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Keeping Your Online Image Clean

My generation is in a unique situation: We’re the first generation to have grown up alongside the Internet. Even though the Internet went public in 1995 (when many of us were kids), we can still vaguely remember a time before it’s existence. One would think that this perspective would only be beneficial- we’re familiar and comfortable with the Internet, but we should be aware of it’s dangers. Yet, I’m always amazed at how many people have little to no privacy settings on their social media pages, leave crude comments under their name on various sites, and generally drag their online image through the mud, unaware that it’s public for anyone to see.
When most people worry about what their online image looks like, recruiters are the reason they fret.  Despite popular opinion, it is not uncommon today for recruiters to spend hours searching your social media pages, possibly putting you on Google Alerts, reading your blog, and noting what content you’re posting on social media. It’s not just large corporations that dedicate staff to to this job. I’ve worked for one small company who, when we were in the process of hiring another employee, had their manager spend hours searching candidate’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.
So how do you clean it up? Thankfully, it’s not that difficult. And the sooner you take care of this chore, the less messy it will be.

1 . Start Scrubbing:

This one’s pretty obvious. Delete (or untag yourself) from the keg stand photos. Stop casually dropping curse words in your Tweets. Straighten up and show some respect. There’s a good rule of thumb regarding social media: Never post anything you wouldn’t want your parents (or grandparents) to see. My tech savvy parents have been on Facebook for as long as I can remember (and my Mom was on Twitter before I was!), so that hasn’t been a personal problem for me. But don’t rely on that alone- know privacy settings, and use them. I’ve personally been told by one communications recruiter that if he sees a job applicant’s Facebook page doesn’t have any privacy settings, even if the content is squeaky clean, he feels that they don’t understand the ins and outs of social media and how to use it properly.

The trick to a public social media account, such as Twitter, is to be authentic. Don’t be offensive, but don’t shy away from being edgy. Have fun, act casual, but still keep it professional. The closest real-world application I could compare it to is hanging out with your cousins at your Grandma’s birthday party. You want to be yourself and relax a little, but don’t relax so much that if Grandma (who’s just in earshot, as they always are) would be offended if she heard you.

2. Search for Yourself.
And by that, I don’t mean soul-searching (although that never hurt anyone). It’s a little shocking how little people in communications (or anyone actively job hunting) search for themselves on various search engines. Keep an eye out for two things: Anything showing up that you don’t want showing up, and nothing showing up at all. For the former, refer to #1. If a friend has posted incriminating evidence, ask for them to take it down. Just be aware that Google (and other search engines) cache images, and it will stick around for a little while longer- think of it as a snapshot that needs to be replaced with a new one. If your search pulls up nothing, be aware that no online presence is just slightly better than a negative one. The good news is you can start from scratch! Build a blog (like this one), create an online portfolio (here’s mine), or even an about.me page. The better your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ranking, the more professional and presentable you’ll appear.

3. Lather up with Linkedin
I debated about lumping LinkedIn with the other social media pages on #1, but I’m still caught off guard by how many of my peers don’t have a LinkedIn account. I think somehow people just assume it’s for more “serious” professionals (maybe CEOs? ), or that it’s not for their field. Both answers are dead wrong, and the good news is that it’s easy and free to set up. The best advice I could give regarding LinkedIn is to keep it professional (no Instagramed photo’s of your food here), and that you really need a professional looking photo.  There’s  a lot of LinkedIn accounts with profile pictures of a guy in a t-shirt, holding a beer at a barbeque. Throw on a tie, go somewhere well lit, and have your friend or significant other take a photo of you (which is exactly what I did).

4. Wash, Rinse, Repeat
The good news is that once you do some heavy-duty online image cleaning, the hard work is done. The bad news it that the job, while now in smaller doses, is always ongoing. Be constantly aware of what photos and statuses your friends are tagging you in, and untag (or ask them to remove it) as necessary. Continue to check and boost your SEO, and if you started a blog post, continue writing in a timely matter (an area where I admit I need improvement). HootSuite can help you keep an eye on your image, by compiling all of your social media accounts into one screen. Update your LinkedIn and Twitter profile pictures, keeping them fresh. Lastly, make sure you’re aware every time Facebook changes privacy settings (and they will change- suddenly and often). For reference, here’s a New York Times article about which Facebook privacy settings every user should know.

Keeping your social media and online presence clean can be a lot of work, but just like showering, you’ll feel a lot better once you’ve done it. And in this job market, no one wants to appear to a recruiter as a stinky choice.

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