Social media is a great way to stay connected to friends and family, find new friends, share interests and post pics of your latest adventure. However, when used carelessly, social media can also ruin your future academic and professional careers. The choice is yours.
As someone from Generation Z, you grew up with social media. You’re used to posting the online diary of your life for all to see. And that’s the problem: it’s there for everyone to see, including colleges you’re applying to as well as future employers. More people are realizing that what they do online impacts their personal brand and, because of this, are more diligent in checking what gets posted on their profiles.
Colleges, universities and employers are increasingly checking out your social media to try and get an idea of what kind of person you may be. One 2006 survey suggests that up to 77 percent of employers are Googling and researching applicants. And those doing the research eliminated about 35 percent of candidates from consideration based on the information they uncovered online, including inappropriate pics, bad mouthing others, poor communication skills, negative or discriminatory comments and doing things they clearly shouldn’t have been doing.
The survey was conducted in 2006. Can you imagine how much more cyber research is being done today? (And I bet you ever thought spelling correctly when posting would ever make a difference, huh?)
Imagine being a college or job candidate sitting in front of the decision maker. He or she looks across their desk and says, “Well, I looked you up online and found…” Is what they found out about you something you think will make a good impression?
What’s your reaction?
Here are some tips for keeping your online reputation as squeaky clean as possible so that what you do today doesn’t haunt or hurt you in the future:
• Check your friend list. Who you friend and associate with, including groups, is a reflection on you. Connect with friends with common interests, including school, college, and personal interests. Do your Facebook friends reflect your personality? Are there any friends to un-friend or groups to drop?
• Check privacy and security settings to control what others can see. Check them periodically, because social media policies often change.
• Clean up your “digital dirt.” Remove, or request to have removed, anything that may tarnish your current or future reputation. What pics should you remove from your wall — yours and those others posted?
• Google yourself once a month. Take the time to see what’s out there in cyberspace with your name attached. Everyone else can find the same thing. You can also use Google Alerts and you’ll receive an email when your name shows up. Another similar service is SocialMention.com, which searches social media.
• Before posting something, do the “Grandma Test.” Ask yourself: is this post something that I would want my grandma, or someone else that I know and respect, to see?
• Keep is positive. Use social media to demonstrate your positive personality. Do you want to be seen as someone who is positive or only complains and whines?
• Cool down. Before you post something you may regret, take a breath or two. Maybe wait an entire day. It’s too easy to get caught up in the moment and post something nasty. (See “keep it positive” above.) Be mindful what you say about schools, friends, teachers, enemies, and anyone or anything else.
• What’s your name? No, not your legal name, but your online name? It’s probably best to use your real name instead of something cute or something that could be seen as inappropriate. If your name is already taken as a username (there is probably more than one John Smith out there), consider adding your middle initial or add a special character (for example: @john_smith) to differentiate.
• Get a real headshot. You had fun at that party, but is that really the impression you want to make in your profile picture? A picture really is worth a thousand words. Have a friend shoot a good pic, head and shoulders only, against a plain background. Smile. It’s doesn’t need to look like a mug shot.
• Be yourself. It may seem like the opposite of what I’ve been saying, but it’s important to be yourself. Your social media personality may be the first impression someone has about you. Make sure your posts reflect your unique personality. Make a good impression by posting about your career interests, hobbies, community activities, achievements, and other things that can tell someone who you are as a person.
Remember, everything you post and upload to the Internet, someone can download for future use, be archived forever, and potentially displayed when you least expect it. It's something that you should keep that in mind anytime before you post something.