Digital Reputation Advice for the Class of 2015

Congrats to the class of 2015! As a recent graduate from my doctoral program, I share in your relief – as well as anticipation – about what is next post graduation.  

shutterstock_157559093Digital communication tools like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook have tracked our progress, the highs and the lows of papers, projects and milestones.  Diploma in hand, resume updated, ready to rock.  So what does your digital reputation have to do with your future success – success that the classroom probably didn’t teach you?

Your digital reputation is the new first impression, entry, access, accountability and many times something you have complete control over. 

In this post, I offer four pieces of advice on digital reputation. These are inspired by my post last year to the class of 2014, outlining how to be a triple threat with your job search on Twitter, LinkedIn & Blogging.  Read that post (here). 

This advice is presented to recent grads who are job searching, entering their first professional position or graduate school.  Why?  There should be a difference in how your think about and use social media from high school, college and beyond.  You may not like this reality.  Why?  Your current or future job may depend on it.

1.  Download your digital history

shutterstock_256949626Having an accurate and ongoing check-in to your digital presence is step one to embracing your digital reputation. Googling yourself is one way to explore your digital reputation. Further, make a list of all your social media accounts, some of them like MySpace or Facebook you may have been on for over ten years!  

Take some time to scroll through old posts and update your contact and ‘about me’ sections. If you haven’t already announced your graduation – Facebook has a ‘Life Event’ option that includes graduation.  

Going a little deeper, think about privacy settings but think about them skeptically. Set your privacy, but don’t trust privacy settings. Screenshots make headlines. As will be discussed in #3, you’ll want to start thinking more about a reflective framework for digital decisions as a professional.  

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Check out Timehop for your digital history

Finally, there are two free applications that help digital digging for you. Check out Memoir and Timehop, that deliver your posts from applications like Facebook and Instagram to your feed daily for up to eight years. See something that now doesn’t represent your career goals and character? Click on it to delete or change privacy settings.

Applications change their terms of services constantly. Take four times per year to go through your settings, privacy options, past posts and google search history.  

2.  Find a digital mentor

Every industry has different expectations, culture and even policies as it relates to social media activity as professionals. Even between P-12 teachers/administrators  and college administrators/faculty there are significant differences. Find someone in your field that you ideally personally/professionally know and like how they act/interact online. What accounts are they on or not on. How do they interact with students, parents, family, friends?  

shutterstock_136481069Ask them for a phone call or coffee convo.  Some ideas for questions could include:

-Do you know of any restrictions on social media use in our field/campus/position?

-What social media applications do you use for personal, professional and/or both?

-What are your privacy settings like?

-Is there anyone at work you won’t accept a request from (student, parent, vendor, supervisee, supervisor, etc)

-What advice do you have for a new professional/new employee about social media use?

-Finally, ask if they would be willing to look at your social media pages for concerns, ideas and overall observations.

3. Create a reflective check list

Over the last seven months, I completed a research study on 40 college student leaders. Participants were found to be successfully maneuvering the ever-changing role of technology in their lives, and as student leaders. A primary means to express themselves, while presenting leadership, was the use of a reflective checklist to make digital decisions. They thought about family members, privacy settings, appropriateness and perception.

What would make your list? Now out of college, you need to take this checklist to the next level. Think about how your social media activity may impact your employer, in addition to your professional digital reputation.  The holy grail of being a professional online: Never ever (ever) talk bad about your employer online – or in any digital form. 

shutterstock_183007475Next, while it is not commonly discussed, there will be transitional periods in social media use throughout your lifetime. Some of these come for intention, time of day, major interactions, and content shared. Major transitions include school, job and responsibility changes.

For example, as a student it may have been common to use social media between classes and late at night, use of Facebook groups for student organization communication or Snapchat for text messaging. This behavior in some work settings may come across differently. Do not assume that all your colleagues use or even know what Snapchat is. Posting during the day on Facebook might discourage or even banned on work computers. 

You may also want to reflect upon when or if you seek out online connections with new colleagues and your boss, especially the first month on the job.  As a suggested practice, let current employees seek you out until you have established a solid working relationship face to face. More open accounts such as Twitter, Instagram and YouTube are a great place to start in connecting with your colleagues, while Facebook is usually more intimate. 

4. Post with a Purpose 

A strategic step in advancing your digital reputation as a recent graduate is posting with a purpose. There are various ways you can do this including content, community interaction, specific applications and emotion.

First, different applications can be used for different purposes. For example, on Twitter I share a lot more professional content – where Instagram tends to be more fun and about my life. Both are open and positive communities, but I have different audiences and interactions.  shutterstock_217581103

Second, ground your social media in your values. Here is a simple exercise on values discernment:

  • What are ten things that are most salient about your identity, what are ten things that you value above all else? How do you/don’t you share these?
  • Who are the ten most important people to you? How do theses priorities play out online?
  • Do you value social justice – gender equity – independence – work ethic – family? Where can these found in your accounts?

Posting with a purpose brings out your values. Let them be your guiding light in every post and interaction. Let there likeness be your best selfie angle.

Next, with your digital decision-making checklist in your mind, add the idea of building your professional digital reputation. Think about what your want to be known for, what are your career ambitious, passions, etc. Now use those energies in digital form. What would you want you very last Tweet, Instagram photo or Facebook post to be? 

shutterstock_52626994Finally, no matter your position or industry, a digital reputation should include efforts to lift others up.  

From liking, commenting, sharing and following. Make your social media activity more than about yourself. Be a digital role model – be positive – build a digital community of care. Make safe online spaces. Be a digital influencer of good. Using social media for these purposes will elevate your digital reputation and even better will have a positive impact on your interactions face to face. 

Final Thoughts

These four suggestions may seem simple. However nearly everyday I see aspiring leaders and professionals stumbling online. Smearing negativity, conflict, anger and unprofessional choices.

Last year I conducted a six month study on Vice Presidents and college Deans who are high users of Twitter in their jobs. They reflected on their college days – decades ago – without social media. They themselves admit if they did the same things then, they might not be in their positions today. As a young professional you are facing a challenge not presented to generations before.

You carry your reputation with you, no matter the distance or time.  This is your digital reputation, and much of it you have control over. 

We all want to be our whole, authentic selves in-person and online. This post is not discouraging that. Your digital reputation is just as important as your college degree(s). It is part of you – it needs to be a priority to you – and you can thank me later.

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