When I was a high school senior--you know, back when pterodactyl snatchings were just another occupational hazard--Facebook required its users to have valid college email address. The upside of this, which I didn't appreciate at the time, is that a user's profile is accessible only to other college students. In other words, the stupid things you did or publicized on Facebook were relegated to the sphere of campus gossip: potentially juicy but ultimately limited in reach and implications. No longer.
A couple of fun data points have been floating around the blogosphere in the past few weeks, as a result of a recent study conducted by Microsoft. No. 1: "79 percent of United States hiring managers and job recruiters surveyed reviewed online information about job applicants." And No. 2: "70 percent of United States hiring managers in the study say they have rejected candidates based on what they found." But your "internet presence" doesn't just mean Facebook; Twitter, LinkedIn, foursquare and anything you or anyone else has posted about you are also implicated. I don't mean to induce desperate self-Googling, but the fact of the matter is that it may well be worthwhile to type in "Bobby Joe, Facebook" or "Bobby Joe, Twitter," and just see what happens. On that note, here are a few quick and easy steps to controlling your social media presence.
Step 1: See what happens.
Proceed to step two.
Step 2: Figure out whether you have a problem on your hands.
If any or all of your social media outlets are both (a) public and (b) contain information or, even worse, documentation of previous misdeeds that don't exactly speak to what a lovely, employable person you are, then you definitely have a problem. Go to step three.
If all your social media outlets are super private and have been for a while, skip forwards to step five.
Step 3: Admit you have a problem.
If a potential employer searches for you, she may not hire you on the basis of her online observations. This is a problem. Move on to step four.
Step 4: Up those privacy settings.
This could also be called the "damage control" step. Protect your updates on Twitter, and change all those little pull-down menus on the Facebook privacy settings to either "Friends Only" or "Only Me," which is under "Custom." For more on Facebook privacy, read Carolyn Wise's post on the two absolutely necessary Facebook privacy settings. Make sure to take Twitter off of your LinkedIn profile, and on the off chance that something incriminatory made its way onto LinkedIn, nip that in the bud too. And then, onwards to step five!
Step 5: Decide whether or not you want an internet persona in the first place.
Now, here's the trick. Step four does not have to be a permanent solution, but it can be. It's perfectly reasonable to decide that it's just too much hassle; you don't want a social media presence at all and that's that. In fact, that was the decision I made not long ago. I realized I didn't use my Twitter account all that much, so I just deleted it. I am a Facebook "untouchable," and My LinkedIn profile is dangerously sparse. And that's the end of it. If you feel the same, no judgment here. Enjoy your internet anonymity.
However, there are a few downsides to not having a social media presence. First of all, it means that I don't have control over what happens if someone actually does Google me. Search "Madison Priest," and the first hit you get is some guy who invented a "magic box" that may or may not be a hoax. The Facebook profile that comes up isn't me either. (Although I do appreciate that the represented Madison Priest can do somersaults. I can't, but I may well start claiming I can and using the picture as irrefutable evidence.) Moreover, for many jobs your social media presence can be a key portion of your resume. For instance, if you're applying for a position in which you are claiming some measure of social media expertise, you pretty much have to maintain a personal presence in Facebook, Twitter, et. al, or else you can't claim to have any prior experience. How are you going to know what works and what doesn't work if you haven't interacted with the platform?
And last but not least, maintaining a positive social media presence can actually help your job search. A really fun and innovative example of this is Alex Brownstein and what he called "the Google Job Experiment" (see video below). Brownstein used the power of vanity Googling in a very intelligent way and ended up getting his dream job. I actually got a job once in a much less ingenious (by which I mean, not actually on purpose) way. My boss-to-be Googled me and found out that we had a lot in common, which ended up being very positive for my prospects as a candidate.
To help you on your own path to social media success (or at least, non-failure), we here at Vault have written a series of how-to articles to help you navigate each social media platform. In the following posts of this series, you will find advice for creating a positive social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, foursquare and LinkedIn. On top of that, you will learn how to use each of social media platform to your advantage. Since a one-size-fits-all approach is definitely not in the spirit of social media, each post will survey a range of options. Stay tuned!
--Written by Madison Priest