The Internet is arguably one of the most important and useful tools designed for all humans to use, as long as they have access to a computer. The Internet has opened the door to an entire new world of communication, information, and social media that seemed unimaginable until the Internet became available to the public in 1992. Humans rely on the Internet to keep in touch with family and friends around the world, create and promote business, and for accessing any type of information more easily. Social media has also taken communication and promoting brands and even yourself for free.
For the latter reason, the Internet can also be dangerous. It’s no secret these days that if you post a picture on Facebook, a tweet on Twitter, or upload a video to YouTube, you are exposing yourself to millions of people via the Internet. Everything that you do online contributes to your digital footprint. There are hundreds, and quite possibly thousands of social media tools that are available for anyone to make an account. Many people decide to post questionable content that could include profanity, nudity, racism, drugs/alcohol abuse, and the list could go on and on. If you’re not careful, the wrong people could see that content, and unfortunately you will have to suffer the consequences.
It has come to my attention (not very discreetly, either) that one of these consequences could be losing your job. There are many people who post content without thinking which includes the company they work for, the job itself, or other people that they work with. A job is hard to come by these days, so if you’re not prepared to show some class when using social media, you could be unemployed the next day. Some companies like knowing that you know how to use social media though. Social media is a great tool for a lot of companies (see my earlier posts, like Pinning and Stumbling Into Business), and being able to maintain a respectable reputation online could be a bonus. It always helps to be upfront about what social media sites you use, just to make sure your employer knows.
Fortunately, there are ways to avoid these consequences. It is possible to manage your digital footprint in a professional and mature manner, while still being yourself. Personally, I have a decent reputation online, but I’ve been trying to self-brand lately using social media. It is difficult, especially when I post personal content online, or I’m not posting enough to be noticed.
That is one of the other useful ways to use social media: get yourself noticed. Using social media would help make my name instantly recognizable and accessible to people, which is why I’m one of the people that would like to improve my digital footprint, and I’m going to achieve this in the following ways…
#1 – Google Myself Often
If you want to know if you’re being noticed, Google your name, and see which of your accounts or photos are popping up. Whenever you Google someone, every source of information found anywhere on the Internet is suddenly available to anyone that you want to see, which is concerning, especially if an employer or contact searches your name and finds some explicit information that you posted. Googling yourself will help you realize if the first mentions of your name are positive to your reputation.
So I thought I’d try Googling myself, and my results were pretty successful as far as branding goes. The following is what Google page number my account information was on:
- Facebook: there were photos on first page, but no account
- Twitter: page 2
- Pinterest: page 1
- LinkedIn: page 1
- This blog (Clara’s Spot): when Googling the blog name, page 1
So all-in-all, not too shabby. Many of these sites are those that can be used to influence my career, like LinkedIn. To be fair, there are not many people with the same name as myself, but I was surprised to find that there were many “Clara Quinn” Twitter and Facebook accounts, so the fact that my accounts are on the first or second pages is comforting. But with this publicity comes responsibility, and now every move I make on the Internet can be easily tracked by anyone that wants to Google me. It’s also helpful to see what photos will be seen automatically when people Google me, so I know that if anything is offensive, then it isn’t leaving a very good first impression.
Googling potential employees is becoming more common among employers these days. It is a free and simple “background-check” for lack of a better term. An employer can Google the person, and gauge whether the potential employee could represent the company in a respectful manner or not. Some would argue that it isn’t fair that their personal lives should be considered when applying for a job, but then again it is a public profile, and anyone can access the information. This leads me to my next strategy for clearing up a digital footprint.
#2 – Update Privacy Settings
I have a lot of accounts for social media; including this blog, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, StumbleUpon, and Pinterest. Imagine what would happen if I posted questionable content and let anyone see my accounts. Not only can employers, peers, friends and family see what I post, but also strangers of whom I know nothing about. If there is extra security available to help keep whatever I post private, why not take advantage of it.
