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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Social media privacy not black and white

Published: March 23, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

Social media has made headlines in the news lately because of its role and effectiveness in not only spreading news but popularizing it. The Kony 2012 campaign, specifically, caught the eyes of traditional news networks that praised it for raising awareness. The campaign criticized the media for factual fallacies and jealously pointed out that they’d been covering the story for years, all in one breath.

Social media is not only useful “for uncovering awful stories about war lord’s atrocities or finding out what your old high school flame has been up to,” as Jon Stewart, the popular night-time comedian puts it. The Internet is also an incredible resource for discovering career and internship opportunities as well as being discovered.

Warnings about keeping your Facebook clean, your Twitter appropriate and your Google search decent are almost as old as the Internet—or at least Myspace itself—but you might be surprised to learn that promoting the positive information about yourself is just as important as suppressing the negative. After creating a Twitter account because “employers like you to have it,” I found that the lesson in Monday’s Hiatt Webinar: “Managing Your Brand in a Digital Age” was especially encouraging. Even more useful than the self-reassurance was when Aaron Finegold, a Brandeis alumnus and marketing strategist at Industry Solutions, presented a step-by-step on how to clean up your “digital image” and increase your positive presence on the Web. The seminar consisted of two main topics: organic search and social media.

Ever Google your name? Of course you have: That’s what everyone did before memes, but what is more important than that is that you might not be the only one googling it. Recruiters and employers will often do an organic search on a prospective employee or intern, usually using Google, Bing or Yahoo search engines. If the first link to come up is to an album of less-than professional St. Patrick’s Day photos, even your Hiatt-approved resume may not make the cut. If, on the other hand, nothing even vaguely related to you appears, employers might wonder how disconnected from the modern world you really are. This is a classic dilemma of balance: You want to raise your search-engine ranking but at the same time you want to make sure that anything negative disappears.

We’ve all heard the warning that once something is on the internet, it’s there forever. This is only very technically true. If you own the unsightly content, you can remove it yourself. If you can’t, you can write to the owner asking to have it removed and in both cases you can request that the search engine remove the URL from the search. Although the process is different for different search engines, the directions are easy to find online.

If you have the opposite problem, however, in which little if anything shows up when your name is searched, your solution is a little more complex. Finegold suggests getting some local, but significant, press coverage. Getting press coverage for an event that you’re involved in or getting involved with events that you’re passionate about is well worth your time. That, along with following simple rules such as always using the same name in applications and interviews, and being active with social media will have you well on your way to making Google your personal advertiser.

Speaking of social media, it’s more important than you think. Even having “thin” Facebook and Twitter profiles can be helpful in making you more human than just a resume, but it’s important to make sure that those social websites are not doing more harm than good.

Though privacy settings are an encouraged safety net, especially if your circle of friends sometimes have poor judgment, privacy settings are not a guaranteed lock: Do not have a lock. It’s important to remember that what is posted on social media websites is not your property but that of the site itself and is fair game for employers. Ignorance is not an excuse. A basic rule of thumb, Finegold says, is asking yourself “would I feel comfortable having this picture or story in the Wall Street Journal?” If not, it shouldn’t be online at all.

More than ever before, employers are turning to LinkedIn for recruitment purposes. You’ll be surprised at who bothers to look at your profile. As a matter of fact, LinkedIn is so vital in today’s job hunt that Finegold suggests making sure your profile is at 100 percent completion, even if you do nothing else. It’s not so much the content of your profile that recruiters and employers are looking for but that you are a serious enough of a candidate to have these profiles made and updated.

For those savvy few to whom the above advice seems obvious, there are additional resources to further your branding in the digital age: personal websites and blogs. Unlike social media sites, however, the most important question when it comes to blogs and websites is not how to control the content you post, but whether you need a blog or website at all!

For a website Finegold suggests hiring a professional designer, but first you have to ask yourself if it’s going to be worth your money. This depends on whether or not you have a large portfolio of work outside of what’s on your resume and on how actively you are looking for a new job. The latter consideration is especially important because having a website made when you’re not looking to leave your current job looks suspicious and might leave you jobless.

A blog, which you can easily make on your own, also requires these same considerations. We’ve all read those self-righteous, random and, honestly, somewhat dull blogs without focus or perspective. As interesting as you might be as a person, you have to ask yourself whether or not you have a clear topic of interest, an original perspective and the time to merit having your own Web property..