Social Enterprise

Facebook and personal brand suicide: What you can do to prevent it

People might be very surprised as to where their casual Facebook comments can end up. Here are some things to be aware of and what you can do to temper their effect.

If you have some extra time and would like a front seat to some major Facebook fails, check out lamebook.com. Some of the content can be pretty tasteless but if anything can drive home the point of "Facebook post" remorse, it's this site.

I searched under "workplace" and found an example of a guy who was griping about his boss and jokingly said he'd like to "stab her in the jugular." This was followed soon by his next post, which was, "Does anyone know of any job openings?" Apparently someone told his boss about the post and she wasn't pleased.

Since Facebook changes its security policies about every 3 seconds, your worries are not limited just to someone seeing a post and telling someone else. In fact, personal pages on sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook rank pretty high in Google searches. So that means that a potential employer who's looking at your resume could also be finding out via social networking about your membership in that Neo-Nazi Glee Club even though your account settings are "Friends only." (Studies show that 78% of recruiters use Google to research job candidates and social networking sites rank very highly on Google.)

And don't forget that Facebook is like "Six Degrees of Separation" on Barry Bonds-grade steroids. Even if you make a comment on someone else's page, THAT person's friends will see it, and then every friend of those friends will see it, etc.

My opinion is you shouldn't have to totally homogenize yourself on your own Facebook page just to make sure you don't tick off any present or future employers. However, just be aware of repercussions and decide whether they're important enough to take heed of. In other words, there's nothing scandalous about putting up a photo of yourself proudly holding the blue ribbon for an international beer-drinking contest, but don't expect MADD to come knocking at your door to offer you a job.

But let's say that you just can't control the impulse to self-sabotage on a social networking scale. Google recently launched a tool called google.com/profiles that lets you create your profile and actually direct what appears when someone conducts a search on your name. You can choose to link your name with "safe" urls and employment information. Then maybe your association with Do IT Yourself Bombs Inc. might not be so easy to expose.

Get a line on your online rep

So how can you find out what others see when they're looking for the scoop on you? The first avenue, of course, is to Google yourself. If you don't like what you see, start posting keyword-rich content that will push some of the bad stuff off the radar. Write a blog about your technical specialty. Post frequently (but tastefully) to discussion forums of sites you use for your work, like this one!

If you haven't already, you should sign up for Google Alerts. That way you can see where your name comes up in other areas, like in that piece for an online magazine where your bitter ex falsely accuses you of being a fan of the Jonas Brothers. These alerts can be sent to you once a week, once a day, or whenever your name is mentioned online.

There are also some resources for finding out where your username crops up in Twitter land. One is a desktop client for Twitter called tWhirl. You can download it here. And TweetGrid is a powerful Twitter search dashboard that allows you to search nine different topics, including your name, in real-time.

Just out of curiosity, have any of you ever been reprimanded by an existing employer for something you put on a social networking site?  Send me an email and tell me your story. I promise to keep everything anonymous.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

39 comments
codybwheeler
codybwheeler

Very good points indeed. I wrote a similar article about personal branding last week, but it hasn't made it to the blog yet :) I wasn't aware of Google Profiles. Thanks for the heads up. What a gamechanger! Integrity HR Blog

River_HK
River_HK

It's pretty true and that's why I don't upload photos regularly. But still, networking website is useful for social life.

david.hunt
david.hunt

As I tell many people. Never post, or even email, anything that you would not want to see on the front page of the newspaper with your name against it. If you keep that in mind, you should be pretty safe in terms of what searches show up.

Jaqui
Jaqui

don't use facebook. don't use twitter. don't use youtube. or myspace, or any other idiot focused social networking site like them.

jfuller05
jfuller05

Instead of posting pictures and using your full name, why don't Facebook users have aliases? Wouldn't that be easier instad of creating a Google profile to hide your FB account? If you used an alias, you wouldn't need to hide your FB account.

maus_69
maus_69

You forgot about LinkedIn ...

rose1964
rose1964

I've googled myself before and there's tonnes of people with my name in the US and I'm in Canada. I even found an American horse with my name, although she was named after her owner. My ex-nefew was fired for making threats on Facebook over a year ago. Hopefully people will become smarter.

benwal91
benwal91

My name is Ben Walden, I've done several Google searches on my name and some of the results were me, and I had to go fix that... There were some old profile info that needed to be taken off. But mostly it's some actor that used to act in hold movies/TV shows. I left facebook and a few other sites, except twitter. I re-joined. Now I mostly will appear on my website I've created.

