Joanne Sweeney-Burke is the CEO of Digital Training Institute, a 1ed author, a writer for Social Media Examiner, an international speaker, and host of the weekly podcast and weekly blog, JSB Talks Digital. Here, she writes for Way out West on the importance of personal branding on Social Media.

In the age of social media, everything you post is permanently recorded. This is an important consideration for millennials, especially college students and young professionals who are preparing for (or just beginning) their careers. It's easy to forget that everything you post on Twitter, Facebook, and other social sites becomes part of your permanent record. When you apply for a job, you can expect employers to investigate your social media history. No matter what your goals, it's essential to build a strong personal brand and avoid doing anything that will harm your reputation.

The Importance of Personal Branding

It's easy to underestimate the consequences of managing your personal brand. The social media age puts an incredible amount of pressure on everyone. It's almost hard to conceive that some thoughtless comment or silly photo can haunt you for years into the future, but that's the reality we're all living in now. If you doubt it, think of the scandals caused by celebrities, athletes, and politicians who didn't think before they tweeted. While ordinary people aren't scrutinized to the same extent, over the course of your life, it's safe to assume that people will check up on you. In the short-term, even a minor social media scandal could ruin your chances of a scholarship, get you booted from a team, or even get you expelled from college. Over the long haul, it could make it hard to get a job in your chosen field.

Privacy and Security Settings: Use Them But Don't Rely on Them

All social media sites have privacy settings. Setting your profile to private means that only your friends or followers can see your posts. This is a good idea for most people who don't want just anyone to see their posts. Security settings are also important. For example, two-factor authentication makes it harder for anyone to change your password and hack into your account. Remember, if someone else posts objectionable content to your account, it's hard to prove that it wasn't you.

While privacy and security settings are important, don't assume that they'll protect you from scrutiny. It's safe to assume that everything you post online is publicly visible. For certain high-level jobs or positions that require security clearances, investigators will go over your accounts thoroughly. In addition, you never know when glitches occur, social media sites change their policies, hackers break into a site and make private content public, or you accidentally undo your privacy settings. So always be cautious about what you post.

Monitor Your Online Reputation

Reputation management is a growing field, with many companies dedicating an entire department to the task. You don't have to devote quite that much time to it, but you should still monitor and manage your online reputation. At the very least, set up a Google Alert for your name. There are also more sophisticated reputation management tools that inform you when your name appears. If you have a business, set up alerts for that as well. This is a proactive way to know when someone says anything about you. This way, if someone says something false or critical, you can at least respond to it quickly.

Humblebrag About Your Accomplishments

There are two sides to personal branding. Very often, people focus on the side emphasizing damage control and avoiding controversy. While this is valid, it's also important to look at the positive side. You can build your reputation in a positive way online. It's best when others praise you or you're publicly acknowledged for your accomplishments. If you win an award or lead your team to victory, you probably won't need to brag about it. However, there are many lower key activities that may not get covered in the media.

Whether you get public acclaim or not, it never hurts to help the process along. If you win a scholarship, make the dean's list, volunteer at the local homeless shelter, or give a public talk, make sure you post about it, preferably with photos or videos. It's better to take a selfie at a benefit for a local charity than at a keg party. You can do this in a tasteful manner so it doesn't look like shameless self-promotion.

Key Guidelines for Personal Branding

Here are some of the main tips to keep in mind to help you maintain a good reputation, especially in regard to social media.

  • Perform periodic social media audits. Remove any posts or photos that don't show you in your best light. This doesn't ensure they'll never resurface, but it's the best you can do.
  • Think before you post. Avoid using social media when you're upset, exhausted, or intoxicated.
  • Remember that emails, text messages and messages sent in "private" chats aren't always confidential. As many political and corporate and social media scandals reveal, the contents of emails and private messages can potentially surface publically. Keep this in mind before writing anything potentially damaging to your reputation.
  • Be aware that people are filming and posting all the time. It's not only about what you post but what others can post about you. If you see someone with a smartphone (which is basically everywhere now), your actions could be posted somewhere. So, tough as it is, try to refrain from saying or doing anything that you don't want publicly broadcasted.
  • Post content that builds your resume. Blog posts, articles, videos, podcasts, or other content in your field of interest helps you build your reputation in a positive way. For example, articles featured on LinkedIn Pulse are powerful for establishing you as an authority.

Personal branding is a complex issue. Until very recently, people never had to worry that every little thing they said and did would be visible to the whole world within minutes. It's especially challenging for young people who, after all, want to have some fun and don't want to spend every minute of every day planning for their future. However, you have to come to terms with the reality of social media. No one is perfect, but if you keep the above tips in mind you have a good chance of building a solid reputation that highlights your positive qualities.

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