5 Career Mistakes You Could Be Making on Social Media and How to Correct Them

(U.S. Army/William B. King)

Maybe you jumped on the social-media bandwagon while you were on active duty. Perhaps you used it to stay connected to friends and family during deployments. And as you got close to your separation date, you likely realized that social media could connect you with potential employers, networking contacts and key influencers in your targeted civilian career.

But are you doing social media right? Could mistakes be limiting your viability to grow your post-military career? Let's look at five common mistakes people make online:

1. You Treat It as Casual, Fun and Mischievous

Sure, platforms such as TikTok, Facebook and Instagram have a more social and relaxed feel to them, but you're still representing yourself the way you want to be known. If you're always "the party guy," then will I think of you for a job opening at my company? If you post strong, polarizing opinions, will I risk introducing you to my boss, who might be a great networking contact for you?

While you should show yourself as real and human, remember that you're still setting the impression of who you are, what you care about and how you want to be known.

2. You're Not Thinking About Your Personal Brand

Your personal brand is how you act, communicate and the relationships you form that tell other people about the value you can offer. Everyone has a personal brand -- and yours has been forming as you've been serving in uniform, whether you're thinking about it or not. The perception other people have of you will directly influence whether they want to advance, refer and endorse you.

Being proactive about your personal brand means being intentional about the platforms you're on (while LinkedIn is important for business and careers, choosing to be on X, Facebook, Instagram TikTok, Snapchat, etc., is optional), how you show up (are you building a brand as someone who's smart, helpful and service-oriented? Then act that way online) and the people you connect and engage with (yes, you're known by the people you hang out with).

3. Your Connections Aren't Being Nurtured for Networking

If you met your ideal networking contact at an event, you'd introduce yourself, share a bit about what you're working toward and ask them about themselves. But when we connect online, we tend to just send or accept a connection request and then go radio silent. This doesn't work. 

Look at your connections and nurture relationships with the ones who can best help you -- and where you can help them. The return on that time investment may not be immediate, but it could be beneficial for the rest of your civilian career!

4. People Don't Know How They Can Help You

When you have nurtured the connections and built a brand online, it's important to let people know what you need and how they can help you. We can't leave it up to their imagination, or the results won't be there.

Periodically share experiences, needs and opportunities you're seeking help with. Maybe you're making a shift from what you did in the military and could benefit from some mentoring. If you ask, you stand a better chance of getting that support.

5. You're Inconsistent

This could be one of the worst mistakes I see people make online. Their posts, comments and images are inconsistent with how they want to be seen and known. One day, they rant about politics; the next, they share insights about their industry; the following day, they post about something goofy and silly; and then they share their resume and ask for help. It's important to be the same person online as you are in the flesh. Whenever there's confusion or inconsistency, online audiences tend to either tune out or will believe the worst version they see. Human nature at its best!

Pick a lane and stick with it until you've built your online network and brand. Show your passion for your work, excitement for what comes next (after the military) and helpfulness in supporting others. When you're consistent online with the person I meet in the flesh or by phone, I'll believe that what you tell me you care about is real.

When you're informed on how to use social media correctly, the various platforms can return tremendous benefits. Mistakes, however, can be costly, so learn about the intention of each site and have a clear strategy for how you'll show up to build the reputation that will serve you well into your next career.

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