chauncedog60
chauncedog60

"No matter where you go, there you are." Came to mind... I remember smiling at this one way back in the Commodore Amiga BBS forums, (a.k.a. Windows '85!) The original insight goes back much further and is attributed to Confucius, (551 BC - 479 BC). He had quite a few "wise" cracks that are as relevant as ever today. I Gooogled the quote, and I'm ever amazed at the speed and efficiency with which I got my answer. Credit to the folks at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/confucius104274.html It's an age old consensus that we all make mistakes, but to me, it ain't so bad if we take the opportunity to learn and grow from them. It's even better if we can help each other learn the stuff we found out the hard way! Info at the speed of thought is the incredible legacy of our times. I trust, in the long run, the best parts of all that we are will echo long, and muffle out any stumbling steps we took to get there. Chauncey Van Sicklen

RFink
RFink

No relation, but I was asked about it at one interview. One of the benefits of having a fairly common name. It appears all over the place, so nobody knows when it's really me. :)

Tink!
Tink!

Not that I post gripes about employers or anything like that, but I still prefer to attempt to stay hidden behind a curtain of anonymity. A search of my real name mainly pulls up an actress (not me), and 1 LinkedIn profile that I forgot I made. It's basically a generic resume though, nothing shameful. And the only connection there, is my father, also very professional. Ok, you can get a teensy bit more info if you go to those public people searches, but then to get really personal you'd have to pay. I think I'm ok with my online presence so far. :)

jlrobins
jlrobins

My only "called on the carpet" moment for what I said came long before most people knew what the internet was... It was in the 1980's for a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. The reaction changed when the 'boss' actually read the letter (instead of the summary someone gave him) and found the information accurate and supportive of his and the organizations position. Got off lucky there, but learned a lesson that I have carried with me onto the internet: never post anything you have not already said to a person's face.

cperry
cperry

My name is William Perry but I usually go by the nickname "CJ". William Perry was a famous football player so most searches for that just pull up the "Fridge". In just now doing a search for CJ Perry to see what would come up, I found that it's the name of some bikini model. So any potential employer would have to sift through the famous stuff to find me. But even if they did, there has only been one thing on Facebook that I wanted remove. A picture of an interesting Halloween party from many years ago that I'd rather not show the world. I just untagged myself from that picture and now I'm pretty much spot-free.

Juanita Marquez
Juanita Marquez

as it happens, I got back in touch with someone I'd missed talking to for several years and had no contact info for. Had it not been for Facebook, I'd not have found him. Aside from Mafia Wars, that's the only value I place on Facebook - and that's a big one.

Juanita Marquez
Juanita Marquez

Not that some don't break the rules... I just omit all of the information that isn't required of me.

lerxst870
lerxst870

People often post opinions on LinkedIn status updates. That can also affect your rep. I made a very snide comment about an article I read a few weeks ago. I had second thoughts about it and took it down. Later on, I discovered in my site settings that only my connections could have seen the comments. I was somewhat relieved. If someone searched for me and was looking at doing business with me and saw that comment, it may have put them off. Supposedly they could not all along.

alonge
alonge

I can't but agree with you folk. The best thing is to consider integrity in whatever we are posting. Also, since we tends to learn from mistakes (as human) we should let others learn from us as we do learn from others as well.

Juanita Marquez
Juanita Marquez

I actually use a number of online names so the dots can't be connected as easily. I also make efforts to remove my real name info from databases whenever possible. As far as Facebook, I keep it as locked down as possible, remove any image tags if someone posts a pic with me in it (I hate being in pictures) and keep everything relatively sterile or feature things people already know or easily find out about me, as I just use FB to get in touch with friends and play a game or two. There are a few sites I open up more on but I use a pseudonym on them. This is not to say that people can't figure out more about me, but I've put in a good effort to prevent it. Everyone knows once it goes on Teh Intarwebz, it stays there.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I don't show up on the first three pages of results. Works for me.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

the FAKE persona, created by someone who thinks they have an axe to grind?

Tink!
Tink!

Against Facebook's rules huh? Seems pretty harsh, especially when so many people go by nicknames. Aliases in some fashion are simply nicknames. Now if someone were to be doing bad things with their alias I could see having them deleted, but if a person just wants to be safe? Facebook needs to ease up.

jfuller05
jfuller05

You could create any name for the First and Last names, email or call :0, your friends and let them know that you are Jane Smith or some other random name; that way you can avoid the tragedy of a future or current employer reading comments made by you. That just seems like the easy way to go in my opinion.

