Nothing You Post Online is Private

A soldier looks at social media on a cellphone
A soldier looks at social media on a cellphone. (U.S. Army)

I told you so! For the 10+ years I’ve been coaching professionals and military veterans on social networking strategies and tactics, I’ve repeated (ad nauseum, I’m sure) that “Anything you post, type or comment on in an electronic device – phone, tablet, computer – should be considered public.”

As we’re learning these days with sites like Facebook now revealing their information sharing practices, managing and protecting your digital reputation is more important today than ever.

Even without considering the data piracy of hackers and third party interests, it’s important to remember that any and every text, photo or post you share has the potential to land in the hands of your employer, a hiring manager, or a key networking contact of yours as you build your online personal brand. Emails can be forwarded, images and texts can be screen captured and shared. It’s all public.

How to Protect Your Online Brand

Just because you don’t have privacy with what you post online shouldn’t mean you stay away from social networks. For those of you recently separated, or getting ready to leave the military, you will see how powerful online connections can be to your ability to gather career information, receive mentoring and counseling around your transition, and build the civilian job skills you’ll need to succeed. 

Being active and visible online also helps recruiters and hiring managers find you and evaluate your fit for their company. As reported by

“Almost three-quarters (73 percent) of recruiters say that they have made successful hires through social media, and, conversely, one third of employers rejected candidates because of something that they found in their social profiles.”

This report should indicate an opportunity, especially when you remember how much control you actually have online. YOU post content, images, jokes, articles, and memes you think are informative, insightful, humorous and engaging. You control what your keyboard sends to the digital landscape.

To direct how your reputation and brand are built online, take a strategic approach and follow these guidelines:

  1. Start with a clear sense of how you want to be perceived. Is your goal to be seen as clever, witty and charming? Or, do you seek to be regarded as someone with insight into progressive issues and trends? Or, is it your desire to be perceived as collaborative, helpful and impactful? Each of these desired perceptions requires a different tone, posture and positioning to be meaningful and influential.
  2. Can you back up that positioning? If you’re not genuinely clever, charming or witty, you certainly can spend time crafting posts that paint the picture that you are… but the truth will be revealed when someone meets you in person. Strive for authenticity – in person and online.
  3. Who is your desired audience? Who’s attention are you trying to attract? If you’re recently separated from the military, you might seek to connect with other veterans, military transition advisors, job coaches and even employers. As you craft your online profiles, speak directly to their needs, interests and goals.
  4. Check every post, comment and image. Ask yourself: Could this message be perceived as offensive to anyone I’m trying to attract? Is my messaging on target for the reputation I’m building for myself? Am I clear on what I can offer that is of value? If the answer is “no,” or “possibly not,” consider the worthiness of the post. Sometimes, we share information online to show our human side. That’s great. Not everything you do online needs to focus on career and business. But be careful of jokes, images and comments that could alienate the audiences you seek to build trust with.
  5. Strive for consistency, not perfection. Your online information and persona should be an accurate reflection of who you are. From your language, profile photo, collaboration and humor, the way you conduct yourself online should be consistent with the values you promote in person and on the job.

To defend yourself against false accusations, misinformation and mistakes, it’s critical to take a proactive approach to your online reputation. If you neglect to tell your online audiences who you are and what you value (believe in), then you leave it up to public opinion to define you. That’s giving away a lot of power, in my opinion.

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