For many, college is a time not only for academics but to have fun and enjoy freedom from constant parental guidance. In today’s Internet age, however, students should be wary not only of their post-adolescent indiscretions, but also their actions as adults. As students mature and move on, their reputations tend to stick in the digital age. Managing one’s actions and perceptions both online and offline will be critical to career success. Online reputation management is a must.
Written by Blake Jonathan Boldt
Overly assessable information
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus are all social media websites that allow up-and-coming business professionals to keep in touch with childhood friends and college classmates and to network among their contemporary peers. The sites were programmed with the intention of linking people together and quickly sharing information. It’s this widespread distribution of information that has made online reputation management difficult.
It is easier now than ever before to get information on virtually anyone with just a few mouse clicks. This reality is visibly true in cases of online stalking. Take for instance a June 2013 article in New York Magazine by Graeme Wood. The author notes that after a widely publicized news story damaging the reputation of a former college classmate, he found himself feverishly searching for information about him. He found plenty during his search, too, including information about the accused’s family.
While the writer in this instance may have not had malevolent intentions, it reveals how easy it is to spend a few minutes online locating information. Aside from public records, social media sites make it easy to share—often unintentionally—one’s current whereabouts, birthdays, children’s names and major family events. Confusing privacy policies and settings are sometimes set incorrectly, leaving potential reputation-damaging information available for anyone. High school and college students are especially vulnerable to sites’ privacy deficiencies.
The information contained on these publicly accessible user profiles remains long after degrees have been earned, jobs have been found, and families have been started. It would require little effort for a former rival—whether a scorned lover or old friend—to access the negative bits and repost in places where it could hurt another’s online reputation.
As teens and young adults, most high school and college students don’t consider the possible consequences to their online reputations five to 10 years down the road. They live in the present. Sites like Facebook have existed for about a decade, and a lot can change in a person’s life in that time. There have been numerous reports of people denied jobs after college based on information found on public social media profiles. Even those old MySpace pages that haven’t been updated in years are still relevant to a background check.
Potential future professionals must conduct an ongoing online reputation management campaign. The effort includes monitoring photos, notes and tagged locations. A bitter business competitor could locate profiles with negative information and distribute information or photographs once linked to someone who has long since left those party days behind.
Studies have found that people are sharing more and more information online, particularly teens. Photos, videos and personal information are freely posted on many social media outlets, with posters seemingly oblivious to their staying power. In fact, now that the Library of Congress is archiving America’s Tweets, your Twitter posts could be used as a snapshot of American life two or three centuries from now.
Before posting anything publicly, ask yourself if it is something you’d want a future employer or client to see. Even if you aren’t currently attempting to make a positive impression, those results can linger. The best way to protect yourself is to avoid any potentially harmful postings in the first place.
Tightened privacy settings
Facebook isn’t the only place you should mark your posts private. Check your privacy settings on YouTube, Google Plus, Instagram and any other social media sites you use. Even something as simple as the channels you subscribe to on YouTube could count against you.
As you clear various hurdles in your life, don’t assume you’re safe from scrutiny. Getting into the college of your dreams or landing that great job doesn’t mean you’ll never have to worry about your online reputation again. Your current employer can check your public social media profiles or search results at any time, and those posts can be held against you. This is especially true if you choose to freely vent your work frustrations online. Even postings on your private page can be leaked to your employer by a co-worker or someone who knows someone at your company. Don’t assume you can trust your online friends and followers.
Online information and public profiles should be handled with extreme care. After all, no one wants past ghosts to digitally reinvent their future.
Have you seen someone’s online reputation hurt them? Share in the comments down below.
Blake Jonathan Boldt is a content strategist for Reputation Advocate. He provides writing, editing, social media and content strategy services for both domestic and international clients. His articles have been featured in numerous magazines, newspapers and digital media outlets.
Reputation Advocate is an online reputation management company based in Franklin, Tennessee that believes an ounce of prevention is the greatest way to combat online threats. Through a complex network of proprietary websites, press release platforms, and other media outlets, the company helps individuals, small businesses, and professionals manage and monitor their online reputations.