In the Age of Google, Facebook, and Twitter, appearances can be everything. These days, we all have a world of information, readily available from our desktop computers and our mobile phones. As such, it is all too easy to do our due diligence, using search engines to research people before we hire them, buy from them, or do business with them. The implication for working professionals is clear: What a search engine reveals about you could be make-or-break for your professional life — and that’s to say nothing of potential personal embarrassment.
Consider these scenarios. An employer is trying to weed out red-flag applicants from a list of job seekers. He gets to your resume and conducts a Google search for you. The first entry to appear is your Facebook page — complete with slovenly, drunken photos of you from the weekend before. Do you really think you are a likely candidate to land this job? Or maybe it’s not about landing a job, but about selling your products or services to a potential client; regardless of circumstance or context, negative Google results could prove devastating.
That’s why most professionals, here in the Land of Google, have learned to be careful with what they put onto their social media sites. In fact, the Internet is filled with lists of what not to put on Facebook, to avoid consequences in your professional life.
Those lists are helpful, but they only tell one side of the story. It is certainly true that social media sites can prove harmful, and that prudence is needed. It is vital to be vigilant in what you post to Facebook, and to make sure those slovenly drunk photos never become associated with your name.
The inverse is also true, however. Social media sites can hurt, but they can also help. Work them right and they can be invaluable assets, tools for helping to distinguish yourself and gain professional advantage. It is just a matter of knowing not just what to avoid posting, but what you actually should post.
Whether you are a busy professional or a job seeker, it is important to brand yourself — and that’s really what social media sites are used for. Companies use Facebook and Twitter accounts to cultivate a certain image — that they are hip, trendy, in touch with their clients, socially responsible, or whatever else. In the same way, it is important for you to use social media sites to brand yourself as someone knowledgeable, authoritative, and reputable.
Part of establishing yourself as an authority figure is making it clear that you are a professional with plenty of respect within your industry. This is done by making sure to list your previous work experience, of course, but that is only half of it. Your Facebook account should be more than a glorified resume. You might also include the names of professional organizations to which you belong, or even academic ones. Simply “liking” these professional organizations can go a long way.
Another way to cultivate a sense of goodwill toward yourself: Show off your charitable side. Include information in your social media profiles about charities and non-profit groups that you support. “Like” the Facebook pages for the American Cancer Society, the Humane Society, or whatever other organizations you support. This helps to showcase your values and your personal side in a way that isn’t just kegs and parties!
Some professionals take another approach to online reputation management. They effectively maintain two profiles on sites like Facebook — a professional one and a personal one. This may seem prudent, but is actually a poor idea, for a couple of reasons. The first reason is the most basic: This is a violation of Facebook’s terms and conditions, and you are unlikely to get away with it for long.
More practically, having two separate profiles is difficult to maintain. What is to say that a potential employer will not accidentally stumble onto the personal one instead of the work one? To keep them apart, you will need to use separate e-mail addresses and be vigilant in making sure there is no content that crosses over from one to the other. Even if you do everything right, there is no guarantee that you will be able to keep your two lives separate.
In the end, the two profile approach is not a winning solution. A better approach is simply to remember that what you post to social media sites can either help or hurt you — and the decision is really up to you. Use your profiles to showcase the positive attributes about yourself, and diligently keep negative stuff off. Regard your social media accounts as powerful tools in self-branding, and do everything in your power to make certain that you’re cultivating a brand you can be proud of.
Direct response marketer and reputation management expert Rich Gorman is one of the driving forces behind www.reputationchanger.com, which offers online reputation management. In addition, Rich operates the official blog for the Direct Response industry where he shares his thoughts on Direct Response Marketing.
Sandy Miller has been helping clients with marketing and advertising projects for over 15 years. In that time I have seen lots of changes but nothing as exciting as the introduction of social media.