Juanita Marquez
Juanita Marquez

If or when I post updates there, I say stuff that only serves to make me look good - "so and so is attending blah blah seminar" or "so and so is doing X thing to advance her career". My view of LinkedIn is anything BUT social, I treat it as a workplace of sorts. I've actually made a couple of tech connections that have proven to be helpful, and one I look forward to meeting irl as a new friend.

lodestone
lodestone

. . .because of my rather unusual name I get a lot of street addresses. But if I include my town my Linkedin profile is top slot! --Allen

jfuller05
jfuller05

When I had a FB account, I was probably about the third link down from the top in the first page. Nice. :|

jkameleon
jkameleon

Create a profile, just name, no picture, nothing but a statement: "This profile exists solely as prevention against fake persona creation. I will never login in here again." Now... I absolutely detest Facebook, and I don't want to have any business with it whatsoever. I don't even want to access facebook.com, let alone create a profile in there. Oh well... I guess I'll have to pinch my nose and check it... phewww! Some namesake of mine had already created a profile, and saved me the trouble. So... if anybody checks on me on Facebook, he'll find out that I'm actually 20 years younger, and pretty good flautist. OK, so be it.

jfuller05
jfuller05

They're not making me join, so when I join on their terms, those terms can be whatever they want as long as the terms are legal.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

When a company is giving a service away, they can make whatever rules they want. As long as people keep showing up, they have no reason to change their position.

Juanita Marquez
Juanita Marquez

http://www.facebook.com/terms.php See "Registration and Acct Security" and "Protecting Other People's Rights". They care because they are data miners and sell your information to the companies that want to target you specifically ("People aged 20-40 who have bunions, like onion rings, listen to Franz Ferdinand and buy Coach purses") type of thing. Which is why I don't give them much to work with, and I ALWAYS read the fine print for any contract waved in front of me (which annoys the heck out of car rental companies and others). :)

jfuller05
jfuller05

Why do they care so much? Why is it their business if I don't want to share my real name and photos of myself with everyone? Thus, another reason I deleted my FB account, for the FB board's narcissistic attitude.

Juanita Marquez
Juanita Marquez

If they find out you are lying (I don't know how), the terms say they can delete the account.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If anyone wants to use me as a reference, they're free to contact me via LinkedIn or any other method. This has only happened once; maybe I'm not a good referrer? :) As you noted, I can fix user problems and be a resource here. Monitoring that on one site is plenty. When I need to make a case to upper management, I approach them directly. How can I be certain they'll see it on LinkedIn? They may not be members; shocking, but possible. As to expanding my social circle, I think it's plenty small enough now. Thanks for the invite. I took a brief look but maybe I'm just not imaginative enough to apply what I'm seeing to myself. I don't remember most of the historic details anyway.

Juanita Marquez
Juanita Marquez

If you held little value in socializing, why do you talk on this board so much? Other people on LinkedIn could use you for recommendations, references, expanding both your social and professional circle, telling you about discounts on training or merchandise (I'm about to purchase a package that's $700 less than I would've paid via another route, due to my group affiliations), fix other user's problems like we can here, be a resource for others to go to for expertise, and you can state your case for or against something with the certainty that some higher managerial levels will hear it. Whether they appreciate the view from the trenches is another matter but there are more benefits than you might think.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'm not on the job market, don't deal with 'the public', don't socialize much. I sometimes wonder why I opened the account at all.

Juanita Marquez
Juanita Marquez

I've had invites from several contracting people as well as people who have seen me on their threads. Some people I've never heard of, in faraway places, have browsed me as a contact and I'm not really sure why, other than they think I must be cooler than I really am or my posts are excellent. ;) I also use it to scope out companies that I have an interview with; you can find out dirt from old employees if their worksite is heavenly or hellish before you commit to anything, as well as why that person left the company. If they left for more money, that's different than running screaming into the night out of sheer frustration. You can also get a feel for a company's solvency - are they hiring a lot of people? Are they losing a lot of people? Are certain departments being affected? Are they a large or small company? Have they been around for a long time? If this all sounds a bit cunning, I figure it's fair; the other side looks at our credit histories, police records, job histories, letters behind our names, psychological evaluations and skills tests, talks with their buddies and networking contacts, and judges you on what you have posted out there on teh intarwebz so it seems ok for me to do a little sleuthing myself for my own best interests. IT people are intelligent people; companies can't blame us for using our brains and online tools for the best advantages in an ever-funneling pool of job opportunities.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I can't imagine anyone would find my doing those things to be of interest, so it doesn't occur to me to post them. My LinkedIn has a basic job and education history and that's about all.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

There's a Twitter account I haven't touched in at least a 16 months, but it's associated with 'Palmetto' and not my given name. 'Palmetto' has also posted comments to a few web comics. My full name is on a barely-maintained LinkedIn. It's also here in my profile. Finally, it's on a fantasy league in a list of players. As far as I know, that's it.

bfpower
bfpower

I've found that when you search for my name, you get the Irish musician by the same name. But if you search for my name followed by my city and state, you get my Facebook artist page and my LinkedIn profile.

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