How Facebook Privacy Can Affect Your Future Employment and Personal Brand

Facebook is a great social utility that allows people to keep in touch and interact with friends, tell everyone what’s on your mind, or share things instantly over the interwebs.

But is all this information private between just you and your intended audience?

Well in fact, whether you like it or not, things on the web (even things you think are private) can be seen quite easily by just about everyone – including potential employers. According to U of O PR professor Kelli Matthews, over 70% of employers use Facebook as a background check for job candidates.

Don't let this happen to you.

As a result, the image you display on your facebook page is the foundation of your personal brand.

The way an individual student portrays themselves online is paramount to their potential careers – especially for students in the journalism school, where nearly everything you do is online.

As a group, we will be learning how students can use technology to their advantage, and also, unfortunately to their detriment.

There is a fine line to having a personality and showing potential employers you are a serious candidate for the job you desire.

As students who have already, or are about to embark on the job and internship search in the near future, it is essential that we learn the consequences of the social media sphere.

For example, let’s take a look at Henna Schwartz. She recently graduated from the University of Oregon and went to work for a small software company outside of Portland.  She liked her job but adjusting to working life from college was difficult for her. Throw in a demanding boss, a trying landlord and a complicated long distance relationship, and Henna was bound to have some ups and downs.

One  especially difficult day, Henna reacted by expressing her emotions in a simple Facebook status: “I hate my company!”

Little did she know, a colleague (and a “friend” on Facebook) saw it, printed it out and showed her boss. 24 hours later, Henna was searching for a new job — with a black mark on her resume.

Is this fair?

Yes and no. Henna has the right to free expression, but the company has a pricy reputation to protect as well. Unfortunately for Henna, she had to learn the hard way about how important it is to filter what you post online.

But with a little practice, effort and attention to detail, you can not only learn how to  avoid making Henna’s mistake, but how to create a strong online footprint as well.

In an article on the self-proclaimed “social media guide”, Mashable.com, blogger Antony Mayfield offers tips on managing your online reputation. Mayfield says, “The measure of your reputation is what you do plus what others say about you.”

To support his motto, Mayfield believes in three things he’s learned while navigating the social media waters.

First, you are your network. Personally, you may be able to restrict your own profile but you have to think about the ones around you (friends, family, the girl you took drunk pictures with at that St. Patrick’s Day party) who could post things you wouldn’t want a boss seeing.

Second: if you can’t delete, compete. It’s a good idea to ask people to remove embarrassing content about you, but in the majority of cases the best course is to make sure that you are the first and best source of information about yourself appearing on Google. Produce your own strong content so you can control your online search engine destiny.

Thirdly, set up a Google Alerts account to monitor what it being said about you.

Mayfield offers one last bit of online wisdom, “It should be the goal of every web-savvy professional to have their online reputation precede them.”

One of Branding U of O’s very own group members has taken this knowledge to heart and is getting desirable results.

Keith Becker, a sophomore PR major, is ahead of the curve when it comes to social media. After an internship last summer with Vineberg Communications, he learned the importance and influence that Facebook, Twitter and blogging can provide.

A sportswriter as heart, Keith set up a Twitter account to share musings on Oregon Ducks sports. Then he expanded from micro-blogging to real blogging, on a wordpress.com site, and then he created a Facebook fan page so he could connect with yet another platform of people.

In less than a year, Keith has 1,250 twitter followers, 650 Facebook fans and over 75,000 unique visitors to his blog. In just a few clicks, he can share a thought with a very large number of people.

Because of this, he was easily able to find a paying summer internship at a top public relations agency in San Francisco.

Sadly, not enough people have developed this understanding of social media. Currently 66% of Generation Y isn’t aware that their online footprint isn’t an important factor in the hiring process, and furthermore, 56% think it’s unfair.

Times have changed and students need to adapt with them. There’s no going back.

There is no shortage of horror stories about young job seekers being foiled by embarrassing pictures popping up when the manager Googles their name — here is one particularly funny one — but students and young professionals need to be aware that just about everything they post online can be seen by seen by anyone who cares enough to look.

This is why the idea of personal branding is important.  It gives people a concept to keep handy when socializing online.  We want people to think of the internet as a channel that allows other people (including current and future employers) to gather information about you.  The way you read reviews of products and search for information before making purchases, is essentially the same as an employer doing a background check before hiring you.

You may not think of yourself as a product that can be bought and sold, but you probably want to be paid for your work, which is just another way to say you want to sell your skills.  So think about what an employer would see if the went to the web looking for a brochure and review of you.

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