Your Personal Online Brand – It Begins with your Facebook Profile

Sunday, Nov. 16th 2008 6:09 PM

With admission officers joining employers in examining Facebook and MySpace profiles, it is time that students understood the importance of establishing their personal online brand.

The verdict is in!
Vicky Tgaw

This past week, the results of a survey from Kaplan Inc. revealed that colleges have begun looking at potential applicants’ social-networking profiles such as Facebook and MySpace during the admissions process. According to Kaplan, 10% of admissions officers are now including a student’s social-networking site profile when making this important decision.

Perhaps even more important to students are two other figures, 38% and 25%, respectively. These are the percentages of profile pages that admission officials indicated ‘negatively affected’ their views of the applicant (38%) as compared to those that ‘positively affected’ their opinions (the 25%).

Profile and Privacy Settings
Given this development, students should give careful consideration as to the information and the photo(s) placed on their profile page. As for interests, it may seem humorous to list ‘wine, women, and song’ while that profile picture of you holding two cans of beer, even if done in jest, may seem harmless. However, face it, such information is not likely to set well with a college admissions officer or a potential employer.

As for your site, there is little doubt today that you should utilize the available privacy settings to ensure that only those you invite have access to the information on your page. This step is as important for your personal safety against online predators of various forms as it is to protect your basic image.

SitMonkeySupremeBut in regards to privacy options, students need to realize that group permissions for certain subgroups can expose you to other viewers. Accepting a group en mass might seem relatively innocuous (your elementary school classmates, for example) but such blanket permissions can inadvertently expose students to other site viewers that you might, in retrospect, wish did not have access to that information.

Your Personal Brand
While students should use these privacy settings to limit outside access to personal information, it is important to realize that one of your most important steps in life today is the creation of your online image or brand. Today’s new media along with the capabilities of the Internet require students to think very carefully about the brand they want to cultivate.

And by brand, we mean the basic concept that is generally associated only with businesses. A brand in essence is “a collection of images and ideas” that goes on to “convey the essence of a company, product or service”. However, today it is being applied to you as an individual based on the image you create online.

In essence, every piece of personal information placed online is one step in creating your own personal collection of images and ideas (your brand). And since every piece of information on the Internet is archived or cached, any item you post has the potential to be accessed by others, including employers and college admission folks.

Most importantly, even if you decide to take it down later, it will remain available to the rest of the world on the Internet.

Two Simple Tests
Jofus/JoeTheDoughTherefore, it is imperative that students give very careful consideration to the brand they want to create. While it can sometimes be challenging to determine where the boundaries are in such matters, we have heard of two simple checks that will serve you well, the ‘Mom/Grand Mom’ check and the ‘Front-page’ check.

As silly as it may sound, when getting ready to post something online, ask yourself, what would your mother or grandmother think if they were to see the information? Is this something that would in any way serve to decrease their overall opinion of you? If the answer is yes, think twice about posting that information. Your future boss or that admissions counselor will have an even harsher view than your mother or grandmother.

The front page check likely sounds more sophisticated, it just asks you to consider a different audience. Ask yourself, what would happen if the information posted online were to make its way on to the front page of your local newspaper? Would it be a source of embarrassment or would it enhance your image in the community?

Though privacy settings give most users a certain level of comfort, the fact is that anything posted online will remain online for the indefinite future. Once there, it has the potential to be seen by others. So give very careful thought to everything you post.

To Cultivate Your Personal Brand
Because the material you place online can seriously impact your future opportunities you need to actively cultivate your personal brand. To ensure a positive presence online, give careful consideration to each of the following:

1. The Google Search Process – The first step to ensuring a positive brand is to imagine that someone is about to “Google” you. If they were to do so, what would the Google search engine turn up first?

AJC1If it is your Facebook page, then examine that page carefully to ensure that what people see projects you in a positive light. Think of this page and your profile as being your online portfolio – include pictures of you working, performing, competing and volunteering as well as your resume. Include some written work that would help readers begin to understand who you are and what is important to you.

2. Creating your Own Web or Blog Page – Even better than a Facebook page, Kai Davis, a University of Oregon student and blogger, suggests you should create a separate web page or blog that features you at your best. With all the software options available on the Internet, setting up a page today is extremely easy.

Davis insists that the most important thing to remember “is to ‘own’ a search term in this digital age. Having a blog or a web page with some unique content, essays, discussion, resume, etc., will help position you above other candidates for jobs or internships.”

3. Buying a Domain Name – If you are ready to consider such a page, then you should think about buying a domain name as well. Workforce experts insist that “you should own a domain name that matches (as close as possible) your name.” The process of purchasing your name or one very similar is quite easy and relatively inexpensive. More importantly, it will provide you with your ‘own’ search term exactly as Davis describes.

Your Brand Matters
The bottom line is that the material you post has the potential to seriously impact your future opportunities. It might be during the college application/scholarship process or it could be much later when you turn to the world of work (or it could even come that fateful day you take the plunge and decide to run for political office).

Remember, your online brand does matter – be sure to treat it with the utmost care.

Flickr photos courtesy of Vicky Tgaw, SitMonkeySupreme, Jofus/JoeTheDough and AJC1.

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