The guys at BuzzFeed recently put together a video where they freaked out random people on the street by interviewing them about specific details of their lives, based on information that gleaned from their social media profiles. It’s a prank that’s been done before - no bonus points for originality – but it got me thinking about how recruiters and prospective employers are increasingly using social media in their processes. Maybe you don’t take social media too seriously, but how you approach it is somewhat irrelevant - if people are considering investing in you, there’s a good chance they’re going to type your name into Google. And as with the victims of this prank, there may be info there that you really don’t want to be sharing with the public.
A crucial step of the job seeking process is social media maintenance – and you need to be aware of what settings you can use, what buttons you can push, what steps you need to take to cleanse your digital footprint (like a foot spa, without the feet. Or the spa). Here are some tips to help you sharpen up your online presence:
1. Profile clean-up – Facebook
Facebook is a gold mine for advertisers and marketers who can access all your personal data and target you for (potentially) insidious purposes. Because of the constant concerns surrounding this, there’s a vast amount of privacy settings on Facebook, designed to help users control who can see what, with specific settings for posts, pictures and comments. But there are some tricks that you need to be aware of.
The first thing you need to do is check your privacy settings – from the main drop-down menu at the top right of screen (the arrow pointing down to the right of the padlock) go down to ‘Settings’ then click on ‘Privacy’ on the left menu panel. From here, you not only have the option to restrict your future posts, but you can also lock down your previous posts and any posts you’ve been tagged in. If you have any concerns about anything you might have posted, and how that might reflect on you professionally, best to lock them down here.
Once you’ve checked through these settings, click through to your profile and click on the ‘...’ tab, up next to ‘View Activity Log’ in the main profile header.
The drop down here will give you an option to ‘View as...’ – click on that and select ‘View as: Public’ to see what anyone who looks you up on Facebook will see (if they search from inside Facebook). You should also log out and look yourself up outside of Facebook to see what people get if they click through to your Facebook page from Google. You might see that some of your interests and other categories are showing up – you can go to each one individually and lock them down (there are privacy options on each section).
Make sure you read through all your posts and updates, see what information you’re revealing about yourself. If you’re in any doubt about anything, best to lock it down and restrict it to just friends. You can also restrict any future Facebook posts from within the ‘Status Update’ field – if you click on the button that says ‘Public’ below the box, you can select whether this update is shared with ‘Public’, ‘Friends’ or a range of other specific settings.
Also remember to check your photos – go through your photos and de-tag yourself from any incidents you’d prefer not to be associated with. This is done photo by photo, with a pen icon coming up when you hover over each image – click on it, then select ‘Remove Tag’ at the bottom of the drop-down list.
It’s important to conduct this audit so you’re fully aware of what info you’re making public, and what that data might say about you. If you’re ever in any doubt as to how your Facebook profile might reflect on your professional standing, err on the side of caution and lock it down. If it’s questionable at all, it’s not worth the risk – you’d hate to miss out on a job opportunity because of that photo of you drunk on the beach in Bali.
2. Profile clean-up – Twitter
Twitter is less complex. As you can only share posts of 140 characters, there’s likely to be fewer incriminating tweets attached to your name, but you still should check it off and ensure you’re presenting your professional self in the best light.
The first thing you should do is view your profile by clicking on the ‘Me’ tab at the top of the screen. This is how you’re presenting yourself to the world, how anyone who looks you up on Twitter will see you. Worth noting too that quite often your social media profiles, particularly Twitter, will rank high in Google results for your name, so there’s a good chance anyone looking you up is going to see this profile, as it’s presented in front of you.
Update your photo and background image to professional images – if you’re still using the generic background, definitely find something else to put up there that will better reflect your personal brand. It doesn’t have to be amazing, just a simple image that looks professional and clean – anything is better than not updating at all.
Your bio is also important, and needs to be an accurate reflection of who you are, professionally, and what you do. It’s worth reviewing this and clarifying your own branding statement, what you’d like to present to prospective employers. Focus on your mission, what you bring, as opposed to your skills and experiences alone. Your Twitter bio can be the difference between a person contacting you or clicking onto the next candidate, so worth taking the time to get it right. You should also add in a link to your personal blog or, if you don’t have one, your LinkedIn profile (you can create a customised LinkedIn URL to use for this).
