Tips to Improve Your Online Image
An Olympic athlete trains his or her whole life in a sport or event, just for the opportunity to bring a medal home to their country, to bring them national pride. But what happens when all that work, all those years of determination and sweat, are overshadowed by his or her antics off the field? What happens when they do something unprofessional online? How can it be that an elite athlete would risk losing it all because of an errant tweet or Instagram post?
That’s exactly what happened to Irina Rodnina, the three-time Olympic figure skating gold medalist who was one of the two Russian sports legends to light the Olympic cauldron at the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony in 2014. Five months before that, Rodnina had tweeted a photo with racist implications. After first waving off any criticism, and explaining that it was sent to her by an American (and she was just employing “freedom of speech”), Rodnina followed it up with the oft-used, “I was hacked” excuse and subsequently deleted the tweet.
What does this, definitely not unique tweeting scandal teach us? A few things. The first is that if an athlete, who is aware of the added scrutiny an athletics career with come with can make career-ending mistakes like these, so can we. High profiles and world attention are often no match for our social-media obsessed world, where over-sharing isn’t just the exception, it’s the norm. An athlete becomes so much more than just his sport when he shares his family life, choice television show and favorite breakfast cereal with his legions of fans. And sometimes, in that spirit of sharing, people will go too far and veer into unprofessionalism.
Let’s see how we can avoid these and other pitfalls and keep a professional online persona.
1. Professional email address
Maybe you got your email address in high school, and maybe it was long enough ago that you have an AOL or Yahoo account as your primary email account. It is recommended to set up a new, adult account, generally during of after college, to utilize in your future career (and life!) You can keep the one you have, if it features some variation of your name- but it is highly recommended to ditch anything resembling “CutieBaby2008” or “RealHousewife88” if you hope to be taken seriously by employers and other business contacts. Show your love of the Real Housewives franchise some other way.
2. Clean up your social media
Sure, you don’t plan on winning a gold medal or Oscar in the near future, and you don’t envision a life in politics. But that doesn’t mean future admissions officers, employers and references can’t see what your social media looks like. In general, it is best not to post pictures illustrating drunken or illegal behavior, profanity or general inappropriateness. What is inappropriate might differ from one career path to another and for one person and the next. Try and gauge what is acceptable by asking a friend you have and trust as “very socially appropriate” and tell him or her to be honest. Then delete or hide incriminating pictures, tweets and posts. make sure to go a few years back- many people find themselves undone by something they forgot they had posted years before.
3. Settings, settings, settings!
As previously discussed, our exes are not the only ones online “stalking” us these days- so are headhunters and employers. While you want to stay visible online, make yourself harder to locate and once located, harder to “stalk.” Some people choose to make their accounts “private,” others change their last names to middle names (this may not work, as employers are catching on to this process.) If you don’t want to make everything private, look up how to limit the audience for your posts- you can even do that on individual posts! And if it’s something that probably shouldn’t be found at all, ever, refer back to the tip before this and delete it.
4. Work emails are not direct messages
Not all text-based communication is the same. Just like we wouldn’t speak to your bosses the same way we would our friends, we should never write a business email like we might shoot of a Facebook or Twitter message to a friend. Don’t use shorthand, mind your punctuation, use proper grammar and for heaven’s sake (see what I did there?), no bad language! Every work email you send, every cover letter and time you reach out on LinkedIn, read and re-read what you are about to send, and get a friend to read it too, if the content is important. You wouldn’t want to ruin a positive opportunity on sloppy online communication skills.
5. Get your facts straight
If you choose to feature your professional information on Facebook or LinkedIn, make sure that it is up to date and matches what’s stated on your resume. It sounds like a fairly obvious tip, but even your unintentional mixing up of dates can make you appear dishonest.
You’ve prepared and dressed up for the interview, and you know how to put your best foot forward- don’t ruin the search, or your career path, before it’s even started. Make sure your online personality is as wonderful as your real- life one!