It’s a Friday night. You and a few friends go to your favorite watering hole to blow off some steam from another hectic workweek. A couple of drinks get mixed with dancing, gossip, and lack of common sense. And then the camera comes out. All of a sudden your friend seems less like a buddy and more like a paparazzo waiting to get the shot that will appear on every rag magazine.
On Monday you walk into the office, sit down, and open your e-mail. In your inbox there is a message from your friend that contains a link to his public social networking page. There’s your full name and pictures of you having a great time during your night out; not necessarily the thing you’d like everyone, especially your boss or coworkers, to see.
Nowadays it is commonplace that your employer or business associates will look at your social networking page, such as Facebook or MySpace, if it is public. If your friends’ pages are also public, they can see those too, along with other connections such as your business associates. And even if you’ve taken the extra step and restricted the outside world from accessing your social networking page, you might want to monitor the people around you when it comes to protecting your online reputation. If their pages are public and they post your full name or likeness, you should know about it.
According to CareerBuilder, one in 10 hiring managers uses social networking sites to screen potential candidates. Of these managers, 63 percent will find inappropriate behavior that will make them dismiss the candidate.
It’s time you manage your online reputation and put an end to outside influences that could possibly be hazardous to your professional career and ultimately defame your character. The following are steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Set your profile to “private”: Aside from not having a social networking page at all, the best way to protect yourself is to make your page private. Social networks have come a long way in terms of protecting the privacy of their users and restricting who may access certain accounts. The process is simple and only takes a few moments to complete. Once it’s set up, a visitor to the page will have to be accepted as a friend in order to access the account. Also, be sure to select who and what a person is allowed to view after someone is accepted into the group. And if your friends post personal information about you, it can’t hurt to ask if they’ll change their settings to private too.
- Put an end to friends who post embarrassing pictures and blog about weekend activities: Simply tell your friends that you have a professional career and you’d like to keep it that way. If they are your friends, they should respect your wishes. Have them remove you from their “buddy list” or “top friends” immediately and take down anything you feel could be detrimental to you. If your friends blog, ask them to never use your full name.
- Tell your friends not to put “tags” on their photos or blogs: Tags allow people to search using keywords when looking for a particular event. It takes more time to find photos or blogs on the Internet that don’t have these tags. Some networks, such as Facebook, allow you to remove an identifying tag placed by a friend. Be smart, though. If you remove a tag of you doing something you regret but other photos in the slide show have tags, visitors will be able to connect the dots.
- Give your friends a heads-up on new features that social networks offer: Sites such as MySpace allow users to preapprove comments that are posted on their page by visitors. Most social networking sites also allow users to block comments on their pages. Like all technology, social networking continues to evolve. Be sure to stay in the loop of new developments.
- Monitor openly accessible social networks you’re involved in: Check open social networks daily to ensure your good name. It may sound like a lot of work, but it’s better that you know before anyone else.
- Contact the Web site itself if something is beyond your control: Large social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook have ways you can report inappropriate behavior. There are also sites such as ReputationDefender that will search the Web and offer assistance in helping to remove, at your request, inaccurate, inappropriate, hurtful, or libelous information about you, your family, or your business.
Always keep in mind that what you put on the Internet will always be there; just about everything on the Internet is archived in some format or another. Also, consider that your offline social life may wind up online, whether you want it to or not. By following a few simple rules and exercising caution when posting comments, putting up photos, and especially choosing friends, using social networks may work for you instead of against you.