Have you Googled yourself lately? It’s entirely possible you’re not doing it often enough, as a 2010 stat showed that less than 50% of folks did regularly. But chances are you’ve conducted an online search on someone else. Whether it’s a prospective employee, someone you just met or a potential business partner, looking up information on the Internet is one of the first steps many people take when trying to learn more about others.
It’s imperative you stay on top of your digital image and learn how to protect your online reputation. According to a recent infographic from KBSD Digital Marketing, 78% of recruiters check search engines on potential employees, and half of recruiters and HR professionals refer to personal websites when deciding whether or not to hire you. They’re looking at photos, trying to find unflattering or incriminating information.
So while it’s simple to suggest not to ever put any content out there that may offend others, the reality is that many of use enjoy and utilize social networks because people are sharing personal information about their thoughts and happenings. Here are some basic tips to help you control your image while still maintaining a positive online presence, thereby ultimately protecting your online reputation:
Always Consider Your Online Footprint: Consider that everything you post or any picture that appears of you online is available for the broad public. There are many who refuse to ever have a photo taken of them holding an alcoholic drink for example. Although you can lock down Facebook privacy settings, if you’re on Twitter, be aware that anything you tweet is easily searchable, so be leery of taking any potentially controversially viewpoints or stands.
Focus on Positive Communications: Take steps to create your own brand by highlighting activities and thought leadership in areas you want to be associated with. If you want people to see you as someone who appreciates the arts, ask questions about or post information from art gallery openings or symphony concerts. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can change others’ perceptions of you by focusing your observations and sharing on specific areas of interest.
Control Your Information: Take advantage of privacy settings wherever you can. Don’t trust Facebook, Google or any other social network or photo sharing service to have default settings exactly how you want them. If you will be posting information or sharing photos that you would never want the public at large or future employers to see, make sure to restrict access to your accounts and content.
Know What’s Out There: Google yourself, check what’s going on. Pretend you are someone who knows nothing about you and see what kind of info it leads to. See what’s on the first few pages of search results, make sure to see what images are out there associated with a search for your name. And if you’re an individual or a small business who finds information online that you’d rather wasn’t there, consider using one of these services to help manage your online reputation:
Reputation.com offer free scans to help you find information online, with an option to subscribe for $100 a year to help them keep your reputation clean. For those that do have information they want to remove, prices to get that info removed or changed from Reputation.com will enter the thousands of dollars range, with it being even more expensive if you have a common name.
BrandYourself helps make entries you want to highlight more visible in search results than those you may want removed. As an example, the company shows how you can boost visibility for your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles (with content you control) to appear before potentially negative information, such as divorce settlement records. Brand Yourself attempts to make the process much simpler and user-based than Reputation.com, offering “do-it-yourself” tips and free profiling and alerts. The free version of the platform will help optimize up to three links and track the first page of Google search results for your name. For $10 per month, you can boost to unlimited links and track the first 10 pages of results.
Integrity Defenders helps individuals or businesses remove negative comments or content from the first page of search results of the most popular search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo1 for a little more than $600, and even offers to push the content off the first and second pages for twice that price.
In October 2010 TRUSTe announced the results of a nationwide survey of both parents and their teens investigating their privacy habits and preferences on social networks. What they found was that, for the most part, “the kids are alright,” noting a majority of teens use privacy controls on social networks and that most parents actively monitor their teen’s privacy. But there’s still room for improvement, with more than 2/3rds of teens admitting they’d accepted a Facebook friend request from someone they didn’t know, and nearly 1 in 10 teens admitting to accepting all friend requests they receive, pointing to the need for more education around kids and social networks.
Unfortunately, examples of what NOT to do on social networks seem all too common. Whether it’s posting inappropriate videos, an abundance of pictures with alcohol prominently involved, or generally distasteful updates, employers and schools are keeping an eye on what the employees and students are doing, and disciplining those who act inappropriately. And there are also some potentially grave and dangerous consequences to misuse and abuse of social networks. Consider the case of Tyler Clementi, a homosexual teen who committed suicide after his roommate posted videos of his sexual encounters on Twitter.
But don’t be scared by these instances. Social networks are now an important part of your child’s development. A 2011 clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics entitled “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents and Families” finds that a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while using social networks. The report lists a number of benefits for kids from being connected, such as better engagement with friends, family and community; enhanced learning opportunities via collaboration; connections with like-minded teens; and enhancement of creativity. Tellingly, the study also found that 22 percent of teenagers log onto their favorite social media sites more than 10 times a day.
Naturally, kids need to be empowered to realize that they can shape their own image on these social networks, and use these services in positive ways.
