Using Social Media to Advance Your Knowledge, Skills, and Career

A how-to written by: Sam Zipper, University of Victoria,

Social media can be a useful career tool which can help you build knowledge, skills, and connections. However, social media can also be a colossal waste of time and a great way to develop a sense of despair about the state of the world.

Which would you prefer?


I’ve compiled some steps to hopefully help you make the most of your social media activities.

Step 1. Identify and set concrete goals

Like any potential career-building activity, you should figure out what you want to get out of social media before going in. Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one reason! But I do recommend setting measurable goals to determine whether or not you are using social media effectively.

My three primary reasons for joining a social media site were:

Big Picture Goal.png

Note that “Because other people are doing it” is not listed – if you don’t have a good reason to join a social media site, it will more likely than not be a waste of your time and mental energy.

Step 2. Choose your platform

There are a litany of social media platforms – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc. – and they all tend to have different user communities. For example, Instagram is popular among the younger crowd, while Facebook has an older user group. Depending on your goals (see Step 1), it will likely behoove you to focus on one network or the other.

I’m most familiar with Twitter, and this seems to be the platform of choice for the academic science community, as well as many journalists. In the environmental consulting world, LinkedIn also seems to be popular.

Step 3. Choose your audience and tweet accordingly

Your approach to social media will likely change depending on what your goals are (Step 1). If you think your audience is mostly experts in your field, you may have much more technical tweets than if your audience is primarily members of the interested public.

For more concrete guidance and examples, Stephen Heard has an excellent blog post on this topic which I recommend reading.

Step 4. Limit your exposure

Tech companies hire some of the smartest people in the world with one objective: make their products more addictive so they can sell more ads to a captive audience. In their mind, you spending all your time on Twitter is a feature; however, from the perspective of your career this is a bug.


Therefore, it’s important to be aware of how much time you’re spending on social media, and whether you’re spending it effectively. Look back at your goals you identified in Step 1 – what is the minimum amount of time you need each week to accomplish those? That should be your absolute upper limit for social media use during your work hours (if you want to log on in the evenings to spend a few solid hours looking at @dog_rates, I don’t blame you…).

There are several tools to help with this. For example, I use Buffer to schedule tweets in advance so that my social media activity is spread throughout the day, rather than spamming people with a ton of posts when I happen to log on. If you are easily distracted, there are browser extensions that can block websites during certain hours; search the ‘Productivity’ category for Firefox or Chrome.

Is that all there is?

Just have fun! You may have noticed in Steps 2, 3, and 4, we refer back to Step 1 for guidance.In my opinion, identifying your reason for using social media before you sign up is the most important thing you can do to ensure it will be a productive use of your time.

Anything I missed? Send me a Tweet @ZipperSam!