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You are what you tweet: what we can all learn from the Paris Brown case study

By Suzanne Fairbairn - Posted on 12 April 2013

Suzanne Fairbairn, alumnus and senior digital account manager at The BIG Partnership, reflects on her guest lecture to honours marketing students, reviews the Paris Brown case study and provides advice for anyone looking to get a job in social media.

Having sat in the same lecture theatre four years prior, it was a daunting yet jubilant feeling to be returning to my roots to present a guest lecture on social media for Strathclyde Business School honours marketing students.

When preparing the slides for my presentation, I was initially unsure of what areas to cover as I was conscious that I was preaching to the converted. Students are essentially self-taught experts of social media, interacting with platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube daily and, in some cases, for several hours each day.

However, I felt it was relevant to reinforce the fact that personal use of Facebook and Twitter when socialising with friends does not form the necessary understanding for applying the same tools for business.

This statement has caused mixed opinions this week and has set tongues wagging on the back of Paris Brown’s appointment and subsequent resignation.

Appointed as a youth crime commissioner for Kent Police, Paris was to be a trail blazer for other youth commissioners across the country, but later resigned after a after a series of updates she posted on her social networks were investigated.

Paris has since removed her @vilulabelle account from Twitter following comments deemed racist, anti-gay and condoning violence, and even though these were published several years ago when she was aged between 14 and 16, a series of 140 character tweets ultimately cost her her “dream” job.

Should Kent Police have been more thorough in their background search for such a public facing role? Yes.

On the other hand, it was naïve of Miss Brown to have made such inappropriate comments on such a public forum in the first place.

In today’s digital age, many would argue that social media is increasingly forming part of the recruitment process. It’s first hand, public and accessible to whoever wants to see it. As an employer, why would you not want to do your due diligence on prospective candidates?

People may see this as a breach of privacy, but if people are so willing to post such information on a public domain, you have to be aware of the consequences, no matter what age you are.

The way I see it, it's not an entry in your personal journal, an SMS text message that was intended for one recipient, or even a quiet chat with a friend – it’s your digital footprint, and it’s published on the world-wide web, with ‘world-wide’ being the operative phrase.

With the introduction of Facebook Timeline allowing us to simply browse a Facebook feed through the years, and with Twitter announcing plans for users to download Twitter archives – we’ll always be held accountable to what we publish online.

Working in social media myself, I hope this case study doesn’t put students and graduates off the prospect of working in this new realm of media and communications.

Social media jobs are in high demand, and with graduate employment figures at an all-time low, I welcomed the chance during my guest lecture to reinforce that digital developments are providing an outlet for graduates to put their self-acquired wisdom to practical use.

My advice to anybody seeking a job in social media, or any sector for that matter, would be to practice what you intend to preach.

In light of the Paris Brown case study, some of you may be running scared and deactivating your public Twitter accounts as I type – but I would strongly recommend that you don’t.

Maintain an active Twitter profile, populate your LinkedIn profile, complete with ringing testimonials and endorsements, and if possible, even set up your own blog to express your personality and to make what is essentially your “online CV” as transparent as possible.

It’s a balancing act – one that you may need to master fast. Don’t be afraid to inject some personality into your posts and avoid falling into the trap of writing dry, laborious posts that are maintained with a professional hat on in the hope that a head-hunter will read it.

It goes without saying that in order to get a job in the digital industry, you have to enjoy the subject matter and be willing to keep your finger firmly on the pulse by reading up on latest developments and being aware of the predictions and future trends.

Keep in mind that the recruitment process works both ways, so as I mentioned before, be aware of your digital footprint. Potential employers and recruitment agencies are increasingly turning to Google to do their homework, whether you agree with it or not. So whatever you do, don’t let your latest Facebook status update be the reason you never get that job!

What are your thoughts on the Paris Brown case study? Do you think the right decision was made? Let us know in the comments section below.

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