How Much Does Your Social Media Activity Affect Your Professional Life

There is no such thing as privacy on the internet. If you put it up on the web, no matter how strong the privacy settings and firewalls, if someone is determined enough, she can find it.

So, yes—those photos from high school of yourself and your friends messing around with the school’s HVAC system?
Your future boss will be able to see them. The embarrassing video? A future client could use it as a reason to go with someone else.

The fact is that, while fun, social media is also a record of who you are and who you have been, and it is considered fair game by employers, clients, potential relationship partners, and anybody else who is curious.

It’s easy to read that and get freaked out by it. You’re working hard to build your business. You’re putting in the hours to build up your professional credibility. The last thing you need is an off-the-cuff comment on someone’s Facebook page to be your undoing.

social media activity
Image courtesy of Rattigon

So what do you do?
How do you make absolutely sure that the only things people can find out about you are things you want them to know?

  1. Turn up your privacy settings as high as they will go on your personal pages.
    No kidding, there is no such thing as “too strict” when it comes to social media privacy settings. Make your pages and accounts private and only viewable to people who know you and to whom you are already connected.
  2. Set up professional accounts for yourself.
    You’ve undoubtedly learned how to use SEO on the things you post on social media by now. Use that knowledge and those skills to make sure your professional accounts come up before your personal accounts on search engine results.
  3. Turn every negative into a positive.
    It’s okay to get angry about things and to talk about the things that frustrate you. It’s even okay to vent sometimes.
    What’s better, however, is to try to make the situation as positive as possible.
    Instead of talking about things that bug you or that are broken, talk about what you would do differently. Talk about how you would fix something that is broken. Use constructive language. “I’m disappointed in X. If it were up to me, I’d do Y.”

    social media activity
    Image courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul

    NOTE: Remember the rule of the Internet: Only put online what you would actually say to someone’s face. Do not say anything that you wouldn’t want to own up to if called out on it. When venting or talking about disappointments, leave people’s names out of the post. Talk about the situation, not the people.

  4. Never talk about work on the Internet.
    Yes—you were just told that sometimes it is okay to vent constructively.
    That tip does not apply to situations involving your work or your clients. All work and client matters must be kept confidential. Period. Forever.
    Yes, even that one and even then.
  5. Own it! Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.
    As an Internet marketer, you probably want to be as open as possible about who you are online. This is going to, sometimes, mean owning up to some embarrassing situations from your past (or even your present).
    It’s okay to say, “Wow, yeah, I did that. I wish I hadn’t but I learned a lot from it,” and then turn the conversation toward something positive.

    For example, if a friend posts an embarrassing love letter that you once wrote to him in grammar school, you can say, “Oh my gosh! I don’t even remember that. Young love! I’m so glad my spelling has improved since then!” and then go on with your day.
    Writing “OMG NO, TAKE THAT DOWN RIGHT NOW YOU JERK” is going to resonate more (and likely lead to more embarrassing stuff being posted by friends trying to push your buttons) than a simple chuckle and the suggestion to move on.

    Here’s the truth: Most job recruiters do searches on Google and through social media on potential recruits. Your clients are going to Google you and search through Facebook, Twitter, etc., for mentions of you and your business. Your business depends on them liking what they see.

    You can’t completely control what other people post online. Sure, you can ask your friends and family not to post your baby pictures, but if they decide to ignore your pleas not to embarrass you, it is how you handle that embarrassment that will end up mattering the most.

    And, of course, you can always take steps to proactively protect your future reputation online.
    Remember: People’s attention spans are short. The more work you put into creating a positive and professional reputation now, the less likely they will be to investigate further back or to dig more deeply into your past… unless, of course, that client you’re trying to land is a federal agency.
    But that’s another article for another time!

Erin Steiner creates web content from her home in Portland, Oregon, and spends entirely too much time on social media.

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