You notice a job listing on LinkedIn or Facebook and jump to attention. It’s your dream job. The one you’ve waited for. You’ve edited the heck out of your resume, groomed yourself for the interview, and jotted down talking points that are sure to wow the interviewers. But wait! What about those pictures of you partying on Facebook? Did you remove that funny, but potentially off-color, joke you posted on Twitter? Even if you’re not living a crazy life online, it pays to clean up social media accounts to make them look more professional and to rid them of troublesome media, posts, and interactions.
The social cleanup isn’t only for jobseekers either. Entrepreneurs, networkers, and people with jobs already are at risk. It may seem unfair that you can’t show pictures of your favorite trip to Cancun, but your intoxicated eyes in all the pictures may let off an undesirable vibe. Your political views may be important to you, but you never know how the person interviewing you, or speaking to you as a potential client, may view that type of outspokenness–especially if they disagree with your thoughts.
As we’ve learned, social media profiles serve as public directories. Although an AA meeting or gun club or rave community may make you feel included and fulfilled in your private life, social media is not the place for them when you have a business life to uphold. So, keep reading to learn about how to clean up social media accounts with removals, privacy adjustments, and more.
I mentioned “troublesome” as the operative word when describing the type of content to remove, or hide, from social media accounts.
Troublesome doesn’t mean wrong or evil or immoral. Some content on social media is absolutely evil, but we’re more so talking about elements that come off as unprofessional. This is for the average worker. If you have a habit of sharing content from the dark web, there’s an entirely different type of help needed.
Here are the primary content examples that can be considered “troublesome:”
Overall, a lack of judgment on social media can translate to how you make decisions in the workplace. If you can’t keep yourself from bashing a politician on Facebook, other professionals may not want to take a risk on that lack of judgment.
Reviewing and modifying the internet to clean up social media accounts seems daunting. However, the task only takes maybe an hour of your time. That’s pretty good considering it could be the last hurdle in landing a job or client.
Follow these steps to clean up social media accounts for good.
It all begins with searching for your identity online.
I’d like to show you visual examples of this process, so I’ll use my name and social profiles to demonstrate.
Begin with a list of what you know.
Off the top of my head, I have the following:
That’s a good start, but what about when I search my name online?
The first result is LinkedIn. It turns out the primary position listed is an old one. I need to change that.
The rest of the first page looks fine, with my business portfolio and some publications I write for. Great.
Luckily, I don’t have many social results on the first page. But not everyone is so lucky. Regardless, make sure to check the second, third, and fourth pages in case something fishy is hiding.
My page 2 of the search result has more articles from my work and a few social profiles.
Aha! There’s my Facebook page. Not to mention, I totally forgot I have a YouTube page. I don’t use it for business, and I can’t imagine anything is bad on there, but there could be channels I follow or videos in my history that don’t reflect well. You never know without checking.
After my search, here’s what I need to look into:
I’m not worried about my online portfolio since it’s updated on a regular basis. However, be sure to put personal blogs and portfolios on this list. What was it you wrote about on your personal blog three years ago?
We won’t cover every social network, but here’s an example of what to hide on Facebook.
Go to Settings and Privacy > Settings > Privacy.
For most social accounts, the best practice is to set your profile as private for all except friends. This way, an employer or business associate must befriend you to complete their spy work.
After that, configure all settings so that only friends see your content. Check activity logs and scroll through the other tabs like Stories, Timeline, and Location. These all have privacy settings.
Move on to others like Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. They all let you switch to private accounts.
This is a good time to ask yourself if lesser-used accounts are even necessary. If you haven’t touched the profile in two or three months, delete it completely.
For my situation, I’m deleting my YouTube account. There’s not anything troubling on the account, but I don’t like that it comes up in search results. And who knows? Maybe my next employer really hates Conan O’Brien.
There’s no need for a professional headshot on your social profiles. It doesn’t hurt to have one, but it’s not required.
In fact, you’re best off following your industry trends. Are you a lawyer? Have a professional headshot in a suit. Are you a developer or a writer? A jean jacket is acceptable.
For cover photos, it’s best to include a logo for your business or a simple pattern that you like. Foliage is a guaranteed safe bet.
As for profile photos, you’re on the right track as long as the pictures are clear and you’re smiling.
Serious or silly faces don’t transfer well to the business world.
Even a goofball like Conan has a nice professional headshot.
Now it’s time to check your biographies. For sites like Facebook, these biographies get hidden in the clutter, but you never know who’s going to check out your About page. In addition, these bios often show up on search engines.
Have your biographies touch on what you do professionally and what you enjoy outside of work (as long as it’s professional).
A positive attitude is appreciated by all. The following biography highlights some wonderful hobbies like history, mystery, and golf. That sounds significantly more professional and interesting than your view on a politician or poorly thought-out joke.
Deleting posts is the tedious part of this process.
Some social networks have search functions.
For example, Facebook offers a search bar. Type in a keyword like “drunk” or a swear word you may have once said. Then, only search Posts by “You.”
It turns out, two posts from my college days included the word “drunk” in them. It was a long time ago, and there was nothing rude about them, but I’d rather get that off the internet.
Social profiles have contact and professional information in the bio. Some also have About or Work pages. Examine all of these. Make sure phone numbers and emails are up-to-date for prospects to contact you.
Ensure your website is listed and current. Explain your business in detail and provide proper location information.
Finally, check past employment and business details. Do you actually work where you say you work anymore?
Now that your online past is handled, it’s time to talk about the future. Landing your dream job is exciting, but that means you must maintain that good judgment so as not to cause problems with your employer, coworkers, or clients.
Prior to posting publicly on social media, run your content through the following checklist:
If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say it at all. The age-old saying holds true for social media peace.
Everyone has a musician they can’t stand. It’s natural to think younger generations aren’t doing life right. Yes, there may have been a hair in your pasta last night.
But guess what?
Not only does no one really care, but negative posts about things like this come off as lacking control over your emotions, a trait that’s not desirable for business. In short, keep it upbeat and positive.
A conversation about gun rights or marijuana legalization may make for quality banter with friends, but you need to think carefully before you post about these topics on public profiles. Not only do you run the risk of discouraging employers with the original post, but heated discussions might tempt you to devolve into swearing, name-calling, or other professional behaviors.
In the end, you may decide that you don’t want to work with employers who disagree on a specific issue, making it worthwhile to post your opinion. The important thing here is to be aware of how these posts might impact potential employers’ opinions of you and to choose the opinions you share carefully.
Lightheartedness is part of social media, but complete a check to see if your joke is too aggressive or opinionated. You may think a jab at the president or an actor is playful or even necessary, but jokes have a bad reputation for either not reading or aging well.
Your best option: Stick to regular conversation with positive undertones. Leave the jokes to the professional comedians. They’re actually paid to take the heat. In your situation, all a joke does is risk your reputation.
Most beach, gym, and party photos are no good for social media. If your main profession is as a personal trainer or model, go for it! But otherwise, skip it.
I know a real estate agent who promotes her modeling Instagram page on her real estate page, and vice versa. Again, there’s nothing wrong with having a modeling page, but it’s best hidden from your actual business.
Check your social feed prior to posting. Are you about to post your hundredth picture of a meal or a mirror selfie? A social profile shows a lot about selectiveness and judgment. Take a step back and ask how you can make yourself look more cultured and interesting.
Once you have gone through these steps to clean up your social media profiles, you are ready to apply for the job of your dreams!
Joe is a Chicago-based writer focused on social media, WordPress, and eCommerce tools. When not riding his bike in Chicago he's camping in Wisconsin. View Joe's portfolio at joewarnimont.com to contact him and see past work.
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