If not now, then when would have the opportunity to start my own business? After successfully building a strong personal brand using free online tools, I began to motivate my peers to become involved in social media to aid in their post-graduate employment search. Lo and behold, they became sought after employees as well. eBranding Me was born.

eBranding Me informs Generation Y about online privacy and social responsibility through on-site seminars and a supporting website. We also act as a resource for educators, providing curriculum to inform students how to create a positive online presence and avoid the dangers of damaging their reputation online.

eBranding Me is the preeminent resource of information pertaining to personal branding among students for the sole purpose of successfully enrolling in college or securing gainful employment post-graduation.

Currently there is massive growth in the online sector across all industries. This includes blogs, social networking sites and communication tools. I see the ever changing environment and continuous innovation as an opportunity: to continually provide updates on the tools available to students, teachers, administrators and employers. eBranding Me is the only peer-to-peer information service – Generation Y informing Generation Y.