by Hope Morley
In spring, as the saying goes, a young person’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of graduation. For many graduates, that means preparing for the next phase of their lives as college students or as young working adults. Whether they’ll be interviewing for jobs, getting ready for college, or just relaxing over the summer, students should be prepared to take control of and build their online brands.
Young people are deeply invested in controlling the impression they make on their peers in the moment. But they may not be so good at anticipating the effects their speech and actions may have in the future—or on third parties who may be witnessing the conversation or behavior from the outside. For that reason, it’s never too early to talk to young people about building an online brand they can be proud of. Take advantage of existing lessons from Common Sense Media. The American Civil Liberties Union also reminds students that it is very easy for potential employers to access whatever is publicly viewable.
What is an online brand?
Your online brand is what people see when they look you up on the Internet. It’s the sum total of the information that’s publicly available about you and your online activities. And there may be more than you think there is. Have you Googled yourself lately? If you haven’t, do it now. Don’t worry—I’ll wait. (Hint: Use private browsing to see what a stranger sees.) Were you surprised by what you saw? If you were a student, how would you feel about a prospective employer seeing it, or a college admissions officer, or a coach or teacher?
Why does it matter?
Making a good impression is always a good idea. For jobseekers and students applying to institutions of higher learning, it is of the utmost importance.
Although it may feel like digital interactions take place only in an intangible cloud, that’s not the case. Our online presence can have real and lasting effects on our offline lives. Digital permanence means that the brash outspokenness of today could be the embarrassing fiasco of tomorrow. You only get one chance to make a permanent impression: the Internet is forever. Other users may take screenshots, make local copies, or otherwise preserve posts and tweets. So even if you delete your own regrettable content, a permanent record of its existence may remain.
How do I build an online brand?
Students should follow these basics for successfully building an online brand.
- use available privacy settings to control your broadcast range on social media sites
- differentiate between content you post publicly and what’s only appropriate to share privately
- have your own website (about.me or Google site, for instance) where employers and recruiters can easily find, learn about, and contact you
- actively participate in public forums authentically and constructively
- highlight your skills and accomplishments
- know the terms of service (TOS); be aware of what you’re signing up for
- share your passwords with anyone: it makes you vulnerable and may be a breach of TOS
- make available anything you wouldn’t want to talk about in a job or school interview
- post anything you wouldn’t want your parents, teachers, or the rest of the Internet-using world to know
- publish anything that probably won’t be true in six months, two years, or twenty years down the line
How do you cultivate your own online brand? How do you get students to think about developing theirs?
Hope Morley is a consultant and social media coordinator for Green Light Professional Development. She writes about social media, conferences, and anything else on the web that helps both students and teachers learn. Follow her @GreenlightLT.