Protect Yourself in the Social Media World

   Mark Goldman 

About 7 years ago, when Ron and I first met and started working  together, Blackberries were just becoming devices that anyone could use – not just within a closed corporate network.  As early adopters of technology, Ron and I marveled at the “always on” functionality of e-mail and calendars and we immediately became the first two in our office to carry them full time.  So when he asked me to offer some thoughts on technology today and its impact on the job search process, I knew immediately what advice I would share.

Much has changed since the early days of bulky Blackberries and AOL’s dial-up instant messaging.  Today, Twitter and Facebook postings are done on the fly, in real time from any device with and Internet connection.  Social networks offer tremendously powerful tools to stay connected and share ideas, photos, emotions and thoughts.  We are already seeing their impact on the PR industry.  But they also leave individuals with a “digital fingerprint” that isn’t always helpful or conducive to presenting a positive image during a job search. Increasingly, particularly in the PR world, a prospective employer will do a Google search on a candidate’s name and see what comes up.  If you’re not mindful of what you and your friends post about you, this could lead to an unflattering impression that could make the difference in receiving an offer.  Likewise, those who are already employed should be mindful of what their colleagues and see and read about them.

In one company I worked at, a young woman who had an active social life was promoted to a fairly senior human resources position.  She was talented and driven and her work was outstanding.  But some of her “internal clients” questioned her youth and experience and found some unflattering pictures of her on Facebook, posing for the camera in rather risque fashion.  It didn’t take long for those pictures to make the rounds and it unfortunately undermined her credibility.  Some simple steps could have helped ensure her private life stayed that way.

What should every job seeker and professional do?  Here are five simple steps you can take:

·     Review and use your privacy settings on social media channels.  Make sure you only let information about you be visible to people you know and trust.  Limit access to Facebook accounts and Twitter feeds. When a friend “tags” you in pictures, make sure they keep that image private as well.

·     Save the really juicy stuff for the phone or in-person.  While it might make you feel better to blow off steam in a Tweet, remember that your thoughts will stay in cyberspace for a long time – long after you’ve cooled off and moved on.

·     Keep your work and personal life separate in cyberspace.  It’s perfectly healthy to have great work relationships.  But including your work colleagues in your personal social networks can cross a line that can be uncomfortable.  Professional networks like LinkedIn and Plaxo offer great conduits to keep in touch with colleagues.  These are also geared toward sharing professional, not personal information.

·     Monitor your digital fingerprint.  We hear all the time how important it is to check your credit report from time to time.  Consider the same discipline for your personal Web presence. Search your name on Google from time to time, check to see what’s out there about you and make sure there’s nothing derogatory or potentially damaging to your reputation.

·     Express yourself … to a point.  The Internet offers so many opportunities today to express your thoughts and ideas.  Creating blog sites and participating in forum discussions is easier than ever.  There’s nothing wrong with expressing your views and ideas, but be mindful of what you’re putting out there.  A good rule of thumb is never say anything in cyber space that you wouldn’t say out loud at a company function. You never know who’s reading.

Positioning yourself well for a coveted job requires a lot of time and effort.  Don’t let the time you spend meticulously refining resumes, cover letters and preparing for interviews be offset by a poor reputation in cyberspace.

I wonder how long this blog posting will stay archived in Google?  Check back in 10 years!

Mark Goldman is global communications director at Diversey, Inc., one of the four companies owned by the Johnson Family of Racine, Wisconsin. He also has held communications leadership positions at Sara Lee, Sard Verbinnen & Co., and spent six years as a television and radio journalist.

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