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Social media has allowed us to express ourselves in ways we could not do so before. We can like people’s photos and ideas with a click. We can share details of our lives in words, photos, and videos right from our mobile phone. We can connect with people from all over the globe who share our interests.
While social media is great, there is also a flip-side. Being too open on social media. We’ve all done it. Posted things on social media, which may not have been a clever thing to do. Things we may have regretted after pushing send on a tweet or posting a selfie. Or not realized they would be considered offensive. Social media is very public. And your digital footprint will always be there. It can cost you your career.
Justine Sacco found that out the hard way in December 2013. At the time, she was a public relations executive for a multinational firm. She boarded a plane to South Africa and before she shutdown her phone she tweeted out, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
There was great outrage regarding this tweet globally. And it caused her Twitter stream to come under scrutiny where other questionable tweets were found. She was fired from her job. Sacco’s reputation was shredded with that one tweet. She will be known as that PR person who tweeted a racist comment about Africa and AIDs.
There is some discussion right now if posting that risqué selfie to Facebook or drunken Tweeting is damaging to your career. But according to a study by Jobvite, it suggests that 90 percent of employers now use LinkedIn as part of the screening process. With 66 percent are checking out candidates’ Facebook accounts and 54 percent are scanning Twitter streams. Should employers be using social media to judge you? Perhaps not; however, it is being done.

How do you protect your career?

It is up to you, as to how you should conduct yourself online. You need to manage your online presence. Mark Story, author of Starting Your Career as a Social Media Manager and a social media consultant at the National Cancer Institute, shares some helpful advice for job hunters and employees, that in order not to hurt your career, make sure that first, you have a professional, public facing profile like LinkedIn, and for those other social media accounts that you might post to, like Facebook or Twitter then ensure that you are intimately familiar with the ever-changing privacy settings so you can protect who sees what.
Some top tips:
– Google yourself to see what is out there. You should then set-up Google Alerts for your name. You need to know what is being said about you online.
– Check your privacy setting on social media especially Facebook. You can lockdown your privacy settings on Facebook to only a show limited view.
–  Be careful what you Tweet since you don’t who is reading your tweets. Your boss and hiring managers are on social media just like you. It only takes a second to search Twitter using “I hate my job.”
–  Make sure your information is consistent on all platforms. Example your printed resume should match your LinkedIn profile especially if you are looking for a job.
You have to be very aware as to what you post on social media. Posting good and/or bad company business in additional to inappropriate information can get you into trouble or even fired especially if you post from work. Be aware of your organization’s social media guidelines or policies.
Remember if you wouldn’t want your grandmother or pastor to see your Tweet or photo on social media, then don’t post it. It may save your career. As Mark Story says remember that the Internet is forever and whatever you post publicly will OFTEN be found by potential employers.  And may well influence a hiring decision. Take these tips on how not to ruin your career on social media.
This column was originally published in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday, May 26, 2014 and nationally distributed  to over 300 media outlets through the Tribune Content Agency.

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