Social media is making the world smaller and smaller every day. Through Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms, we can stay updated with relatives across the country, get in touch with friends we haven’t seen in years, and build a vast community of people we might never have met. But with all the benefits of shrinking worlds come pitfalls to watch out for. Along with worlds shrinking, they’re also colliding. Colleagues see the things you post on Facebook originally meant for close friends, fellow parents can check out pictures of your family vacation shared with relatives across the country, and your boss might just see you check in on Foursquare at the ball game when you called in “sick” that morning. The key to avoiding these potentially embarrassing or damaging situations is to be aware of what information is available to who and controlling as much as possible who you allow to view the personal details of your life.
So what’s the first step to building and maintaining a positive reputation? Google of course! Do a quick Google search of yourself to see what information comes up. You might be surprised at what you find. It’s becoming more and more common for employers to do a Google search of candidates to find out what they’re not putting on their resumes. You should know what they’re going to find and the best way to do that is to do a quick search and see what they’ll see.
For many people, the main source of information about them on the web comes from Facebook. We post pictures, connect with friends, and air our thoughts in status updates. And as long as your community is one that you trust, that can be a great thing. But with Facebook’s ever changing profile and privacy settings, your community might be wider than you imagine. Know your privacy settings! One of the great updates Facebook has recently made is adding lists. You can categorize people in your network by their connection to you and set separate privacy filters for each list. Keep your most private information and silly photos to your closest friends and family and only allow the public and distant acquaintances to view select information, such as your job title and education.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t just apply to things you’re posting right now. With the new layout known as Timeline, your Facebook friends can now see pictures, links, and status updates going back to the earliest days of your account. You might be a mommy of two who volunteers in her community now, but if you created a Facebook profile back in your college days, those less than impressive pictures and comments will show up in your timeline. Likewise, if you didn’t invite your coworkers to last year’s birthday bash, they might be surprised to suddenly see the envy-inducing photos. Apply all the same privacy settings of your current updates to past updates and those secrets will stay secret.
Of course, many of these pitfalls can be prevented if we all follow an update of the old etiquette rule: Think before you Tweet. This of course doesn’t just apply to Twitter, but to all your social media platforms. Don’t check in at the mall on Foursquare if you’ve called in sick to work that day and remember that if you can’t say anything nice, know that the person you’re talking about will inevitably find out.
By now, you might be wondering if you wouldn’t be better off just hiding your Facebook profile, protecting your tweets, and only checking in secretly on Foursquare. But don’t jump off the social media bandwagon just yet. Putting your best face forward isn’t just about avoiding online snafus. Your networks can also be an asset. Use your Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ accounts to showcase skills that don’t appear on your professional résumé. Let potential employers see that you’re in the know by liking and reposting interesting articles about your industry. Like and follow companies that you’d love to work for or that are particularly informative about your field. Put together a Pinterest board of fun kids’ crafts and event décor when you’re campaigning to lead your child’s PTA. In other words, think of your networks as a tool to show off your best self, not just as an online hangout.