Students, you impress me with your potential and capability to be stronger leaders than many generations before you. With the Internet at your fingertips, you have access to so much more information than the “look it up in the encyclopedia” Boomer and Generation X’ers of the world, and you so often you use it to change the world for the better.
Of course, you also use it to make funny videos with 50 of your closest dorm mates and friends. So before you use that smartphone in your pocket to share something with 10 or 10,000 people, I have a few tips for you to think about when posting updates, videos, and photos.
But first, I get it. You don’t like anyone telling you what to do and especially what not to do. (YOLO, right?) But more importantly than that, I want all of you to avoid losing scholarships, being kicked off great spots on sports teams, or damaging your reputation forever online. You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches if you do one small thing: think before you post.
Students ask me all the time, “How can employers judge me by my college event postings and who my friends are?” I assure you: they do judge you easily and readily, especially in a tough job market. But this also means that if you have your social media accounts so locked down that no one can see what you’re doing, it can look a little suspicious to the companies you want to hire you. They want to be able to Google you and not just see a selfie from last month—they want to see something positive about you!
According to Snelling.com, a leader in the employment industry, 86% of employers are checking social networks even before they grant an interview. Along with that, 94% of grad schools also care about a potential student’s online reputation while an undergrad. So even if you're still in high school, it’s never too early to start making these adjustments.
By now you might be wondering, what adjustments? How can you keep your personality alive in your online presence and not scare away potential employers (or others who might have a vested interest in you, like scholarship administrators and coaches—not to mention your parents)?
Well, here are 10 quick and easy first steps for ensuring your online "profile" is everything you want it to be.
- It might seem obvious, but get rid of any negative posts and pictures, both those you've posted and the ones you're tagged in. Coaches, employers, and deans do judge you by the company you keep.
- Highlight the good stuff. If you’re a volunteer, sing in a choir, are part of an environmental association, or participate in another community activity that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, be sure to write about it online, even if it’s just a couple of Tweets. Post so that Google will pick it up. Make it your Facebook status, or better yet start a blog about how cool the experience was and the interesting people you met.
- Remember what the Internet really is: a giant public record. They say nothing posted to the Web ever truly goes away, and you might be surprised how quickly and easily your personal information can be shared.
- Make a decision to let someone whose opinion you value highly (parents, favorite aunt, mentor, etc.) be connected to you on all of your social media sites. Even if you are saying to yourself, “No way! That is my personal space,” remember these people want you to be successful. This is about having your back, not invading your privacy. I look out for my cousins all the time; it’s often less invasive to them than their parents, and they trust I’ll only send them a (private) message about a post if it’s really inappropriate.
- Speaking of privacy, make sure to continue to privatize your social network accounts. You should know exactly what the world can see of your profile and posts. And keep in mind that privacy polices can change at any time and all the time. Being proactive will help you down the road.
- Set up a Google alert for your name (ask your parents to do this too) so that when a picture that’s been tagged or any mention of your name comes up on Google, you know first. Information is still power. For you athletes, know that many NCAA and NAIA sports teams are doing this as well.
- Remember that just because you don’t post pictures of every event or party you go to, it does not mean it wasn’t fun or didn’t happen. Even though we are encouraged to post every detail of our lives online, you have to refrain sometimes. The time is now.
- Download secureme.me, a free app that connects to Facebook and alerts you of what looks less than reputable right now on your profile, pictures, and posts. If you are already in hot water, check out Reputation.com; just be aware that it comes with fees.
- Give your phone a break. This is especially true if you’re upset and feel like you might say something you regret later. You could also benefit from just turning your phone off once a week and giving those texting fingers a rest. It could save you and your family money, and who knows—you just might enjoy being disconnected.
- Read my book, Are You Sure You Want to Post That?, to learn five crucial questions to ask yourself before you post anything.
P.S. By the way, this stuff applies to your younger siblings and even parents too, so share it with them!