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Personal is NOT Private: Top 5 Tips for Online Reputation Management


Have you noticed that many people seem to be suffering from a “lack of a filter” on Facebook and other social media? It always amazes me how open people are at sharing personal information or sharing their (sometimes very vocal) opinions in their own posts or on other people’s posts. Makes for interesting reading but I don’t think they realize that their online activities may be hurting their career.

I often advise my daughters (and the occasional young professional who comes to me for career advice) to recognize that social media is PERSONAL but it is NOT PRIVATE. What you post online can definitely help you – or hurt you – in your career. Here are my top 5 tips to make sure your personal online presence is more of a help than a hindrance:

  1. Avoid posts about politics or religion. People’s personal beliefs in these two areas are extremely strong and heartfelt. While sharing your opinions and beliefs will definitely connect you with other like-minded people, if you appear too polarizing you will definitely be turning a large group of people off. Your reach online goes much farther than you realize and comments that are acceptable in a small group of like-minded people are not always appropriate for the larger online audience.
  2. Don’t be overly negative or confrontational. If your posts tend to focus on the things that irritate you in your daily travels, you will be perceived as a complainer who could negatively affect a team of people. Likewise, it can hurt you if you frequently choose to enter into online arguments with others. Most employers are looking for team players who work well with others. Being negative and confrontational throws up huge warning signs.
  3. Be cautious about posting pictures of partying or drinking. Posting pictures of frequent partying or even occasional drinking can also hurt you. Consider the case of a teacher who was given the choice of resigning or being suspended after posting a photo of herself holding alcohol while on vacation in Ireland. Read article Even though her privacy settings on Facebook were set to the strictest level, this still had a very negative effect on her career. I personally have posted pictures on my Facebook page that shows me having a beer with Santa Claus, and photos that show me spending time making a batch of home-brewed beer with my husband. While I am currently the one who hires, not the one being hired, I do understand that my posts could certainly affect customer perception of my values, as well as their perception of my company. It is a risk I choose to take, but I am absolutely aware of the potential consequences.
  4. Don’t post negative commentary about your job, your company, or your company’s customers. Yeah, I know, this one is hard sometimes but it can go very wrong, very fast. Check out one of the most publicized horror stories about a note a customer who was a pastor wrote on a receipt at Applebee’s, which was then posted by an employee. Read article The waitress lost her job and both the customer and the company were crucified in online commentary. In situations like this, nobody wins. It doesn’t matter how many people agree with what you did online – at the end of the day you could still be without a job and find your prospects for finding a new one much dimmer.
  5. Don’t ever confuse personal with private. The best advice I can offer is to approach every post you make, either on your own channels or on someone else’s channel with the assumption that it will be read by your mother, your children, your pastor, and your employer. Hold to this rule and you can be yourself, without having the baggage that sometimes comes along with, well, being yourself.

This post was based on an excerpt of a presentation given by Ellen at the BIG Marketing event organized by PRCA and WBCNA on September 12, 2013, in Huntsville, Alabama. Click here to view full presentation, including tips for online reputation management for businesses.


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