Managing Your Online Presence
We all leave a digital footprint. We join social networking sites, post pictures and send messages - often with little thought for the future.
Sometimes it can be embarrassing when a picture of you doing something silly or inappropriate gets shared a bit too widely, but it doesn’t generally matter all that much.
However, once you start to look for a job, or perhaps get involved in public life or on committees, it all becomes a bit more important.
You’ve prepared a carefully-crafted CV, résumé or application form, and a beautiful LinkedIn profile, but you’re not getting job interviews. Is there a reason?
Perhaps there is information about you online that is putting off potential employers. Youthful indiscretions could also damage your reputation later. You should be managing your online presence across social media and other sites.
Finding Out What’s Online
Ideally, you have managed your ‘digital footprint’ in a way that ensures that only the things that you want public are public. Nevertheless, it is often very difficult to control all mentions of you that are made online.
Your first step is to find out what information is out there. The best way to do that is to do a Google search for your name, because that is what potential employers will be doing. Put double quotes around your name to tell Google to search for it as a phrase, rather than two separate words, for example - search for "Joe Bloggs".
Unless you have a very unusual name, you’re going to find that there is a lot of information available that doesn’t relate to you; look through the first five pages or so of search results, as well as the first few pages of images. If you get too many results about other people with the same name as you, try including your country and/or city as part of your search term. You should also search for your email address and see what is found.
Look for anything that might be off-putting to potential employers in the search results. This will include, but is not limited to:
Any reports of police involvement in your life.
Any unpleasant, prejudiced or biased comments or posts that you have made, however old or outdated—and especially if your views have changed substantially since then. Your social media history has a way of coming back to bite you at a later date.
Any reports or mentions of drunken parties, even student ones, because they suggest that you may be too focused on your social life, and this may affect your ability to work. Plus you might do something that could embarrass the company.
Other people’s photos of you doing something stupid or inappropriate for the same reason.
Comments that you’ve made on social media about your boss or the company that you work for, particularly if they are unprofessional comments. Companies don’t like to think that their employees might talk about them online.
Your Facebook profile in general because it’s social, not professional.
Other social media mentions of you that give an unprofessional picture.
Somebody else with your name who has obviously had some kind of problems.
Once you've scanned through the Google listings, you’ll also need to do a trawl through social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the like, searching for your name. Remember to look at old social media sites too. For example, you may have been an ‘early adopter’ of social media, and have an account on MySpace. Check all the social media accounts that you’ve ever had.
Don’t just look at sites on which you have a profile. You’re also looking for anything off-putting that has been tagged with your name, whether by you or someone else, and is publicly available to view.
Once you know what’s out there, then you can start to effectively manage it.
Remember, you can tell what content relates to you, and what is about someone else with the same name, but other people can’t necessarily do so. Your strategy is therefore two-fold:
- To remove or hide anything unprofessional or off-putting that does relate to you.
- To make clear what doesn’t relate to you.
Managing Social Media
A lot of potentially embarrassing or unhelpful information about you is likely to be on social media sites.
Start with the areas that you can control: your own social media profiles. Then move onto your friends’ profiles and any tagged information.
The following tips should help you to clean up your profiles.
Set up your privacy settings on social media accounts so that only your friends can see your ‘social’ accounts. Make sure that you don’t ‘friend’ anyone who is not genuinely a friend; don’t be tempted to ‘friend’ clients if you’re self-employed, or colleagues. Keep LinkedIn professional, and keep your other accounts for friends.
If possible, use a different email address for business and social. That way, if your potential employer searches for your business email address on Facebook, they won’t find you.
Remove any incriminating photographs or any unprofessional comments from your own social media profiles. Better still, don’t post them in the first place.
Put a profile photograph on your LinkedIn account. That way, potential employers will be able to see immediately if an incriminating photograph is not of you, but of someone else with the same name. Make sure that your photograph is professional and recent. A good head-and-shoulders shot is ideal.
Make sure your LinkedIn profile is complete. Potential employers will be able to see where you studied and where you worked, so that it will be clearer whether content does or does not relate to you. See our page: Using LinkedIn Effectively for more information.
If you found any unhelpful tags to photographs or reports made by someone else, then untag them. If you can’t untag them, contact the person who put them up and ask them to untag them for you. Explain your problem and hopefully they’ll be happy to oblige, although you may need to remind them.
Ask your friends not to tag you in that way. Explain your problem and ask them as a favour if they’d mind not doing it again. Other people will be in a similar position, so they’ll probably appreciate your concern.
Delete old social media accounts. If you don’t use the site anymore, but it still exists, delete your profile. It will probably still be archived somewhere, and may pop up in search results, but will be much harder to find and explore in any detail. Be aware that social media sites often prefer you to deactivate your account, rather than delete it, so you may have to hunt around a bit for a way to delete it.
It is also worth having a look at message boards and forums that you either use now, or have used in the past. You can often search by username or email address. Check whether you used your real name, or a username that might easily be associated with you—in other words, if anything is obviously attributable to you. Look for anything embarrassing or outdated, and then remove it.
It is also worth considering deleting your account if you no longer use the site.
Managing Other Sites
First of all, there really isn’t anything you can do about reports of anything criminal that you may have done. You should, in any case, be declaring these to potential employers. If you don’t, you may lose your job later if the information emerges.
A recent court case in Europe was brought by a Spanish man whose Google results produced a notice about an auction of his repossessed home 16 years earlier. He claimed that the case was settled and should no longer be public information. The court agreed and has given individuals the right to request that Google removes “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” data from any search results about them.
If your Google search turns up results about you from some years ago that are no longer relevant, or that is incomplete or wrong, and could be off-putting to potential employers, you have the right to ask Google to remove them from their database and search listings.
Google will consider your request on its merits. There is very little information about what Google will, and will not, agree to remove, although so far it seems to be clear that the company won’t remove anything relating to criminal convictions.
Applying to Google to have search results hidden is a bit of a ‘nuclear option’ to managing your online profile, and it may backfire. For example, someone recently applied to have Google ignore a blog written by the BBC’s Robert Peston six years ago that has since gone viral on Twitter. Not quite what the person involved really wanted. It’s also not clear how long it might take to get listings removed from search engines.
Contacting Google is probably a step that should only be taken if you’re absolutely certain that this is the problem, and once you’ve addressed all the other possible options.
The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation also gives EU citizens stronger rights over their personal data, including information on the internet. This also applies to UK citizens, because the UK has adopted the legislation. You can therefore ask for posts or comments to be deleted from websites. However, be aware that a site can refuse to do this if the post is considered historically important. This might, for example, apply to someone who is now in public life, and wishes to remove any record of previous ill-judged comments.
WARNING! The internet is permanent
It is worth remembering that nothing on the internet can truly be deleted. Once it has been published, it is effectively public knowledge. Try as you may, it will be very hard to remove all record of it. There are sites that scrape the internet, including social media and message boards, and archive pages or posts.
Trying to remove the record of something embarrassing, incriminating or just plain stupid may therefore be hard—especially if you are going into public life. It may also simply serve to draw more attention to the comments.
The best answer is JUST DON’T DO IT IN THE FIRST PLACE.
In other words, think before you post or share, and if in doubt, don’t.
The best way to manage your online presence is to make sure that you don’t post anything incriminating or unprofessional, or at least only do so behind some pretty good privacy protection. Yes, it’s a bit dull, but this is your reputation that we’re talking about and it’s worth guarding.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Develop the skills you need to get that job.
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