Before You Post
Last spring, at the start of baseball season, a manager friend called and asked if she should fire one of her direct reports. He had called in sick, and she’d heard through the grapevine that he was tweeting from a Cubs game. In 2013, I wondered, why would anyone make a mistake like this? In 2014, thankfully, these gross errors in judgment seem less common, but people continue to get tripped up by more subtle blunders.
Even if you’re using social media for purely professional purposes — or think you’re only using it to interact with personal friends — the line between the two continues to blur. Chances are you want to infuse at least a little bit of personality and fun into your accounts to make them interesting and appealing to potential employers. But getting noticed can have unintended consequences if you’re not careful about how you do it. Here are five mistakes to avoid.
Mistake #1: Revealing Too Much Information
At its core, social media encourages you to interact more and to share more about yourself. But playing fast and loose with the information you reveal through social media is asking for trouble. First, make sure you set privacy controls manually. Some social networks assume you will share everything with everyone unless you direct them otherwise. (Which means the photos you think you’re posting for your Facebook friends may end up in front of prospective employers.) Be vigilant about who you accept as connections, review the site features and applications that are authorized to access your data, and don’t let social networks “find people you know.” Finally, don’t be lazy with your passwords. Keep them difficult to guess and change them once a month to halt hacking attempts on your account.
Mistake #2: Failing to Establish a Strong Personal Brand
Universally and consistently — and whether you are hunting for a job or not — your social media brand should present you as a smart, mature, competent, and enthusiastic person. Understand that the first thing people do when they meet you (or are preparing to meet you, as is the case with an interviewer) is Google your name. If what they see doesn’t knock their socks off, you’ll be out of contention before you can really show what you’re made of. If you find yourself competing with other people who have the same name, increase your share of online real estate by writing industry articles for third-party association websites or community blogs, setting up an eponymous website with basic professional information, building up your LinkedIn profile, and setting up a Google+ profile. (Get more tips on Google-proofing yourself here.)
Mistake #3: Oversharing
Social media sites are not, of course, the private havens for friends that they used to be. You can pretty much count on the fact that your boss, senior managers, colleagues, and potential employers are looking at your online profiles. That's not to say that you can't have a little fun by including content that demonstrates you're a human being, but beware of getting too personal. As I like to say: don’t share on social media anything you wouldn’t share with your grandmother (e.g. upload photos of friends, but leave out those of last weekend's drunken soiree). And always think about who might see your post before you send it. Comments made in a fit of anger, or those made while you’re doing something you’re not supposed to be doing (e.g. tweeting from a baseball game when you’re supposed to be at work) are bound to land you in hot water.
Mistake #4: Putting Quantity Over Quality
I cannot tell you how many people are irrationally impressed with the number of LinkedIn contacts someone has. This is one case, folks, where I argue quality over quantity all the way. Instead of “friend blasting,” connect selectively — on Twitter and LinkedIn — sending personalized invitations to other people based on mutual interests and connections. (It’s also a good idea to send LinkedIn invites or to “follow” others after meeting them at a networking event, while you’re fresh on their minds.) The purpose is not just to collect contacts, but to develop your professional network and relationships that can move offline. Also, just like in the real world, never stalk. If you send a couple overtures to a proposed contact and receive nothing back, move on to someone who will be more responsive.
Mistake #5: Overpromoting Yourself
I’ve read the statistic that you should share 10 items about, or for other people, for every one item you share about or for yourself. If you really want to reap social media to its fullest potential, this sounds about right. If you are one of those people who only posts or tweets to talk up your own interests, the best case is that you will be ignored. The worst case is that you will be flamed or kicked out of the community. Is this hard work? Absolutely. A solid social media presence isn’t easy to establish or maintain, and you shouldn’t expect otherwise.