Protecting your personal brand online

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Social media has changed both employee conduct and standard recruitment practices.

In the past, a potential employee was judged predominantly on their word of mouth reputation, resume and interview. In most cases these are still primary factors, but social media has added a new dimension to profiling potential candidates, which can’t be ignored.

Many human resource departments are using social media to assist with the recruitment process, now known as social media ‘vetting’. Earlier this year, online research conducted by Harris Interactive for CareerBuilder revealed 39 per cent of companies are researching job candidates on social media. Of the organisations conducting social media vetting, almost half admitted that information found on social media channels caused them not to hire a candidate.

While some businesses are using social media as a screening tool, others are also using it to monitor existing employees’ actions and behaviours. Despite countless horror stories about employees’ social media exploits jeopardising or even destroying their careers, some still continue to ignore the warnings, often resulting in dire consequences. An example of this is the case Dover-Ray v Real Insurance Pty Ltd [2010].

In this case an employee’s unfair dismissal claim was rejected after she was terminated following a disparaging blog about the employer on her MySpace page in which she called management ‘witch hunters’ and ‘corrupt’, alleged that the company’s values were ‘absolute lies’ and revealed confidential information about the investigation. The employer requested that the employee show cause and remove the blog but she refused to do so. The employee argued that only her friends could access the material however some of those included work colleagues. The Commissioner said ‘it is enough that her “friends” included other employees of Real because (even if it had such a restriction) it could reasonably be expected that a document of such controversy would be circulated within the workplace. The Tribunal found that writing the blog and the employee’s failure to take it down, were valid reasons to terminate her employment.

Taking into consideration the possible consequences, social media users should conduct an online audit of themselves, which can be done simply by searching your name on Google. You will no doubt be surprised as to some of the things associated with your name, particularly images. Once Google has information and images stored, they can be extremely hard to remove.

Once you have evaluated the audit and tracked any unwanted attention back to the relevant social media channels, you should define how you use each different social media platform. For instance, while LinkedIn is designed  for business and recruitment purposes, the personal and professional boundaries of other platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, can be confusing and if not addressed, can affect a person’s professional reputation for life.

Once each platform has been reviewed, focus should be placed on the privacy settings of each. If profiles are going to be used for personal matters, such as conversing with friends, then your privacy settings should reflect this. Your personal information should be hidden to the general public and only visible to those with permission. As a hard and fast rule, if you leave all privacy open, “don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your mother to see”.

Having a social media presence is extremely important in this day and age and keeping an eye on your social media content is a must. Making sure you are protecting yourself online is vital and it is important that you define the purpose of each social media platform and customise your security settings accordingly.

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