Get Serious: 5 Ways Students Can Clean Up Their Social Media Imprint

Take charge of how you're represented on the Web

Members of a Penn State sorority, Chi Omega Nu, landed in hot water after a Facebook photo deemed racist was shared all over the Web. (Image: File)

It’s near the end of 2012 and by now we know social media can be a danger zone for college students and recent grads. Just ask the members of Chi Omega Nu.

When the members of the Penn State sorority prepared for their “Mexican-themed” Halloween party—complete with sombreros, ponchos, fake mustaches and hand-written signs that read: “Will mow lawn for weed + beer” and “I don’t cut grass, I smoke it”—-they probably didn’t think a quick photo would cause such uproar. However, after one of the members posted it on Facebook and tagged other girls in it, the photo spread quicker than wildfire. Now the school, as well as the sorority sisters, are receiving backlash over the content. Whether the photo is deemed as racially insensitive or not, it has certainly done Hurricane Sandy-damage to their professional brands.

Even as a college student—especially if you plan to snag a job post graduation— it’s important to protect your online presence as it directly correlates to your personal brand. Here are four ways on how you can protect your personal brand:

Don’t share inappropriate posts. In the social media world of college students, emotional status updates, party pictures and inappropriate posts are all too common. Friends don’t let friends tweet drunk. Sending inappropriate Facebook messages or making tipsy wall posts can be funny with friends, but seriously damaging with professional contacts. Just delete and try to stay away from emotional rants on social media.

Monitor how you’re tagged in or linked to photos, updates and check-ins. You can adjust your settings so that tags and other things that may link your profile have to be approved. Don’t leave discretion on this in other people’s hands.

Never totally rely on private settings. Although most major social networks update you with privacy improvements, the changes are often too frequent to follow and can get complicated. However diligently you may protect your social media identity, it’s best to assume anything you post is fair game—and can be seen by potential employers, professional contacts and your grandmother, private, hidden or not.

Remember, you can’t really take a tweet back. While Facebook posts and photos can be taken down, public tweets are just that—public. They may as well be set in stone. The Library of Congress is keeping a Twitter archive for future generations. No matter how much time has passed, every single public tweet is being archived. Be sure you want that thought out there before releasing it to the World Wide Web.

Give up the cutesy —or ratchet—names. Using names like “BadBossChick” or “BoutDatLife” can easily turn off professional contacts or prospective employers. Try your real name or some variation of it, and remember to use a professional-looking picture.

It’s best to always ensure the best representation of you is on the Web. You never know who’s watching.

What are other ways that college students and recent grads can protect their professional brand? #SoundOff and follow Jamie Harrison on Twitter @JayNHarrison.

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