Using social media to construct a digital, professional presence for the job search is a necessity in today's labor market. Millennials are skilled in using social media for personal purposes but cannot immediately intuit how to use familiar social media outlets in professional contexts. Writing instructors can guide students in enacting an online, professional presence through digitally mediated communication practices that increasingly are seen as valuable in the workplace. Instead of training students away from using “textese,” instructors should help students develop an abbreviated writing style that is strategic, consistent, and responsive to the needs of their audience. Twitter is the best social media platform in which to help students achieve these learning goals. This chapter provides readers with a description of a capstone, problem-based learning assignment in which students use Twitter to market their professional selves, network, and improve their digital workplace writing skills.
Ten years ago, when MySpace reigned supreme and Facebook was in its infancy, universities and colleges began advising students to censor their digital selves in order to achieve greater career success after graduation (Bombardieri, 2006; Cummins, 2006; Maitre, 2006; Pope, 2006). Today, students of all ages still are being warned to use social media judiciously (S. Buck, 2012; Donnelly, 2013; Stauts, 2015). At the same time they are being urged to censor their social media footprint, however, they also are hearing something new: that they should have a separate “professional” web presence that would be attractive to employers. Despite millennials’ skillful, frequent use (E. Buck, 2015; Grabill et al., 2010) of social media to sustain interpersonal relationships, they cannot immediately intuit how to use social media for professional purposes, like augmenting a job search (Pegrum, 2011).
This learning curve first emerges when millennials are tasked with building a professional presence through “digital small talk,” or the polite, online exchange of career aspirations, observations of the world, and appropriate information about their lives outside of work. “Casual” or “everyday” writing genres overlap with digital small talk. Like digital small talk, digital- or computer-mediated (DCM) casual writing has an important place in and adjacent to workplace communication.1 In a professional context, casual writing is produced quickly and under pressure. Casual writing genres can encompass email, instant messaging, and mobile phone text messaging. Grabill et al., (2010) has shown that millennials are prolific casual writers who see this material as valuable. However, despite the frequency with which they produce casual writing, and despite the value to which they ascribe it, millennials have difficulty enacting such genres in professional (i.e., non-personal) contexts.
Millennials especially struggle with digital and casual writing at the level language. They tend to use “textese,” an abbreviated, orthographically and grammatically innovative writing form (Crystal, 2008). On the surface, textese appears to expose a poor grasp of Standard Written English (SWE). Empirical studies demonstrate, though, that textese does not necessarily reflect poor grammatical knowledge or the degradation of a once-adequate understanding of SWE (Crystal, 2008; DeJonge & Kemp, 2012; Kemp, Wood, & Waldron, 2014). Rather, textese partially stems from an inability to “code switch,” or recognize that “language varies by context, and…what is appropriate in one setting may not be appropriate in another” (K. Turner, 2009, pp. 61-62). In addition, as Tannen (2013) has shown, textese’s repetitions, misspellings, and abbreviations often are not mistakes but rather deliberate attempts to convey “metamessages” or markers of emotional intent.