The year is 2017 and it’s a rare thing to meet someone who doesn’t have some kind of presence on a social network, even if it’s on Twitter simply to follow fantasy sports. It’s about as rare as finding out that someone over the age of eighteen doesn’t have a cellphone.
As we check our feeds and proceed to share information with the world, it’s easy to lose track of the idea that our presence shows our brand. We share everything from family vacations, pictures of our kids, pictures of renovations being done to our houses, engagement and wedding announcements, and we check into places on the mobile interface to tell our friends where we are in case they want to join. We also share our political views, religious affiliations, our statuses in life, and we use our feeds as a platform to exchange ideas.
While your casual Facebook or Twitter activity may not seem too harmful on the outside, it can mar your brand to your potential employer; everything from the avatar you choose, to your banner, to the content of your messages. Where social media has become an embodiment of who we are, our activity becomes a mirror of ourselves.
Job seekers have to remember that they are in competition with other job seekers for the same positions. Pretend for a second that your interview is done as part of a group, and that part of the interview consists of the interviewer bringing up your Twitter feed on their computer and projecting it to a wall. Now, everyone has a chance to see who you’re following. You might shrug your shoulders – after all, you know it’s a public feed, so no harm no foul right?
Then, the picture of you getting inebriated at the bar last night comes around.
Then, that tweet where you hurl some four letter words at the bartender after she cut your liquor off.
Then, the video of you getting belligerent with the bouncer as he’s removing you from the bar, complete with all the profanity comes around.
Now, remember that your prospective boss and several other group members are seeing this content. What do you suppose they’re thinking? I may be in the millennial generation, and I do have a semi-casual and relaxed personality, but if I were the one doing the hiring, I might have some reservations.
Since our social media profiles are a reflection of our personalities and are a public conduit that we use to express ourselves, it’s easy to forget just how public our profiles are. Furthermore, nobody can be expected to be one hundred percent professional 24/7; the key is learning to put our best foot forward.
It’s one thing if you are in pictures with your colleagues during a professional conference.
It’s one thing if as part of closing on your first house, you and your spouse decide to have your real estate agent take a picture of you in front of the house.
It’s one thing if you just started dating someone and want to announce it to the world.
If you’re going to go out with friends for drinks and decide to film one of them singing completely off-key to karaoke, consider that if your superiors are friends with you on social media that said video might reflect negatively on you. As human beings, we’re all entitled to have fun and be silly through life, but you still have to work with some of these people in the morning.
While you might be proud to support a particular political party or politician, realize that it may affect how others at work view you. Additionally, your endorsements and positions on issues can have an effect on who is willing to associate with you as it does become part of your brand. Endorsements can come in many forms – statements on social media, monetary donations to campaigns, even being in pictures with someone are construed as such. Just remember that it’s a small world and news can spread on social media like a wildfire.
Apply this same logic to interpersonal connections. As time moves forward, people’s tastes and preferences change. The person you are at thirty is different than who you were at sixteen. Maybe you were the wild partier in college, but decided to clean up your act when you decided to become a police officer. Once you graduated and are now expected to set a higher standard, it may become necessary to distance yourself with the party animals of your past.
Finally, there’s the substance of your updates.
Do you use social media as a sounding board? While venting is therapeutic and can help you release energy and tension, pretend that release is up on the projection screen in a conference room. How does it reflect on you? Was that something better shared with a friend in confidence? Suppose the rant contained inaccurate information, or a false account of an event. That could mar your credibility and your integrity.
When you share content, is it content related to your personal brand? It is normal to have a life outside of work. Do you do any volunteer work? If so, when’s the last time you were recognized for it? Furthermore, if your organization was featured positively in the news, did you share the video to your feed? If you’ve accomplished something and it’s something you can showcase, do you? Do you travel often? If so, do you write about it? All of these add value to your personal brand and they serve as conversation pieces at the office. That accolade could lead to a skill being tapped by your employer in the course of your career.
Are you writing updates or books? It’s become exceedingly common for people to write lengthy updates, especially if they have a lot to say on a given topic. If you find yourself frequently doing this, perhaps you have a gift for writing and should consider starting a blog. It’s easier on the eyes and much easier to share wisdom in a blog and sharing it with multiple media outlets, rather than taking the risk that your update will be skimmed. If you feel that you have enough content available to write a book, by all means, do so. Just make sure you’re fact checking real information and citing your sources where appropriate. Nothing kills your brand quicker than peddling false information or plagiarizing others’ work.
Are your updates appropriate for a public forum? Whenever you’re in doubt, ask the source of information if it can be shared. If you receive the information in confidence, don’t disseminate it. If you read the information on an internal memo, treat it as confidential outside the office. Furthermore, even if your information is appropriate, mind your network as it could set off a chain reaction that could have devastating consequences beyond your own network.
The most common question asked by the younger generation: Why does an employer care about what I post on social media?
The succinct answer: When an employer brings you on as a member of their team, they are choosing to associate with you. For the sake of maintaining a professional image and keeping good relations with stakeholders, clients, and customers, they may want to do a cursory overlook of your social media channels, which considered in the public domain.
Employers aren’t going to great lengths to discover information if you put it out there for the world to know. While it’s great to tell the world that you are dating someone, if your boss is one of your connections and they see it, and perhaps your new significant other is a conflict of interest, that one update could be your undoing. While you might delight in displaying your recent tattoo with Twitter, if your workplace has a prohibition against them, and your employer follows you, that next DM could be disciplinary action. While it’s more nuanced, if you post a picture on LinkedIn of you having dinner with the representative of a competing company, your boss might send you an InMail questioning why you are associating with the competition.
If you are the type that loves to share with the world, I recommend the following:
- On Facebook and LinkedIn, you are presented with requests to accept. Look over their profiles to see who you might be accepting. Actualize that your employment may be contingent on that person being able to see your feed.
- Be aware of what you allow on your feed. When you share something, even if it’s for the benefit of others, it could be interpreted as you endorsing or supporting the content – same thing with the ‘like’ button. Facebook has ways that you can customize your profile and security settings to allow/disallow and require your approval of certain things.
- Be discriminating and judicious in your updates to social media. When you connect with people, you’re now sharing with your connection’s network. Where your profile is a reflection of who you are, the aspiration should be for people to see you in a positive light. This is especially true if an employer is seeing your profile for the first time.
- If your updates are mentioned in people’s blogs or official news reports, they may come up in a Google search. While protesting might be something you enjoy doing, it could affect how future employers view you, especially if in the course of your protest, you give a statement to a reporter that ends up coming out a different way than you envisioned.