Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are becoming so popular even older generations of computer users are beginning to set up personal profiles. Tapping into our voyeuristic tendencies as humans, these social networking sites allow vast amount of information, from photos to favorite movies, to be shared globally.
This is great for groups of friends, but maybe not so great for professionals. An invisible line has always existed between appropriate work behavior (dress, speech, demeanor and even water cooler conversation topics) and what goes on after work at bars, home, backyard bbqs and other personal activities. MySpace and Facebook have become digital hangouts for many people, while also claiming to be great networking resources for professionals. And many prospective employers are going to the internet to track down information on future employees that would not have been available before.
It is imperative to be overly conscious of the material and photos available on your Facebook profile as well as the friends you allow into your network. Follow these tips to keep your Facebook profile professional and avoid any misunderstandings, or possibly even missed opportunities, because of an innocent blurb on your website.
Make Everything Private
Step One: Make all your information private. Set your privacy settings so only your “friends,” or those individuals that approve to be in your network, can view your photos, blurbs, and other information on your profile. Even if you review your profile and do not feel anything is in inappropriate, remember, employers and possible freelance associates will be researching you. You never know what image or off-hand comment might offend them and you will probably never even know they were offended or have a chance to defend yourself.
People view the comments your friends leave and photos they have tagged of you as well, not just what you put on your profile. You may not be dumb enough to post photos from your college frat days on your Facebook profile, but maybe one of your less successful frat brothers did. And tagged you. Now those photos will appear under your my photos tab along with your professional headshots every time someone views your Facebook page.
Just make everything private and you can control who is allowed to see what you do post.
Review All Your Information
Generally less information is always better. Just because there is a space to fill in what you “Here For…” doesn’t mean you have to answer “For Dating” or “Friends.” New profile sections at Facebook allow you to choose which of these questions actually appears on your page.
The safest option is to only answer the minimal number of questions. Personally, I prefer to leave the status and current job options empty, because as a single female I do want any physical information available on me for safety reasons. Make this decision for yourself. Do not feel you have to immediately fill in who you are in a relationship with or when you break up. Unless you’re married or engaged, leave it blank.
Review any blurbs you have written about yourself, especially if you began your Facebook profile in college and will be entering the job market. Avoid private jokes which may be misunderstood and movie quotes from inappropriate sources.
Ask a professional, preferably of an older generation, to review your Facebook profile and see if anything appears strange to them that you did not catch. Remember, if you are using your Facebook profile for professional networking, it is more important what others read into your profile than what you actually said.
Review Your Photos
First check all photos you have posted. Remove any which show you drinking (or apparently drunk) or using drugs. Also remove any showing you smoking. Smoking can show a lack of character to some employers, especially if they are non-smokers. Whether or not you smoke is your business, but be aware of the stigma attached.
Next, remove photos with sexual innuendos. Especially if you are wearing few or scanty clothing. Again, you may be at the beach on an innocent vacation, but a prospective employer may not approve of you and your bikini clad friends laughing it up. With so much scandal involving sexually explicit photos, some employers and freelance clients may just avoid calling you completely and never know that you’re really a tame prude.
Last, check all photos that your friends have posted with your profile tagged in them. If they have posted any photos which make you uncomfortable, or which you feel an employer or client might not see as professional, send them a private message and explain the situation. Usually, friends will understand and politely remove them. They want you to succeed as well. If nothing else, at least ask the friend to remove your tag from the photo. The photo can still be posted, but they will not link back to your profile.
Ladies, be especially aware of photos of yourself in cleavage baring tops, which may be fine for friends’ photo albums. However, this could offend clients.
Use Your Judgment
Whenever someone invites you to group, a game or to become a fan of a certain artist, review how this will look through a prospective employer or professional client’s eyes. Taken out of context, will the group’s name appear racist or otherwise inappropriate? Will it offend someone of a certain religion? As a general rule, pretend your Facebook profile is a bulletin board next to your next at work. Do not allow any links, blurbs, photos or information that you would not be comfortable including in your bulletin board.
Use the same judgment for friends. If certain friends frequently leave you vulgar, racist or inappropriate comments, ask them to stop or delete them. You are judged by the friends and their comments as well.
It is ok to have some after-work activities posted on your profile, but use your judgment to avoid missing out on career-building opportunities because of dumb comments on a social networking site.