As I watched President Obama give the State of the Union Address tonight, I thought about some important advice for your personal branding efforts. You need to promote yourself if you want to find a job or improve your career, but you have to be very careful about what you say.
Start from the realization that anything you say on the Internet – any picture you post – is effectively there forever. You simply can’t “unsay” something that you once felt strongly about, even if you change your mind. We’ve all heard stories about people who lost jobs or job opportunities because they had unwisely posted pictures or comments on their social networks. These are the obvious cases, though, and we probably all know better.
When you post your political or religious views, you may be thinking that you’re well within the bounds of proper social discourse. After all, our country was built on the very concept of free speech. But the world ain’t that simple. Whenever you apply for a job, you have to realize that the recruiter and/or hiring manager will probably search your digital footprint.
Simply put, what you may think is your absolute right to discuss – perhaps even a trivial statement of your beliefs – can (and probably will) be misinterpreted by somebody at some time. You could argue that you wouldn’t want to work with somebody who has vastly different values than you have, but the tripping point is hard to predetermine. So be safe – express these views privately.
Did you know that your Amazon wish list is public? Your Pandora stations? It’s not just those drunken party photos on Facebook, it’s your entire digital footprint that you have to be concerned about.
If I’ve scared you out of maintaining any digital presence, that wasn’t my intention. You have an online presence whether or not you are active in social media. Increasingly, public records are going online (after all, they are public, right?), so there’s a very good chance that you’re already on the Internet somewhere. Your best strategy is to manage that presence to optimize your digital footprint.
We talk a lot on this site about how to put good stuff up; that’s what Brand-Yourself.com is all about. But be careful about the bad stuff too. And if you have negatives in your digital footprint, the best way to hide these gaffes is by putting more and more good stuff on the Internet, on popular topics and popular sites. The good stuff will eventually rise to the top.