By Sharon Glickman, USDR Contributor
One of the most important assets you have is your image. It only takes a few minutes for a person to form a first impression and an equal amount of time to form a bad impression. While the image that you project may still be unrefined, you must learn to manage it well at all times and in every type of situation whether online or person to person.
Every time you tweet a message on Twitter, or post a picture on Facebook, or check-in at your favorite restaurant using FourSquare, all of that information is stored on servers somewhere, and will likely be seen by more people than you ever imagined for a longer period of time than you ever wanted. These little snippets of information about you are what ultimately shape and form your online image so you need to learn to manage them.
Here are a few tips to get you started. They may seem obvious to you at first, but once you think about them I bet you’ve slipped up a time or two.
- Don’t post bikini pictures or political manifestos. No matter how good you think you look, or how smart you think you are, these types of communications are better kept to yourself or only shared with those closest to you. Before you post any picture (of yourself or someone else) always ask, “Do I really want everyone to see this?” If you hesitate for even one second then don’t do it. Always assume that there will be someone who will copy or screenshot that picture or document. You will never again have absolute control once it is posted on the Internet. People will draw their own conclusions from the postings because there’s often no context, and you’re not available to explain the circumstances.
- Don’t use check-in technology no matter how tempted you are to become the mayor of your favorite Starbucks or to make your friends jealous by spending a long weekend at the Ritz-Carlton. By allowing the masses, in some cases, to know your location at various times (and it’s likely you are a repeat visitor to many places) you are giving away information about your likes and preferences that you would normally reserve for people you actually know. Ask yourself, “Do I really want people to know that I check-in at the local pub at least once a week but haven’t checked in at a library for more than a year?” Think about what every piece of information you post do to further shape and refine your image before you share it with the world.
- Don’t “like” pages on Facebook that you would be reluctant to show to or share with your mother or boss. The same is true for Twitter. Don’t “follow” anyone you are ashamed to have an interest in. There are all sorts of triggers built into Facebook and Twitter to share your interests with others. If you “follow” a divorce attorney on Twitter then be prepared for a telephone call from your mother-in-law asking about the state of your marriage despite the fact that the attorney is your good friend from college. You don’t know what people will think of you based on your ‘likes’ or ‘follows’ so be careful of what you do so that you protect your online image.
- Don’t allow videos of you making rude gestures, cussing and swearing, or doing something stupid or violent. Now that Google search results include all of the popular social media websites, you can be sure that your current or future boss, spouse, or child will someday see that video of you at your worst. These things will always come back to haunt (and mortify) you.
- Don’t use any type of wacky picture or image for your online profiles. No one wants to see your face squished in the middle like a reflection in a funhouse mirror. You don’t need to advertise that your alter ego is SpongeBob Square-Pants no matter how much you like the gang at the Krusty Krab. You don’t want to be known as the attorney with a penchant for dressing up as a clown and posting the pictures on your Facebook page. Sure, it may be cute and fun, but remember that what you think is funny to your friends may be viewed far differently by your clients and co-workers.
The most important message to take away from this is to always treat the Internet and the social networks you frequent as your calling card. These are bits and pieces of the real you, but without context. That’s why you need to actively manage your online image in order to control the messages you’re conveying to both friends and strangers. The line between what’s public and what’s private is now very fluid and at times nonexistent. It’s upon you to monitor and manage your online image if you intend to live and work successfully in the 21st century.