Many people aren’t accustomed to thinking of their personal image as a brand (like Coca-Cola, or Nike), but social media has created an environment that encourages us to market ourselves. Whether it’s meeting new people, looking for the next rung on our career ladder, finding groups of like-minded people to associate with online, or when researching places to go and things to do, the internet is our greatest tool. Our presence on social media is an extension of our personal brand: the image we project to the world of who we are.
The flip-side is that we are all living increasingly public lives. Almost everyone has multiple recording devices in their pockets all the time, and we’re using them more and more to document our activities. Employers, schools, and government agencies know that people are far less inhibited online than they are in any other dimension of their lives, and are increasingly insisting upon having unbridled access to our social profiles.
Just like a business, if we want to be successful we must manage our brand. We have all the tools we need to set ourselves up for success (or embarrassment). One need only scroll their Facebook feed to see many people failing to make the best possible use of these tools, or outright abusing them.
Start Thinking of Your Online Presence as Your Personal Brand
- What do you want people to see? What interests or values reflect you best?
- Consider your personal and professional goals, and what type of image will help you attain them.
- Join groups or discussions that bring out the best in you and other people.
Audit What People or Companies Can See or Read
Check out the public view for your social media profiles and see what might be leaking. Search yourself on Google and weed out bad information. Set up alerts that notify you when your name or image pops up. You can’t control other peoples’ thoughts or behaviors, but you can manage their perception of you by controlling what you show them.
Be Purposeful in the Things that You Put Out There
Everything you post online lives forever in one way or another, and you have no ability to predict or control how others will use the information. It’s important to have a plan for how you want to market yourself to the world, and to set boundaries for yourself in terms of how you engage.
Associate with Strong Brands
Follow your dream jobs and your personal and professional heroes. Engage in positive online communities and charities. As someone or another is supposed to have said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Stand Out Without Selling Out
Wherever you are in life, whatever you’re doing today, is a part of your life’s story and an extension of who you are. Nobody else has to live your life. If the life you’re living isn’t generating a reality you’d want to share on social media, rather than investing time and effort in getting the perfect selfie, put that energy into creating the kind of life you would be comfortable sharing.
Don’t Get Too Cocky
Hustle hard, but stay humble. Avoid being too preachy or tooting your own horn. It’s important to list education, certificates, and achievements, but definitely refrain from calling yourself things like ‘Guru’ or ‘Master’ on your LinkedIn profile. These are labels that other people can apply to you, but they come off as arrogant when you attach them to yourself.
Don’t Look Plastic
You are not a Mattel™ product, and your friends know this. There are a small number of people in this world who have made an exceptional living for themselves based on their social media image. We mean ‘exceptional’ in the literal sense that such cases are very much the exception. Your success almost certainly doesn’t depend upon having the perfect profile picture, and so being overly obsessed with staging synthetic shots doesn’t make you look glamorous; it makes you look desperate. Do your friends and loved ones, and – most importantly – yourself the favor of being yourself.
Don’t Fight Online
It seems like something that ought to go without saying; like and ‘Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten’-type of thing, but plenty of peoples’ behavior online would tend to say otherwise. Look, if you can’t find something nice to say, maybe there’s nothing of value to say. When someone else is throwing shade, your composure under fire will be far more impressive than any retaliatory fire you might conjure.
Do Not Post Sensitive Material
Total no-brainer. No incriminating images, banking info, mothers maiden names, social security numbers, blah-blah, right? All of this is so common sense that there would be no point in writing this if that’s all there was to it. However, the fact is that most of the information we put out into the world about ourselves is the result of doing the things we’re not thinking about.
Within seconds it could be possible to determine your name, occupation, employer, location, and interests, the make, model, and license plate number of your car, what your kids look like, where they go to school, and what you enjoy doing with them on the weekends. The types and quantities of personal information that we emit are really staggering from the perspective of a security professional, and presents a gold mine to potential evil-doers. A hacker with practically no sophistication or effort can get enough information from a typical Facebook profile to initiate a much deeper attack against you, your friends and family, or your employer.
Don’t Be the Friend Who Overshares
Psychologists and other experts who study our online behavior are fairly unanimous in the opinion that we’re generally less inhibited on social media than we are in other areas of our daily lives. One side effect is that we tend to speak more freely than we would in face-to-face interactions. It’s important, however, to resist the temptation to share our personal dramas, to constantly post selfies fishing for interaction, or to compulsively attach our opinion to every conversation. The feedback we get, it turns out, tends to be the opposite of what we’re hoping for, as the majority of people polled report feeling that oversharing is socially repulsive.
The Bottom Line?
Your presence on social media is a highly conspicuous part of how you market yourself to the world. Though courts have variously weighed in on the issue of employers insisting on usernames and passwords to social media accounts, someone doesn’t need your password to see the face you present publicly online. Your questionable or objectionable activities, immortalized on the internet, don’t have to be given as the reason that you don’t get a job offer or lose a job, or don’t get accepted to a college, but the person making such decisions may not need to give a reason.