Take Facebook for example. There are infinite ways to keep posts, photos or other media private with their security settings. There is a lot of people on Facebook (over 1 billion people), and that I know a small portion of the people that are on Facebook. That is why I have chosen the option about other persons tagging me or posting anything about me onto their own Facebook pages. My friends know just as many people that I do, and if for some reason any questionable content happens to go through the Facebook channels without me seeing it first, then there is nothing I can do about it. That is why there is always a section that comes up on my Facebook page when someone tags me in anything, asking me to approve the tag and the content that they are sharing about me. There have also been cases of my own friends asking me to show them pictures before I post content on my wall, because they too are concerned about what could be publicly posted to virtually the entire world.
There are so many different options on not just Facebook, but Twitter, and YouTube, etc., that it is possible to secure your content to whoever you’d like, even specific people. By updating any privacy settings for any accounts, most companies and important persons won’t be able to see any of your content if they go directly to your various pages. Once the privacy settings are in place of one’s preference, then it can help erase any content that could really hurt one’s reputation and looks unprofessional to a business owner.
This point, however, does link back to my previous statement about Googling yourself. It is impossible to prevent photos or other such media from being withheld from the Internet, so it is important that some thought is put into what is being uploaded to the Internet for someone to accidentally see. It is important to delete whatever content has been made public already to clean up any trails to you and your digital footprint, even if that means talking to friends about taking certain content off the Internet.
I’ll admit, I haven’t even gone through all of my accounts to ensure that all of my privacy settings are in place. The only account that I have really been thorough about is my Facebook page, but none others. But my mind has been changed, and I intend on going through each account to see what privacy settings are offered, since every social media website is different.
#3 – Feel Emotionally Stable Before Posting
Imagine: you’ve missed an important appointment, the car broke down, you were late for work again and the boss got angry, the kids won’t settle down, and you find out that your hydro bill went up $150. Doesn’t sound like the best day, does it? Why not take out all of the built up frustration to everyone else you know on the Internet?
Hold on to that thought…
If that did happen, and suddenly you’re swearing, and talking nonsense about the boss that was mean to you, or slamming the car manufacturer that made your car and blaming them for it breaking down. The list goes on.
When feeling very emotional, it’s best to take a step back and breathe. It is easy for people to misinterpret digital messages, and the wrong impression could have some negative setbacks. If you said something, and it was passed around or became viral, and the wrong people read that post, then there could be problems. Online reputations can develop just as quickly as real life ones, so being careful as to what is posted is a positive move, even if that means controlling your anger or frustrations. It’s best to ask yourself the following questions (see photo below):
I’ve never posted anything out of anger, but I have complained and I have been frustrated about a few things, and I posted them online. None of these have ever got me in trouble so far, but I do know of some friends that post angry posts with swearing or insults to other people who have caused drama using mostly Facebook. I have friends on Facebook that have ranted in a post about everything; from the war in Afghanistan, to the hangovers that they have with (and I quote) “1 hour left until I have to work and I hate my [explicit] job. Got drunk last night, but now have work in the morning…”. I know of a person I went to high school with who actually got in trouble because of the comments that he posted about hating his job, and then showing up to that job hungover. This goes to show that if you post without thinking through the post, and are just guided by your emotions at the time, your online reputation can be ruined very quickly.
The main strategy that I’m going to use is to simply think before I post. The diagram above is a great starting point. I know from common sense just what could happen if I’m not careful with my social media. I also want employers or those of high importance to look at my social media accounts and say “Wow, they really know how to create a professional bio of themselves.” If I feel the need to complain about something, then so be it, but I will do it in a respectable manner. I’m never going to rant about other people I’m upset with, because you never know who’s reading what through my friends.
Learning how to improve my digital footprint is probably going to be one of the best pieces of information I could take into my future business career. I’m not likely to give up all of my social media accounts anytime soon, so to be able to establish a fresh new outlook to what people expect to see professionally is important if I hope to make a good first impression, especially on employers. Hopefully my digital footprint won’t negatively affect any opportunities, and that branding myself from now on will be easier once I really use my accounts to their full effect. Check out my About page to find out how to follow me on any of my existing social media accounts!