Being Professional Online: Necessity, not a Luxury

Once upon a time, your professional life consisted solely of the building you walked into every morning and walked out of at night, and nothing else. Going home you could be a completely different person than you were at the office. You often never saw your co-workers outside of that building, and only occasionally went to the office parties. Now, being professional can consist of that building, as well as the new coffee shop you’re raving about on Twitter, and the new show on Netflix you told all your Facebook friends about, and the pictures taken of you at a party, or the bar you went to with your friends, or anywhere out in public you’ve been recently. What used to be separate are now conjoined thanks to the Internet: professional and personal no longer have the same strict boundaries.

Start Developing Your “Brand”

Your online identity is your “Brand”, according to David O’Rourke in his LinkedIn post, Professional Online Presence How Why!!. You have to decide if you want to use just your name to identify yourself or if you want to include your profession as a way to differentiate yourself from anyone with the same name. In order to protect your “brand”, consider purchasing that domain name. Susan Adams agrees with this suggestion in her Forbes article, titled 6 Steps to Managing Your Online Reputation. If you have the funds for it then buy the domain name you want as early as possible. Patrick Ambron, CEO and co-founder of BrandYourself, recommends buying several different domains, though some consider this to be excessive. At least get one domain that you are comfortable with, and put all your energy and content into making it the most comprehensive site to find your work.

Google is an Invaluable Tool

Adams suggests to search for your name on Google often, especially the Images tab. Consider setting up a Google Alert for your name so you can get notified anytime something changes. Erik Qualman, author of What Happens on Campus Stays on YouTube,  wants you to ask yourself: what do you want people to find when they search for your name on Google? Do you want your professional headshots and LinkedIn profile on top, or the popular but embarrassing photo taken at that party last weekend? Write down a digital compass detailing what you want people to find when they search for you, and then use it as a guiding light for your online legacy. For some people, online tools enable their digital compass; for others, their online presence is an essential part of their digital compass. Ask yourself: is a digital life integral to what you want to achieve in life? Ambron’s partner, Pete Kistler, was inspired to create the company BrandYourself because he discovered that when his name was searched for on Google brought up results for a convicted drug dealer with the same name. He was unable to hire a professional reputation management firm, so he partnered with Ambron and taught himself how to set up websites and create content that would move his identity further up the Google search and the drug dealer downward. This is the end result of successfully managing your online professional identity.

Be ActiveAs Long As Your Family Approves

Adams suggest that even if you are not going to be particularly active on every site you sign up for, create and fully flesh out the profile on it. At the very least create a profile on Facebook, LinkedIn,and  Twitter, as they are the most common professional social media networks. Consider joining other sites such as Pinterest, Tumblr, and YouTube, if only to have that profile in case you need it. Try to post something at least once a month to show you are still active on that network. If it’s possible, change the URL of that site to something easier to remember and tell to others. The biggest recommendation that O’Rourke has in this area is to choose a professional photo as your profile picture and use the same one across all sites to maintain your online identity. When posting content, post as though your family is watching, states Qualman. Your family should be the standard you hold your online presence to. If you know that even one person in your family would not post that comment or would be embarrassed by it, then simply don’t post it. Live as though your family can see everything you do online, since they probably can.

If there’s something you want to say, and you would only whisper it to your best friend offline, then do not post it online. The rule of thumb here is before you post it ask yourself: would I say this to a large group of people in-person? If the answer is “no” or even “maybe not”, then strongly reconsider posting it. Now, most everyone has been given a speech about integrity, and how we need to have it even when no one is watching. Well, now everyone is always watching, so what has that changed? Your reputation is the public perception of who you are, so if everyone can see your every action, then your reputation is the same as your integrity. In order to help maintain your identity and reputation, with a few exceptions, only create one profile on social media networks. This will not only be easier for you to maintain them, but will also make it easier for an employer to find you. Don’t be afraid to separate who you follow on those networks, though. Many people have personal contacts on their Facebook and direct all professional contacts to their LinkedIn profile.

