Friday, October 15, 2010

Blame Facebook

If you have yet to fall victim to the social phenomena known as Facebook, you're a dying breed. Quite literally everyone I know is logging on these days. My sister's cat even has its own page and I think it might have more "friends" than I do. Seriously.

Facebook, the sly temptress that she is, sucks you right in from first click - you NEED to know what your friends are up to and can't seem to laugh at a joke your co-worker Dave told without (at least) thinking about posting it to your page so everyone can see just how amazing your life truly is. Don't kid yourself, we've all been there. It turns out, however, that your favorite social media obsession might actually be your worst enemy - professionally speaking at least.

I stumbled upon an article written by Austin Carr the other day called "Meet the Big Brother Screening Your Social Media for Employers" that lays out why your 5-times-a-day status updates just might be killing your career. As a current college student, we are reminded almost daily to be cautious of what we put on the internet, but according to Carr, our potential employers are starting to dig a little deeper. 

"Today, employers are no longer just searching Google for information on applicants," he says in the article. "They're commissioning companies to do professional social media background checks." So what exactly do these "checks" entail? Carr investigates Social Intelligence Corp. (SIC), a Santa Barbara-based company that specializes in such social media scanning. Carr's article explains:
SIC scans the Internet for racy online activity and provocative photos unbecoming of an ideal job candidate...[it] only screens for user-generated "objectionable behavior" online, and that standards vary based on employer...The majority of the time, SIC takes screenshots of behavior that falls into the category of "poor judgment." These screenshots are then shown to employers for review.
"So what," you say? Think you've got yourself covered because everything in your profile is set to private? This is where the danger of Facebook lies - luring you into a false sense of security. Just because photos you post are private doesn't mean your social media presence is private. You might not have posted your photos from the night out on the town with a few pals, but that doesn't mean someone else didn't post their pictures. And that someone else might not have as tight of security on their profile as you do. Heck, the "pal" who posted those photos might be Facebook Friends with the hiring guru at your dream-job. Before you know it, photos of you enjoying a few drinks are accessible to anyone with any social media know-how.

I know what you're thinking, and I agree. You might very well have had every right to enjoy that beer and relax for a night, but a photo taken at just the wrong moment might paint a very different picture than what the night actually was. And we all know the old adage: "A picture is worth a thousand words." To you it might have been a relaxing, enjoyable night - to your potential employer looking at that unflattering photo, it appears that you might be a little too laid-back and fun-loving for their company. 

Don't panic now and start deleting any and every social media account you might have - that's not necessary. Just use some common sense and the rule of thumb: "If I don't want my Mom to see or hear about this - DON'T POST IT." Also, check out some of my tips below to help reign in your Facebook presence and keep it under control:

  • Most importantly - start with your profile security. Under your account tab in the upper right hand corner there is a link for "Privacy Settings." The quick and easy way to take care of this is choose the "Friends Only" option which makes everything in your profile viewable only by people you've agreed to "Friend". You also have the option to "customize" your privacy settings and choose to keep some things between you and your Facebook Friends (like status updates and photos) while at the same time allowing anyone to (for example) see and access the link to your professional website. This is a convenient way to be able to keep some sort of social media presence for networking purposes while maintaining a somewhat personal (and I use that term loosely) presence as well.
    • Side Note: Remember that your profile picture is viewable by anyone no matter what your privacy settings are! They may not be able to click on it and blow it up to actual size, but they will still be able to see the thumbnail - and let's face it, shot-gunning a beer doesn't look good professionally in any size pixels.

  • Once you've got your privacy settings where you want them, it's time to go on a purging spree. Start going through your photos and deleting any that could be viewed as "objectionable behavior" or "poor judgment." If you really want your friends to be able to re-live the night that no one seems to be able to remember in full detail via your photographs, send them in email instead. I'm serious here - get rid of all of them. I don't, however, mean you have to get rid of the "Freshman Year Roomies Reunion Cookout" album just because you're not in business attire. If the photographs aren't "objectionable" or don't show what employers might think to be "poor judgment," there shouldn't be a problem.
    • Side Note: Even though you may not be in the potentially "objectionable" photo, the fact that you posted it means that you were a part of it and to a possible employer that means only one thing - NOT GOOD. Yes, that means you need to delete the "Ted's Awesome Night of Drunk" album even though the one and only subject in all of the photos that follow is Ted.

  • De-tag, de-tag, de-tag. The price we have to pay for "Friending" people on Facebook is that they can "tag" us in their photographs and even their friends photographs - regardless of whether we are also "friends" with this third party or not. This means that you need to go through all of your "tagged" photos and de-tag yourself from any that might be "objectionable" or be seen as "poor judgment." 
    • Side Note: This takes care of photos of you accessible via your profile, but just because you de-tagged yourself doesn't mean the picture is gone. It's still there on that friend's (or friend of a friend's) profile and if one of these people doesn't have as tight of security settings as you, or even has a connection via Facebook to a potential employer, the likelihood of that unflattering photo resurfacing is still a possible threat. The best way to handle a situation like this is talk to the person whose profile the photo or photos belongs to and ask them to delete the pictures all together. If they refuse, there's not much else you can do (so long as it's not pornographic or sexually obscene in nature - in which case you can report them to Facebook). 

  • Once you've cleaned up your Facebook act, you need to maintain your new image. Keep the posts clean - maybe even try throwing in some industry-related links now and then; build your reputation professionally. Don't be afraid to use Facebook for leisure and your personal life, but be smart and remember that what you post today could come back to haunt you tomorrow if you're not careful. 

(Statement of Disclosure: I don't pretend to be a social media/law scholar. The tips above are from my own personal experience of being a social media addict. Use them at your own will and know that they aren't foolproof in protecting your social media presence.)

I highly recommend checking out Austin Carr's article "Meet the Big Brother Screening Your Social Media for Employers"  on the website for more information about the screening technology I referenced above and how it could impact your future employment.

Carr, Austin. "Meet the Big Brother Screening Your Social Media for Employers." Fast Company 29 Sept. 2010: n. pag. Web. 15 Oct. 2010.

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