Crafting Your Professional Identity on Instagram: Insights from Jasmine Banks

Feb. 28, 2024
A screenshot of three posts from Jasmine's Instagram profile.

In the vast and dynamic landscape of our digital age, where physical and behavioral traits intertwine to shape our sense of self, the quest for identity finds a compelling stage on Instagram. Crafting one's professional identity on this social media platform goes beyond mere pixels and captions; it becomes a visual canvas that can be used to define who we are not only in our personal lives but also in the professional sphere. Much like the whimsical chameleon Rango, who found himself in a desert surrounded by Saguaros as he pondered the profound question, "Who am I? I could be anyone," Instagram offers a stage where individuals can curate, showcase, and explore the facets of their professional persona. 

Leveraging Instagram for Professional Growth

Few social media platforms have captured the attention and engagement of users like Instagram. With its visually-driven content and massive user base, Instagram has evolved from simply a platform for sharing photos into a powerful tool for building a professional identity. Some of its benefits are:

1. Optimized Exposure

A single Instagram post has the potential to reach thousands, offering extensive visibility.

2. Cost-Free Professional Branding

Instagram provides a platform for building a professional identity without incurring any financial costs, making it accessible to individuals at various career stages.

3. Engagement Playground

The visually-driven nature of Instagram fosters engagement and interaction, allowing individuals to connect with like-minded professionals and share valuable insights, tips, and experiences. Features that drive engagement include hashtags, polls, stories that viewers can respond to or give a rating, comment sections, interactive live videos, and the ability to collaborate on posts with other Instagramers. 

4. Opportunities for Value Sharing

On Instagram, graduate students and professionals can share expertise, tips, and information about their experiences, contributing to the broader community. 

5. Visual Storytelling for Career Growth

Instagram's emphasis on visual content enables users to craft a narrative about their professional journey, creating a compelling visual story that resonates with followers and facilitates career growth. The use of Reels (short videos) also allows people to talk about their work which might not be visually engaging and to grow an audience.

Jasmine Banks has made significant strides in extending the reach of her professional identity on Instagram. I had the privilege of sitting down with her to discuss her journey and the advice she has for graduate students who are still trying to find their footing in this online space. 

An Interview with Jasmine Banks

Jasmine Banks is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan in Psychology and Digital Studies. Most of her current work focuses on understanding Black digital experiences. She has created a unique professional identity using Instagram, where she has amassed 13.6k followers.

Not long into our conversation, I noticed that part of Jasmine’s success on Instagram is related to her focus on providing value. She explained, “I started my Instagram in 2019, just as I was applying for grad school, so I talked a lot about the different components of the process…that's really what motivated me to start sharing information about applications. I was getting access to a lot of information that I knew other people weren't getting access to, so I started sharing a lot of that information.” 

Jasmine added that it was important for her “to be transparent about things…because I know that if I didn't share this, other people wouldn't know about it.” I observed that the desire to be of service and share personal experiences is what drew people to Jasmine; she didn’t seem focused on trying to sell something or have any hidden agendas in her posts. 

Jasmine noted that sharing her work on social media is different and more far reaching than just publishing in journals. However, one of the challenges she faced was having to deal with negative feedback from individuals who criticized her. She welcomes constructive criticism, but often resistance and cyberbullying came from people who have no knowledge of the topics she covers. Jasmine found resilience by embracing the mindset that being honest and self-aware online diminishes self-consciousness. This perspective enabled her to persist on Instagram, undeterred by critics and naysayers. She explained, “I really had to get to a place where I felt confident enough in my work that if I were to get negative feedback it wouldn't feel like a personal attack. Building confidence as a researcher, as a scholar, as a grad student was important.”

Strategies for Crafting Your Professional Identity on Instagram

During my conversation with Jasmine, it became evident that her approach to shaping her professional identity was multifaceted. Here are some important takeaways:

1. Seeking Inspiration from Like-minded Academics:

Jasmine actively engaged with and followed individuals in academia across different online platforms like X (formerly Twitter), Tik Tok, and LinkedIn. She connected with people who had similar interests and values, professionals who served as a source of inspiration.

2. Providing Unique Value to the Public:

A key component of Jasmine's strategy was to share valuable insights and information that were not readily accessible to the general public. This intentional effort to contribute original content distinguished her in the online space.

3. Intentional Openness about Personal Experience:

Jasmine deliberately embraced transparency, sharing her personal experiences as a researcher and graduate student. This openness not only humanized her online presence but also contributed to the authenticity of her professional identity. Some believe their personal and professional online identities should be separate, and that is how Jasmine started, with four different Instagram accounts. But she gradually brought everything under one umbrella as she constructed a more integrated picture of who she is.

I learned from Jasmine that to construct your professional identity, offer value and insights that are as free as possible from biases or hidden agendas. Communicate about your work in accessible and engaging terms without over-simplifying it. You may face criticism and, possibly cyberbullying, so develop constructive strategies for resilience. One suggestion Jasmine made was to avoid reading and engaging with hostile attacks. Respond to posts that are asking relevant questions, and provide useful feedback rather than defensive arguments. With these guidelines, you can use Instagram to communicate about your work and build an online presence that shapes your professional identity. 

In the next article in this series on crafting one’s professional identity, we will address using micro-blog sites like X (formerly Twitter), Mastadon, and Threads. Subscribe to our newsletter so you do not miss out on this series and more. 

A screenshot of Jasmine's Instagram profile.

Anesu Samuel Masango