And the last stage is review – start with the photos and videos you’ve shared. On the left-hand pane you’ll see a selection of the last six images you’ve shared. These are particularly important, as they appear on your front page, so you need to ensure there’s nothing controversial there. If there are any you’d like to remove, go through your tweets and delete the offending tweets (deleting tweets is simple – there’s a trash can icon at the bottom of each tweet, press that, then confirm when the pop-up prompt appears).
Your images are more likely to be searched than all your tweets, so you need to go through all of the pictures you’ve shared and take out any that don’t fit into the image you want to present. Deleting tweets can be time consuming, as most active users have quite a few to go through, but conduct an audit, delete any you are unsure about, and get through at least the last few months worth of your tweets.
3. Profile clean-up – other platforms
Facebook and Twitter are the most commonly used networks, and the two most likely to host images and posts that may not gel with your professional brand, but if you’re active on other networks, these too need to be cleaned up. Images on Pinterest and Instragram from big nights out, posts on Google+ which could be taken the wrong way. Also review what groups you’re a part of, as these will show up in your profile – being a member of ‘I hate Tony Abbott’ is not likely to help your cause if you’re applying for a Government position, for example.
Delete links to any Tumblr accounts you’re not sure about, review any Reddit comments you might have made – you basically need to look at each of your social media profiles from a recruiters’ point of view and clarify accordingly. This can take some time, as a lot of us have tried out various platforms and posted random bits and pieces (and spare a thought for the next generation – social media is such a huge part of their everyday lives, going through all those posts and profiles is going take quite a while).
4. Google yourself
Once you’ve cleaned up all you can, put your name into Google and see what comes up. Some of these matches will be things you’ve already changed – Google’s results don’t update instantaneously, it may take days or even a couple of weeks, before all your changes are reflected. If you’ve already changed the info, no problem. For those you haven’t, go through and edit or update as required. In some cases you may have an article showing up which you’d prefer not be there – if you don’t control the website on which the article is hosted, it gets more difficult.
Google do have a URL removal tool available to remove the content from their search listings, and this may be an option in extreme circumstances. Other than that, you can contact the host and ask them to remove anything you’d prefer not appear.
Also, some profiles can’t be deleted. Some sites have systems in place that will only let you de-activate or change information, but won’t let you remove it entirely. If you’d prefer those sites not be associated with your name, delete any personal info from the accounts, change the e-mail addresses associated with them, and delete any mention of your name (put in a made up name and false info, if necessary).
5. Nuclear Option
In the extreme circumstance where it’s impossible to delete all the incriminating evidence, de-tag yourself from every unsavoury photo, and detach yourself from all potentially damaging links, you may have to consider the nuclear option – delete everything.
Websites like justdeleteme.me, and Account Killer will guide you through the deletion process for all social media profiles and posts. With an application like KnowEm, you can conduct a search for your username(s) across most social media platforms to detect and delete those sites you logged into one time and have forgotten about since. Deleting your profiles outright is an extreme response, and something that should be carefully considered, particularly as it will mean you have no presence at all on social media. This, in itself, could raise a flag for prospective recruiters (who doesn’t have some sort of presence on the internet?).
So there you have it – a guide to cleaning up your social media presence to ensure you are putting your best foot forward, in a professional sense. A rising number of recruiters are referring to social media to decide on candidates, and this is only likely to increase as social becomes more integrated into our everyday lives - even insurance companies are likely looking you up when assessing your premium. No matter how you view your presence, you need to be aware that what you’ve put out there represents you – people will find that information and make judgements based on what you’ve posted.
The safest approach is to assume that nothing is ever private - you shouldn’t post anything that you wouldn’t want published in the newspaper the next day with your name attached. Your social media presence matters, but it can be hard to think of how the photo you’ve just posted on Instagram might impact your job search five years down the track. Take the time to assess yourself, remove what might be questionable, and solidify your digital presence into the best representation of your professional brand.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew Hutchinson is a social media consultant and freelance writer from Melbourne, Australia. He has more than 11 years experience working in media monitoring, helping clients locate, evaluate and action keyword mentions in all forms of traditional and digital media. He's an internationally published author, an award winning blogger and one of the 'Best Thinkers' on leading social media news website Social Media Today.