What Was I Thinking?? How to Protect Your Online Professional Brand
Everybody has lapses in judgment now and then – usually in the company of friends, loud music, and a multitude of alcoholic beverages. But not until the advent of social media sites did those momentary lapses in judgment have the possibility of wreaking long-lasting damage on your job prospects and career. So now’s the time to make sure you’re avoiding any of these career-busting social media “bad ideas”:
Bad Idea #1: Focusing more on personal than professional information. Social media used to be primarily for sharing personal interests, information, and connections, so that’s what most people did. Now, however, social media sites and tools have gone mainstream as a way to build your professional brand and visibility among potential colleagues and employers. So make sure you’re not posting so much personal information on key sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter that it displaces the career-focused info you’d like hiring managers to know about you (or consider separate profiles or privacy filters).
Bad Idea #2: Sharing too much information of a very personal nature…and especially if includes a photograph! Generally speaking, resist the urge to regale the world with how many jello shots you had Friday night at Bob’s bar, stories from your bachelor/bachelorette party, or descriptions of how you dressed your pets up for Halloween – especially if any of them are accompanied by photos. Sure, these can be fun things to share, but you don’t want them to cross over into the same space where your professional persona lives (or come back to haunt you later). Consider it TMI!
Bad Idea #3: Discussing any behaviors or activities that would give a potential employer a reason not to trust your judgment. And here we are, back at Bob’s bar and the jello shots…. The thing to keep in mind is that you’re trying to convince someone to trust your professional maturity (and pay you a grown-up salary) – so yep, don’t give them any reason not to trust your judgment (at least that they can find online).
Bad Idea #4: Making negative, whiny, racist, or otherwise obnoxious comments in general, but especially about a person or employer. When you start building your professional brand, you’re establishing what you want to be known for (your skills) as well as whom you want to be known as (your personality and character). Making negative or obnoxious comments online pegs you as a toxic personality, and besides poisoning the discussion in any online community of which you’re a part, it will also turn off potential employers, who generally are looking to recruit people who play well with others.
Bad Idea #5: Engaging in confrontational behaviors (flaming, having to have the last word, etc.). This is the younger snarky sibling of Bad Idea #4. Word gets around fast, and people who might have been willing to be good career connections for you (letting you know about job openings, recommending you, sharing their connections, mentoring, etc.) will instead avoid being associated with you. Play nice – career karma really does work, and if you are good to others, it will come back to you in all sorts of good ways (read: job opportunities).
Bad Idea #6: Disclosing information about your employer (unless it’s part of your job). What’s inappropriate versus an okay disclosure will depend on your company, but generally speaking, assume a post about what a fabulous place it is to work, or the great management style they have, or what a great learning environment it provides would be good to go. Comments about massive layoffs, your psychotic boss, or the top-secret product about to be launched? Avoid at all costs – besides possibly getting you fired, you’ll scare off any potential employers who see this.
Bad Idea #7: Lying about your background, skills, experience, or expertise. Okay, we know, it’s mostly just Congressmen and CEOs of major companies that try to get away with this, but if you happen to be contemplating, ah, enhancing your professional assets, don’t! Aside from the ethical issues involved, it’s just way too easy to get found out – and it’s bound to happen at the worst possible point in your career.
Bad Idea #8: Spending too much time on Twitter during work hours. Here’s the thing: everybody you work with (including your boss) can see how much time you’re spending tweeting – rather than working. It’s tough for you to make a case for overtime hours, or increased pay, or a decreased workload, when someone can refer to a twitter feed that shows 25 tweets a day. Especially bad form if they’re about sex, beer, or your boss….
Bad Idea #9: Having abandoned social media accounts or out-of-date profiles. These tend to reflect poorly on your ability to commit to something and then follow through, plus it’s really pathetic when people try to connect with or follow you, only to be met with a resounding silence. So 1) think seriously about which social media tools you want to use to establish your professional presence and how you will consistently maintain that presence before you commit, and 2) don’t use your company e-mail as the contact e-mail. It’s way too easy to lose access to that e-mail, and then you’ll have to go through unbelievable brain damage to regain access to your site account.
Worst Idea #10: Not having any online presence. It’s now pretty much common knowledge that nearly every potential employer is going to Google you and check out your LinkedIn profile before they contact you for an interview. If you aren’t “findable” online, two things happen. First, people wonder why you’re not online (do you live in a cave? on the run from the law? in witness protection?). Second, prospective employers will move on to another candidate they can find information about.
Remember, your goal is to use social media tools to make it easy for hiring managers to find information about you that makes you seem like the perfect candidate for their job, without making them have to work to find that information.