In the song My Hope, Molly Lewis talks about what it would be like if her classmates’ future children ended up finding their parents’ old MySpace profiles. It’s a catchy tune and a fun thing to think about…until you realize that the song is right: What you put online stays there — particularly when it comes to social media.
You probably weren’t thinking about that when you posted the pictures from that frat party on Facebook. It was college. You were all having fun!. No big deal, right? Except…it turns out now that it just might become one.
It’s easy to get caught up in the social aspect of social media and forget that the entire world can see everything you’re doing…and that “everyone” can now include potential employers, clients and other professional sources you might not want to see you in that certain pose from that party that one time.
So what can you do about it? How do you make sure that your social media habits as well as those of your friends don’t come back to bite you in the…you-know-where.
1. Make sure your privacy settings on all of your social media profiles are turned all the way up. This way, unless you grant permission, you don’t have to wonder that a cursory glance at your Facebook page will turn up any more than you’d want a casual stranger to see.
2. Ask your friends and family to untag you in pictures and posts. This is key. You don’t have to ask that they take them down. You simply need to ask them to remove the tags. This way, everybody can still enjoy the pictures and posts, but you don’t have to worry that they will inadvertently lead back to you.
3. Take down any photos or posts on your own profiles that you’d be embarrassed to have passed around the office.
4. Run a check on Google and Reputation.com to see what the Internet thinks of you. If it turns up anything embarrassing or untrue, contact the person posting that content and ask them to take it down or correct it.
5. Start separate profiles for your professional life that you can leave on the public settings. While Google+ is trying to limit profiles to one per person, Facebook, Twitter, etc., don’t have those restrictions.
You might not use them very much now, but they can be helpful later on when you’re trying to promote your business or clients. You won’t have to worry that your friends or family feel spammed by your promotions and your clients and business still get the mentions. Everybody wins.
Finally, learn how to handle the embarrassing things posted on social media gracefully. Blushing slightly and making a quick joke about “you know how college is” and then turning the conversation in a less embarrassing direction makes you look a lot better than moaning, burying your face in your hands, and apologizing like crazy.
Social media is great — it’s bringing the world closer together. At the same time, the same rules apply to it that apply to underwear and car accidents: Don’t post anything you’d be embarrassed to be caught doing or saying later.
About the author: Erin Steiner is a freelance writer from Portland, Oregon, who covers a variety of topics.