When it first launched, social media was a fun place to share photos, jokes, frustrations, thoughts, and milestones. There was a belief that what you posted on your online profiles or timelines was only distributed to friends, family, and those contacts with whom you chose to share. Today, however, as social media permeates all aspects of our personal and professional lives, what you post online can have serious and lasting consequences.
Social media is a form of electronic communication "through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos)." Today, much of our social, personal, academic, and professional lives are tied to online platforms where we interact with others who share similar views, goals, and outlooks.
Nothing is private. For years, rumors circulated online that Facebook and other sites would make your social data public. While this has yet to be seen, it is important to know that everything you post, share, comment on, and promote online can easily be made available to the public. How? We can take a screenshot of your social media post or image, and we can "share" a post if we are friends or are connected to you online. While you might believe you are sharing your contend only with close friends, remember that if you type it into an electronic devise, you have made it accessible to others.
Your friends all have friends. I've heard from colleagues who believe they have "locked down" their privacy settings. While the effort is admirable, it's not fail proof. Online social media sites are constantly upgrading and updating their privacy settings, sometimes making it easier for your contacts or "friends of friends" to access your information and share with their networks.
Content has a longer shelf-life. The days of SnapChat images disappearing after a few seconds are gone. Screenshot images, sharing posts, and the enhanced archiving features of many social media sites now make it possible to save your content for many generations to come. Someone with the right tools and some time on their hands can access those old posts you shared from high school.
Your posts are searchable. Sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have enhanced their search features to promote trending topics and issues. This means that your content has become more searchable by a greater number of people inside, and out of, your network, enhancing the opportunity for something you thought was long gone to suddenly resurface.
Not all jokes are funny. You might think you are the funniest person you know, but when an online "joke" falls on the wrong audience, it can offend and hurt them. If this were to happen in person, you'd likely apologize for the offense and hope the mistake is forgotten over time. When this happens online, the recipient may not comment directly to you, but could share your insensitivity with their connections and friends and create a public outcry of rage over your "joke." Before you know it, you could have a reputation crisis on your hands.
Employers are looking online. Statistics show that more and more employers are verifying and evaluating their current employees based on their social media profiles. Whether they are assessing your growth potential in the company, or your viability to stay in your current job, your manager or supervisor may be watching what you post online. For instance, if you claim to be the nurturing type and your employer sees you attacking contacts online, they might question your leadership skills.
Recruiters and hiring managers are vetting candidates online. Before you're even hired, recruiters and hiring managers are looking through your social media posts to learn more about you. Simple mistakes such as putting a different college graduation date on your online profile than is on your CV can be enough to get you disqualified from the job candidate pool. Potential employers also want to see that you are passionate and focused on the same things you express in person.
Your clients, investors, competitors, and vendors search online. People who compete against you can use your social media content to position themselves better with your clients. Your current investors or clients might find what you post online to be "risky" or not consistent with their values, thus depreciating your value. Even the vendors who support you and can offer greater resources or cost discounting, might be turned off if they see you post information they find distasteful.
Your reputation is your greatest asset. As your career develops, your reputation becomes your greatest selling point. You will have ample opportunities to express your values, beliefs, and service through in person and online conversations and behavior. If your activities online go against what you tell in person, the people around you could lose trust in you, thus limiting the opportunities you have in the future.
It can be intimidating to post online for fear of making a mistake and damaging your reputation. Instead of resisting social media, remember to post content which is true, consistent with your values, collaborative and interesting. Then, it is likely you won't make the mistakes outlined above.