Once they’re using social networks, the platform can serve as an amplifier for the information your kids decide to share or interact with. Facebook spokesperson Marian Heath says that she hears from people all the time that Facebook is a place where there kids can get in trouble. But she urges parents and teens to turn that around, because it doesn’t have to be that way.
“You can build your own image,” Heath says. “Post the good things you’re doing and share your interests. Have conversations online so folks can find out what’s interesting to you. Ask friends about books you’re reading, plays you’re interested in.” Instead of focusing on the negative or gossipy aspects, use the service to shape your online image how you want to.
Tell your teens they don’t need to be afraid to connect with you. Remind them that you don’t want to interfere with or embarrass them, you just want to make sure they’re making good choices, just like in real life. And even though kids may want to “hide” things you’re posting from parents, the reality is that in today’s world once information is made available, it’s out there forever. So forcing kids to have a confirming thought of “do I want my mom to see this?” prior to anything they post actually isn’t a bad thing.
Although no one knows exactly what the future holds, chances are your kids will be applying to colleges after high school, and soon after that entering the work force. In the future, those making life-changing decisions about your child’s life are sure to examine their social media profiles in addition to any other information they’ve made public. So remind kids that the things they post now can and likely will be used against them, even if it’s five or ten years down the line.
Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.
This may be obvious to some, but a surprise to others: Adults and kids use Facebook very differently. While adults are very tuned into accepting friend requests from only those that truly are their friends, kids are far more likely to use the social network to connect to other kids they barely know. Either way, it’s important that parents know about kids and social networks, and how to ensure that proper rules of Internet and online safety are observed.
Important to consider: For many parents and adults the appeal to a service like Facebook is the number of connections they have. For kids that’s sometimes a big turn off. We’ve talked to a few tweens and teens who are on Facebook because all their friends are, but that tell us they don’t like to update or “use” the social network for the exact same reason – because all their friends are on it. So they’re constantly searching for other services which allow them to connect to the friends they want to in other ways.
So find out which services your kids and are using, and if you’re not already using them, you need to start, or at the very least have a firm understanding of how these social media platforms and how kids can use them. As a benefit, this also may provide some common ground for discussions with your teens, a time when having conversations that involve more than grunts or talking about how they’re hungry can be a rare and precious occasion. But at the same time, you need to know your boundaries when it comes to following your kids online. So refrain from posting to their wall on Facebook, or don’t follow their friends on Facebook. One good idea is to use social networks to connect to your kids’ friends’ parents. It’s another great way to foster community connections and create a sense of safety around kids activity.
Oftentimes kids’ unspoken rules involve how to use Facebook how they want to DESPITE the fact they’re connected to you. There are detailed instructions easily accessible via Google offering kids tips on “how to friend your parents without sacrificing your privacy,” which essentially comprise a step-by-step guide for kids on how to set up their privacy controls before accepting your friend request so they can continue to post information without you seeing it, even if you’re friends.
According to one recent survey, 80 percent of teens have admitted to posting content to Facebook that they’ve hidden from certain friends and/or parents by using privacy settings. So be aware that just because you’re connected doesn’t mean you’ll see anything. In fact, posts being hidden from parents is what led to this incident in which a Texas Dad shot his daughter’s laptop on a YouTube video in order to teach her a lesson. Although you may not agree with his tactic, this incident provides a great conversation point for you and your teens about appropriate behavior.
Monitoring your teens’ Facebook accounts is only part of the choice as well: You must also figure out how often you’ll be checking in. In the October 2010 TrustE survey, 72 percent of parents surveyed said they monitor their teens’ accounts, with 50 percent of these parents monitoring weekly, 35 percent daily and 10 percent monthly. Figure out what’s right for your family, and have an open and honest dialogue with your teens about how you’ll be checking in.
A few other tips to remember:
- It’s not nice to talk about people behind their back, and many families also operate by the old saying “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” So make sure your kids understand not to engage in negative banter about others, or don’t post pictures that they wouldn’t post themselves.
- Don’t assume that everything is automatically set just how you want it in terms of privacy settings on social networks. Go in and make sure all your updates, photos and more are visible to your friends only on Facebook or other social media services such as Google+. Consider setting up a family group to allow you all to share information among each other without broadcasting it to everyone else.
- If you’re feeling overwhelmed, use the Help section. All these networks have extensive, easy-to-understand and searchable help sections, too, so if you don’t know how to do anything, you can look it up pretty easily.
- Bring the dialogue into real-life. Talk to your teens about social networks. Whether it’s about a specific funny status update or article you saw to general feelings about the service and current events, using the social network as a starting point can lead to great conversations with your kids.