Is it even possible to use social media, protect your professional reputation and remain true to your personality and friendships? Yes, though it involves plenty of self restraint and self monitoring. It’s best to be both retroactive and proactive in crafting a social networking identity that can withstand public scrutiny. Here are six tips for getting it right:
Google Your Name - Frequently and Deeply.
You may be shocked to see how often your name appears online, even at a young age. News is almost always shared electronically, so if you won a preschool scavenger hunt and made the local paper, your 4 year old face might even pop up.
Unfortunately, things you may not be as proud of may sneak up in the search results. If you see that a friend or family member has posted something you would rather not follow you to college or that hurts your professional reputation, politely ask them in private to remove the post. You can also untag yourself from unflattering images and adjust your tag settings. (Quick Tip: If you're looking at college, check out the college admission trends we're seeing today).
While removing something from the internet doesn’t make it disappear for good, it can help to bury unwanted items. At The Winchendon School, as a general policy we do not search each applicant on social media, but for students who attend our school, we hope that each student represents his or her school community with integrity and in keeping with our honor code.
Protect Your Real Identity.
If you currently use your real name and do not take advantage of privacy settings, your social network handles, and any posts you have made on them, will be among the first results to pop up in a Google search. That is because all social networking sites are public and crawled by search engines. If you mark your account as private, your social media homepage may still show up, though your individual posts will not. Unless you are always professional on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or other sites, reconsider using your real name.
Quick tip: One easy way to push down unflattering Google results for your name is to create social media accounts that use your real name. Just make sure to only share professional updates or adjust your privacy settings so that only friends can see your posts.
Read Through Your Previous Posts.
View your social media presence through the lens of a stranger, employer or admission officer. You can even view your Facebook profile through a third party setting to see what is public, or you can Google your Facebook profile from a public computer to see what comes up. Delete or un-share (or un-retweet) controversial or sensitive materials that might hurt your chances of admission or employment. You might think no one will look at your recent Twitter history, but you’d be surprised. Always err on the side of keeping it clean. Again: Deleting a post may NOT make it disappear forever, but it can help to make the post less easy to find. Always think twice before you share something on the internet to begin with.
Some unprofessional social media posts to avoid or delete include:
- Aggressive posts that call other people (or groups of people) names or comes across as rude
- Vulgarity and swear words
- Posts that are overly personal in a negative way
- Anything that depicts, or could be perceived to depict, illegal behavior
- Anything that could be taken out of context or construed negatively, like off-color or inside jokes
Many people (myself included) tend to see social media as a place to express opinions or share personal moments with friends. However, you always need to look at every post and ask the question, “How would I feel if my future employer saw this post?” Especially in today’s day and age, where stories about private citizens’ behavior can become viral very quickly, companies are quick to distance themselves from controversial online behavior. And, if you become a public figure, journalists will spend time digging through your old posts, looking for anything that can be turned into a news story.
Quick tip: If you're getting your social media in check before applying to boarding school, check out our timeline for when to apply to boarding school so that you can be social media-ready before any looming deadlines.
Make All of Your Personal Accounts Private, And Develop a Public, Professional Account.
If you only use social media to follow friends, athletes, and celebrities, there is no real reason to have a public account. It’s in your best interest to hang a lock on your social network sites and only connect with friends and family from that handle. Avoid friending teachers, employers, or professional contacts with those accounts.
Next, open a social media account in your real name and use it professionally. Keep it positive and informative and a tool to network for your life goals and career possibilities. Put out only the content that you would be proud to have associated with your name. These accounts will show up in case anyone Googles your name.
Finally, keep in mind that just because your page may be “private” doesn’t mean content can be shared. Social media settings change frequently, and what once was private could become public in the latest update. Also, people with access to your account may take screenshots of your posts and share them publicly. Make sure to only allow people you know to have access to your account, and refrain from posting anything that could cause you to get in trouble or be embarrassed if it were shared.