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@ Your Own Risk: Managing Your Online Reputation in a Social Media-Saturated World

Last Updated: February 20, 2014

Leigh Seger
Leigh Seger

Leigh Seger served as an Internet Safety Consultant with Covenant Eyes from 2009 to 2015. While at Covenant Eyes, she made a positive impact on individuals and families by helping them protect their homes against harmful online content.

If you felt a twinge of regret about something you just posted online, well, you are in good company. With more than 800 million active users of Facebook, of which about half log in on any given day, it’s bound to happen.

Social media is absolutely mainstream in our society—it’s fun, easy and a great way to connect with people, both personally and professionally. However, it’s very ease of access has caused many to have a hard time drawing a line on what is acceptable to put out there for “all the world to see.” Many have developed a “let it all hang out” mentality, resulting in very real consequences.

Enter the need for “Online Reputation Management.” Here are a few people who could have benefited from this concept:

  • A New England Patriots cheerleader was cut from the squad over controversial pictures that were posted on her Facebook page (she was 18 at the time). At a Halloween party, she had posed for photos with a passed-out man who was covered in graffiti, including swastikas, anti-Semitic remarks and profanity. She was fired from the squad when the pictures started showing up on various websites and ultimately came to the attention of the Patriots’ management team.
  • A North Carolina waitress was fired from her job at a pizzeria after posting a negative comment about some of her customers. Johnson used profanity and referred to the customers as “cheap” after they left her only $5 tips after sitting at their table for three hours. While she did not mention customer names, she did name the pizzeria in her post. She was fired shortly after for violating the restaurant’s social media policy.
  • Five nurses in California were terminated after it was discovered they were discussing patient cases on the site. The situation was investigated and the nurses were fired for allegedly violating privacy laws.

Because social media dominates our culture, it is bringing its share of consequences. According to social media consultant Kirsten DiChiappari, “Anything that you do, you should be pretty comfortable with the whole world knowing.” The same can be said for posting pictures; a less than stellar image from a crazy party can make a quick impression about your character. “It’s not what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” says DiChiappari. “It’s what happens in Vegas stays on Flickr, on Youtube, on Facebook, and on every place you never thought it would be.”

When Personal Meets Professional

Did you know that:

  • 48% of recruiters and HR professionals refer to personal websites when deciding whether or not to hire an individual*
  • 78% of recruiters check search engines to find out more about potential employees*
  • Social media sites are checked by 63% of recruiters for activity of a candidate. Other sites being checked include blogs, photo sites, forums, and gaming sites*
  • 8% of companies have fired someone for abusing social media*

These statistics are a pretty compelling example of the need to manage one’s image online. Of course, these do not just apply to those seeking a job but also to those seeking to keep a job.

Some may argue the legal aspect of this with regard to free and protected speech. This recently came up in Connecticut, when an employee of an ambulance company was fired for making derogatory remarks on Facebook about her employers, thus violating the company’s social media and Internet use policies. The employee’s comments were made from her personal computer, in her own home and on her own time. According to the National Labor Relations Board, the company’s policies were in violation of laws that protect an employee’s right to talk about factors such as working conditions and wages.

Megan Ruwe, a Minnesota attorney who counsels employers on handling employees in the social media arena, advises that while the First Amendment protects a citizens’ freedom of speech, it does not stop employers from limiting their employees’ speech.

If you say something on social networks that puts your employer in a negative light, she said, “that’s not very different than an employee standing on a corner and holding a sign or screaming it. It’s public, and it’s out there for the world to see. Individuals can forget that it is a very public forum.”

Cases similar to the one in Connecticut are forcing companies to look closer at their Internet Use/Social Media policies to close any gaps or to provide more clarity of what will not be tolerated by employees.

Remember: location, timing, and content are important variables to consider when posting something personal or work-related. When in doubt, don’t.

Keeping it Squeaky Clean: Tips to Managing your Online Reputation

1. Don’t do it at work.

Stand out from the masses and actually do your job when you are there. Unless you have permission or using social media is part of your job, it’s best to do this on your own time. You’ll make your boss much happier.

If you do choose to dabble with this at work, don’t update your status with something like, “I’m so bored, this job is so lame, my boss is a moron.” Individuals have gotten fired for statements similar to these. There are plenty of people who would love to take your place.

2. Don’t share confidential information online.

This goes without saying. Always err on the side of caution.

3. Keep close tabs on your information.

You can do this by Googling your name frequently and also letting your friends, family, and colleagues know what your expectations are for personal information. This will help combat those embarrassing photos from showing up later. You can also raise your privacy settings to help keep others from digging into your personal information.  Google offers a great tool called Me on the Web which helps you understand and manage what people see when they search for you on Google.

4. Be considerate of others.

Maybe you would never intentionally say anything unkind or offensive, but the online coup you just started could have been quelled by softening your comments. Words can be very far-reaching.