Don’t Spread Out

When making your network profiles and website, don’t spread your work out over several different websites and social media networks, suggests Adams. Post the same content to your different sites, making it possible for others to find it easily across multiple platforms. If you can’t, or don’t want to, design your own website, then use a site that has pre-made templates, such as Tumblr or WordPress, and place all of your content there. If you have bought a domain name, you can set it to redirect to the site you have placed your content in. O’Rourke stresses the value of having your own content on your website and social media networks. He also suggests including your URL on business cards and resumes as well as in your e-mail signature. Once you have created your content, tell others about it! Post it on your website and then make a post somewhere with a link to it, encouraging people to visit your page and view your work.

Update!

Once you’ve establish your identity and profiles, O’Rourke advises you to be active on your social media networks, constantly be on the lookout for individuals and companies you want to connect with, and then make the effort to get to know them. It is not enough to just have a profile and occasionally reach out to other professionals on those websites. Be active in the networks or groups you have joined, whether thats actively writing posts and commenting on someone else’s post, or just replying promptly whenever someone asks you a question. It takes a lot of work to be constantly updating and adding content to all of your social media networks and website. Pushing new professional content on a regular basis will help ensure that if something negative appeared, you already have more positive content to help push that negativity to the bottom of the Google search.

No One is Perfect, But We Can Be Honest

Qualman states it the simplest: “No one is perfect”. We’ve been told that hundreds of times through movies, songs, books, and mentors. So why try to pretend that you are? Own up to your mistakes, and make them help boost you up. Admit your flaws, and make them awesome. The age-old idiom “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” is another way to describe being FLAWsome, a term coined by Qualman. When something bad happens to you, turn that negative into something positive. When you post something online, imagine it is written in ink, not pencil. It cannot be erased, no matter how hard you try.

Therefore, when you complain about bad customer service online, everyone can see it and even if you retract your statement later, the imprint of it will remain somewhere. If you represent an organization or team in any way, then recognize that your statements also reflect them. If you have to post something negative, then do it in a constructive way. In the same thought, whenever you think of posting something negative, take a moment and decide whether you could post something positive instead. Make a habit of posting something positive every day. Whether you do it publicly, on Facebook or Twitter, or through an email or text to a good friend, research has shown that posting something positive boosts your own happiness. It is a good general policy to try to never criticize someone publicly. If you have a criticism for someone, then address as quickly as possible in person, or somewhere online that is private between the two of you. If you have something positive to say, then “Post It Forward” with a kind comments suggested by Qualman. But if it is negative, then address it as privately as possible.

When you write a post of any kind, always read through it at least twice before posting it. Check it over for spelling or grammatical errors, and double-check your facts so as not to post false information. When you’re writing a possibly controversial post, realize that if you have to take more than three seconds to decide whether or not something is appropriate to post, then don’t post it.

We all make mistakes. No matter how many times you check that post or examine that picture, eventually you will put something online that embarrasses or humiliates you. When you make that mistake, it is better to own up to the mistake than to delete it and try to hide it. Someone will have seen it, and if you hide it assume they will call you out on it. So admit your mistake immediately, apologize, lay out steps to make it right, follow through on those steps, and learn from that experience. Adams cautions you to be cautious; even if you are extremely careful about what you post and making sure nothing is embarrassing or humiliating for you, you cannot control what other people post and tag you in. If they do tag you in something that you do not want your employer or family to see, then always be sure to remove the tag, or even ask them to take down the picture entirely.

Just Start at the Beginning

The hardest part of maintaining your professional online identity is creating it. If you don’t already have a website or social media profiles, then it takes a lot of time to set those up to your professional standard. It also takes time to create the content to go onto those sites if you don’t have something pre-made. But once you have those sites set up, once you have positive and professional content posted for your contacts to see, once Google no longer brings up that embarrassing photo at the top of the search, then you’re set. Then all you have to do is continue making new content and updating your social media networks with that new content. Then, you can give your information to potential employers with confidence, knowing exactly what they will find when they search for your name.

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