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Managing Your Social Media Image as a Young Professional


A couple weeks ago, I gave a presentation, “Managing Your Social Media Image as a Young Professional” at our local Chamber of Commerce to a leadership group composed of almost two dozen young professionals. This topic is so important – and so often overlooked – I’d like to share some of the insights from that presentation in this blog post. And while the title may say ‘young,’ the information certainly is not limited to those under 40.

People are looking for you.

It used to be that if you applied for a job or asked someone out on a date, you had some control over what they learned about you. If you were applying for a job, you would carefully hand-pick your references and provide pertinent professional information on your resume. If you were going on a first date, your date would learn about you through what you revealed during your dates, or what they found out about you from family and friends down the road.

Today, there is no such thing as making a good first impression at either a first interview or first date – you have already made your first impression with what information they were able to find about you online. A 2010 study revealed that 75% of hiring managers Google potential candidates before an interview, and one source from 2011 said that 80% of people Google their upcoming dates.

What they find can and may be used against you.

While it is illegal to discriminate against a potential candidate based on information you find out about them online, most hiring professionals say they are unable to “unsee” information. Types of posts that are can harm your chances at a job – or a romantic interest – include extreme posts about politics and religion, negative lifestyle choices (excessive drinking or recreational drug use), online conflicts/negative attitudes, and poor language use. (Including swearing or improper use of grammar.)

You’re on social media even if you aren’t on social media.

Many people believe they can circumvent these situations by simply “opting out” of social media all together. When I’m working with a client on their social media, the very first thing I tell them is that they are on social media even if they aren’t active on social media, and they need to find out what is being said about them.

None of my immediate family is on Facebook, yet all of them have been mentioned and have their photos out there – my cousins post things, my sister-in-law posts things, I post things, etc. Think about it: how many times have you seen “We’re all going out to dinner to celebrate [redacted] birthday!” on Facebook? If your friends are anything like mine, it’s a lot. Obviously these are benign incidents, but they have the potential to be damaging if you’re engaging in some of the behavior mentioned above and someone should post about it – and you.

Sometimes what is being said that isn’t about you can be more dangerous than anything you’d say.

What other people are saying about you on social media can certainly damage your reputation, but sometimes what is being said that isn’t about you is dangerous.

Prior to giving the presentation, I got a list of the young professionals who would be in attendance. I then spent 20 minutes researching each individual on Facebook. I did not look on Twitter or LinkedIn (with one exception, as her Facebook search led me directly to LinkedIn) or anywhere else – just Facebook. I found information about roughly half the group that I shared with them – and then I found Cara.

The Cara I found posted provocative photos and messages on Facebook – the complete opposite of what a professional should be doing.

Of course, this was not the Cara in the leadership group. She shared the same name, same city, etc., but was not the same Cara. And in this case, Cara’s opting out of Facebook may hurt her more than if she did have a profile, as a hiring manager that saw this particular profile would not look favorably on Cara.

What can you do about all of this?

First, make sure that you’re thinking ahead whenever you post anything to social media – would you be comfortable discussing whatever you posted with a hiring manager, your pastor, your parents’ colleagues, etc.? The same goes for when you’re spending time with family and friends – it’s perfectly acceptable to ask people to refrain from posting photos of you, or to at least not tag you in photos. Similarly, it’s ok to untag yourself.

Second, you can edit your privacy settings on Facebook, but be cautious, as many people fall into the trap of believing that is a “set it and forget it” type thing. Facebook frequently their privacy policies, so making this a regular practice (quarterly or at least two times a year is a good rule of thumb) is recommended.

Always remember that once something is posted online, it is there to stay. Simply deleting a photo from Facebook, or a Tweet, or the like does make it disappear 100%. Someone else may have saved that photo or taken a screenshot of the Tweet, etc.

Third, I recommend setting up a LinkedIn profile and populating it with relevant information. Use a recent professional headshot so that people can match you to what they read about you. Update your information regularly and refrain from using profanity or discussing anything too personal on LinkedIn. Providing your LinkedIn profile to people upfront gives you a little more control over what they will see.

Finally, I suggest searching for yourself. Use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., and see what you find. See if what you come across is about you – and if you’re okay with it being public information. Set up Google alerts to regularly monitor your name and information. Use what you find to help alter the steps you take to managing your image. Hootsuite and Tweetdeck are also two other sources that monitor your social media efforts and mentions.

The bottom line.

You don’t have to delete every photo of you having a beer that was ever posted or every single political diatribe you’ve ever engaged in. It’s important for you to strike a balance between who you are – and who you want others to see you as. Don’t change yourself – but do consider your current and future audience when you post something online.


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