What does your social media brand say about you? Have you invested time in creating a LinkedIn profile that aligns with your professional career but neglected to see what the rest of your social media accounts say behind the scenes?

Years ago, a co-worker showed me a new internet site that was connecting people. I was completely disinterested until he showed me another co-worker’s information including city they lived in, full name, photo and their employer. I was horrified! Why would anyone put their personal information out into the cyber universe for any crazy to see? That day I signed up to Facebook with a pseudonym to see what risks people might be putting themselves and our organization in. But then I got hooked into the appeal of the site after finding my best friend from grade school and people from my first job ever. I corrected my name and off I went into the world of social media.

I’ve made mistakes (still do) so I thought I would share some of my biggest lessons when it comes to your professional and personal brands on the internet. I’m sure much of this is common knowledge but we all know that what we assume to be common sense may not be all that common. I will confirm again that I am not a technology or security expert and I don’t have the cool jargon but I am slightly savvy and a little paranoid, which is where my interest stems from.

Let’s start at the very beginning. What is your social media brand? I assume because you are reading this, you have a social media profile of some sort. You’ve taken the time to at least create a profile and log onto LinkedIn. Thanks for coming. Off we go!

Use the Google (or Bing, Dogpile, Yahoo or some other search engine)

Search engines are a great way to see what is out there on the internet about you. Just a reminder that those search engines are also collecting a great deal of information about you while you are out there looking, but that is an article for another day. Go ahead, put your name in the search engine and see what comes up. I see articles that I’ve participated in, a comment I posted on an online obituary and a really horrific photo of me with a perm. So far, nothing that I am concerned about (note to self, perms don’t work on you) but that is because I scrub my data regularly.

Search engines have bots, think ‘robots’. These bots go into cyberspace and come back with information fitting the search parameters. The links that come up in a search are not within the control of the search engine (unless you buy their space) and they cannot assist with removing information from the internet. You need to go directly to the offending site. 

Years ago, I conducted a search and found more about me than I wanted. I think I was on Classmates.com or something and it gave out too much of my educational information and location than I was happy with. I had no idea how to get rid of it. Even after I deleted my account, it still came up in searches. This should remind us to be very careful about what we post on the internet, once your information is out there, it’s out there.

How do I get off the internet? Tightening your security settings or deleting your information can be a starting place. If you change your security settings, the access via a search engine may cease immediately. Eventually, those public posts that you deleted will get further and further back into the searches and will lose their relevance. If there is a particularly nasty post about you (and not by you), you can email webmasters directly to remove the harmful information or pursue legal means – that would be far outside my arena though. 

You can also set alerts through many search engines. You can set an alert to detect content changes (with your name or business) so you can monitor your online reputation in real time — before your teen searches your name and does it for you (but that is another story).

Facebook

On to the elephant in the room, the behemoth of a social media giant, Facebook. I love Facebook. I tend to get fairly busy with work and family so it allows me to quickly keep up with so many people I care about far and wide. It also has a great ‘On this day’ feature, which reminds me how much fun I had on a particular day in years past (thank goodness, because my memory sucks – a blessing and a curse – I may forget your name, but I never hold a grudge). 

I am a relatively transparent person so when I started using Facebook, I did not see the need to separate my personal and professional identities. I’ve learned the hard way that not everyone sees that distinction clearly and people often cross it . Now, LinkedIn is the way you can connect with me professionally. If we are connected on Facebook, I know you socially. If you are a Facebook friend, you may have no idea where I work. I never mention my employer on Facebook and I am careful to not share photos that identify where I work or show the company logo.

I also do not use my professional business name on Facebook so I can help define that line between personal and professional Michelle. If you find me on there, you’ve definitely been actively looking for me. My goal is to keep those lines clearly drawn. I have a friend who uses her first and middle name on Facebook because of her profession – she’s a therapist in a challenging field and it is better she is not trackable.  Just be mindful that you don’t break Facebooks rules around naming. 

I regularly review my security settings. Facebook has an interesting habit of changing their settings so you can get ‘more enjoyment’ out of the site, but that always somehow opens up your profile, potentially exposing you. For example, cover photos are always public, which means not only can that photo identify you but any comments made on the photos are public as well. If I change my cover photos, I change the security setting from ‘public’ to ‘friends’ on the old photo. I always leave my profile set only to ‘friends’. That restricts who can see my photos and leave comments.

If you want to see what the general public can find out about you, go to your Facebook profile, look beside the ‘View Activity Log’ on the cover photo. See those three dots? Click on them, and click on ‘View As’. Now you are viewing your profile as Public. Are you seeing more information than you’d like strangers to see? Go to the down arrow at the top (far right) and get into the ‘Security and Login’ section and tighten your security. If there are photos that you do not want public, change the security setting directly on the photo.

Twitter

Twitter is a forum for sharing your deep but brief thoughts. It is intended to be a relatively public forum and you should know that going in. That said, it has security features so you can choose how private to make your account. You can restrict who can tag you in photos and restrict location services (safety 101 – do not share your location). By default, your twitter account is public and anyone searching could see your tweets. You can adjust that by protecting your tweets but it really does limit the use of the site. You can also be found by others via your email address, which you may want to switch off. I don’t need to tell you to watch what you say on there. Old tweets have come back to haunt political figures too often to not be wary about what you tweet.

Other Tips and Considerations

Ask a co-worker (who is not connected to you on the site) to ‘creep’ your profiles to see what you are putting out there. There is a good chance that other people are looking at that information about you as well…current/future employers, friends, foes, co-workers and family (including nosy teenagers). People are naturally curious so they’ll look to see what is out there. 

Another consideration for how you should conduct yourself online is by reviewing your employer’s code of business conduct and social media policy, if they have one. Businesses often invest significant dollars in developing, managing and protecting their brand. How you represent yourself, and the comments that you may make online, could be construed to be opinions of your employer. Know their rules! There are plenty of legal cases out there regarding the fine line between personal and professional conduct on social media sites.

I’d touch on other social media platforms but the tips apply to all. No one can fully understand how this medium will evolve over the years except to know that it will. If you are mindful of your brand, you should review the security settings of these platforms on a regular basis as they are subject to change. If you aren’t sure about the settings or how best to use the site, there are usually plenty of articles about how to secure your information.

     Social media is here to stay and what you put into the cyber world leaves a footprint. What is it saying about you (besides possibly your questionable choice of hairstyles)?