Your online trail…

Crucial Advice for Students


Your reputation is priceless.
To understand the value of your reputation, what is sometimes called your “personal brand,” you only need look to celebrities and sports figures. Think of the hundreds of millions of dollars lost by Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong when their reputations went from sky-high to disgrace.

For the rest of us, our reputations are the key to trusted relationships. Strong, positive reputations can open or close doors with people who can help or hurt you in college, in your career and in your personal life.

Employers are judging your online reputation.
Studies have found that more than 90% of employers use social media to screen job candidates. The bad news is that in one study some 69% said they had rejected a candidate because of what they learned from social media — including inappropriate photos and posts, discriminatory comments and poor communications skills.

The good news is that 68% in the same study said they hired candidates because their social profiles showed them as well rounded people, with positive personalities and good communications skills.

First impressions are made online.
Today most of us make our first impressions with other people online. For college students, who haven’t spent much time building a personal or business profile, your Facebook and Twitter accounts will likely make the first impression with employers and others. If this social media is heavily focused on fun and parties, that first impression will be what people will believe is the real you.

That means that what you do on Spring Break may be a part of your file when you apply for your first job. And they’ll be seeing those pictures totally out of context–beach drinking pictures don’t seem nearly as fun to someone sitting in an office.

Nothing is really private.
You should tighten the privacy controls on your Facebook and other social media accounts, but just assume that what you have posted will be seen by the world. That’s because social media makes the world a transparent place. If you don’t want your grandmother, or future employers, don’t post it. Or, better yet, don’t do it, especially with cameras around.

Social media is forever.
The posts and photos you put on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere are recorded for the rest of your life. You may delete them, but it doesn’t mean they’re gone. Your Tweets, for instance, are saved in the Library of Congress. It goes without saying, it pays to think before you post, or Tweet, or rant, or comment. If you knew it would last forever, would you really say it that way?

There are many cases online of college students who have forever ruined their reputations by posting video rants, sleazy PowerPoints and other impulsive acts online. When employers Google their names, they’ll forever be “that guy” or “that girl.”

By the way, some people think texts are just texts and somehow go away because they’re on their phones. But the messages and photos that you send by text may also last forever.

The camera is always on.
If you decide to get crazy for awhile, remember the camera is always on. Today, cameras–some you see and some you don’t–surround you. You have to assume they are always on you. Anything you do in public, or semi-public, is subject to being seen everywhere by everyone.

Don’t post, Tweet or text under the influence.
It’s so easy to send a message on impulse, just grab your phone and make it happen. Under the influence, those impulses can turn your life into misery. We’ve all heard the stories of drunken texts, posts and tweets. If you’re drinking, step away from the phone, and maybe you won’t get hurt.

Take inventory.
Google yourself. The top 10 results you find on Google are your digital resume. When people outside of college want to learn about you’ll they’ll Google you, too. And only about six percent of people will go to the second page of results. This means that if you have something negative findings on the first page, or if don’t appear at all, you are not coming off as well as you could.

Clean up your past.
Once you’ve learned what’s negative in your past, you should go about cleaning it up as well as you can. Many reputation management companies will claim that they can remove negative material about you, but in fact that is very difficult.

If it’s posted by a friend on Facebook, you might be able to have it removed. Otherwise, your only other option is to bury the negative results. You do that by creating positive profiles and content about yourself, which I discuss in more detail below.

As I speak at universities across the country, I ask by a show of hands how long college students have been on Facebook. I usually have a few students who have been on for eight years. I know cleaning up on that is a daunting task, so I suggest going back to your “year of living dangerously” and doing a thorough cleaning of posts and photos that may be a problem.

Purge your “friends.”
Many college students accept anyone who “friends” them on Facebook, whether they know the person or not. Some students think “the more friends I have, the cooler I am.” Unfortunately, those “friends” you don’t know could be hurting you in many ways — sharing your content, being an access point for employers and others, or making you guilty by association.

For instance, if a potential employer sees that you’re “friends” with someone extreme sketch, they might look at you in a more negative light. So go through your “friends” and get rid of the people you don’t know or don’t trust. Easy.

Manage your identity.
To build this positive content, you need to actively manage your online identity. There are a variety of techniques for doing this, but the three that follow are the fastest and most effective.

Claim your name.
Find and buy the .com that is your common name. If .com is not available get .net or .org. Go to all the major social media site and set up accounts in your name. Start with the major accounts including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Linkedin, Google+, Pintrest, Instagram and others. You don’t have to spend a lot of time creating content for all of these if you don’t want to — just create the basic profile and a small amount of content.

Create a strong LinkedIn profile.
The exception to that rule is LinkedIn. If you’re a college student, you may be looking for a job right now. If not, you will be in the near future. LinkedIn is the business Facebook. There are currently 200 million users and it’s growing fast.

Business recruiters use LinkedIn as a primary tool to find the right people for jobs. If you’re not there with a solid profile, you don’t exist to them. You’re missing great opportunities everyday. In addition, a strong LinkedIn profile will usually be at the top of the list when someone Google’s you — positive first impression.

Tell your story.
The other exception is starting a blog. You should begin to write about your views, something you’re interested or even passionate about. It doesn’t have to be extensive, or an everyday thing, but it should be consistent. Maybe once a week, or every other week, whatever feels comfortable. You can easily set up a Tumblr account and add pictures and paragraph length entries.

Put your name as the .com on this blog and use the “about” tab to describe yourself, kind of a mini resume. Be sure to link this to all of your other social media accounts. It can serve as a powerful anchor in your online identity.

Strengthen your links.
Make sure that you link your accounts to one another. Like a spider web’s fibers, every link creates a stronger online identity for you. The more accounts you link together the stronger you become online.

Practice the Platinum Rule.
Yes, this is like the Golden Rule. I call it the Platinum Rule, because it’s even more important online. Some how when people get online, especially if they’re anonymous, they take on different, aggressive personalities.

We treat people in a way, we never would face to face. Before you dish, rant or dis, think about how you want to be treated — online and off — and do the same for the other person.

These are just a few of the important steps to take in actively managing your online reputation. Don’t be overwhelmed. Just take it one step at a time and you’ll start to see the benefits as you start to be clearer online about telling your own story.

I’m speaking at universities across America and hope we have the opportunity to meet. If you have a question in the meantime, use the Ask John box on this page or use click here for a larger form to send me a confidential message and I’ll get back to you.

So start working on your online identity now. It’s worth it. Remember, your reputation is on the line.