Think about this: Everything you do is online. You no longer own your image because everything about you from your elementary school report card to that time you yelled at a car rental clerk because your car wasn’t ready on time is potentially available for anyone to see.
And by anyone, I mean potential employers, clients, college administration, law enforcement, credit companies, landlords, immigration officials, corporate rivals and people you want to date.
Today, you can’t just tell people who you are. If you want to get ahead, everything about your online presence needs to provide proof of your character. You can no longer be complacent about your personal brand.
Polish your image
Most large companies looking to hire glance at your resume (or Linkedin, or even Instagram) to see if you meet the basic criteria for the position you applied for. After establishing your qualifications, they want to know who you are, how well you will fit into their company culture and even whether you might add value to their marketing efforts.
Your job history won’t provide them information about whether you’re a hardcore partier, an angry antisocial loner with ties to fringe political groups or a savvy insider with a strong network and a sincere passion for the industry, but your social media accounts will.
In a 2016 survey, CareerBuilder found that 60 percent of businesses investigate the social media accounts of potential employees and nearly one-quarter have fired an employee over something found on social media.
Even if you’re not looking for a job, social media could affect your life. Law-enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Border Patrol, are watching.
In April, a Florida woman found out just how closely police pay attention. When Markesha Wilkerson posted a Facebook Live video from Chuck E. Cheese, Lakeland, Fla., police showed up to arrest her on an outstanding warrant before her pizza got cold.
While making your profile private might help hide you from law enforcement, it won’t help you get a job or a green card. The key is to make sure your personal brand is accessible and professional. You can, however, tweak your privacy settings to selectively hide people, pages and lists from other users on Facebook.
Start by scrubbing any social media accounts in your real name. Connect with other industry professionals, get involved in industry discussions, and do your homework: Make sure you have some interesting, intelligent insight to offer.
Networking has other perks, of course. By building relationships within your industry, you may meet people in a position to help you find the right job.
Positive social interactions provide powerful social proof that you are the kind of person who can interact with others in a meaningful way. You can enhance your personal value to potential employers by using the same tactics businesses use to build their brands.
Define your unique value proposition
To sell a product or service using social media, businesses define what makes them stand out among competitors. When you’re building your own personal brand, consider what you have to offer—your strengths, skills and talents. With this in mind, develop a strategy to put your core strengths on display.
A personal website can enhance your professional brand. Even if you have nothing to sell, a personal brand website demonstrates professionalism and helps you define your own brand, on your terms.
If you’re a freelancer, a personal website is particularly important. Showcase your work; link to clients, authorships and online samples; and ask clients for endorsements.
Clean up personal finances
Your next minefield online can be your credit history. Depending on your industry, potential employers, landlords and other judgy types are likely to check your credit online. And we all know how easy it is to get in trouble with credit, don’t we?
Credit and background checks are standard procedure today. Monitor your credit history and do what you can to mitigate any black marks. Know how to write a credit dispute letter. You may be able to fix some issues even if they are accurately reported.
Monitor your reputation
Building an impressive online brand is only the first step. You need to be aggressive about monitoring your name and brand. Make sure your friends don’t tag you in questionable photos, add you to groups without your permission or post things on your wall you would not want your professional network to see.
More important, watch for social media hacks. Your audience and your influence are valuable, and not just to you.
Sherry Gray is a freelance content writer from Key West, Fla., currently suffering in the suburbs of Orlando. She is a science geek, a social media junkie and an unapologetic fan of all things bacon. Follow her on Twitter: @SheriSaid.