Social media is an amazing tool for building a brand, networking, and establishing a solid reputation. These days it's practically an extension of your "real" life. After all, it's not official until it's on Facebook, right? But everyone (including me) tells you to be careful what you post and that employers, college admissions officers, and professional contacts can and will find the information you share. But, why the heck should you care? You say, "I want to work in an industry that's incredibly laid back and liberal. They're not gonna care about the photos I post from that great party, or the political statements I make, or the curses in my tweets. Heck, they'll probably embrace it, right?"
Wrong. That may be shocking, but there's a reason even the most open-minded company will still judge you for what you post online and it may not be what you're thinking.
It's amazing what people are still willing to post on social networks despite the fact that it has become universally known that employers, colleges, and more can and will look you up online. When someone Googles you and finds something that paints you in a negative light, it won't matter how impressive your resume, how strong your personal connections, or how incredibly talented you are, there's a good chance that opportunity is gone and won't be coming back anytime soon. You may be thinking you're too young for it to really matter, or that you have everything well protected, or even that the things you post are all part of a rock 'n' roll image you're trying to build- but you never know what can come back to haunt you. The secret is that what you post online isn't just judged for what it says about you, it is also judged for the harm it might cause the company.
When a company hires you or allow you to intern or a college or other academic program chooses to admit you, they're taking a risk. The students and employees they choose to work with represent their brand and their image to both their clients and members of the public. If it seems like you may behave poorly, act unprofessionally, curse a lot, spend too much time drinking, or generally acting in a rude or offensive manner, you are too big of a risk. Of course, that means those unsavory behaviors you choose to share in your Facebook photos don't make you look so good, but it's much more complex than that. If you choose to publicly share things that are illegal, offensive, or should simply be left private, it shows that you lack discretion and it looks like you may do the same when you are representing the program or employer. For instance, if you can't avoid saying racist things on Twitter, how can an employer expect you to behave well when interacting with clients and employees of various backgrounds? If you post pictures of private moments to your Instagram, how can an employer expect you to be able to keep confidential information secret? If your Facebook talks about how hung over you are after last night's party, how can someone expect you to be responsible enough to show up to work or class on a Monday morning?
The truth is companies aren't just interested in your own reputation, they are concerned about how your actions and posts may influence their reputation and what those posts say about your behavior and attitude. They want to know that you can manage your own behaviors in order to do the best job representing them. That is why even the most open-minded company will still find unflattering posts disconcerting and why you should only share the things that are positive and professional. Keep that in mind next time you post.