Let’s face it, we all share different amounts in our lives. Depending on the environment we are in, and the people that we are with. What you share with a close friend in the safeness of your own house will be worlds apart from what you would share whilst talking to a stranger in the park.

We have lived like this for decades. Why is it then, with the all consuming Internet, and increase  in social media that people seem to be comfortable walking around the park with mega-phones in their hands and leaflet-bombing the grass with their personal information?

Whilst many people will not care about this, you absolutely should if you care about you reputation. Then again, you might be of the opinion, “what do you care what people know about you?”

Personally, my view as a potential client, or as a potential employee is that I absolutely care! My reputation is important to me and  I want to be seen for the values that I believe in and for who I am. I know full well that when I go to a meeting with a new client that there is a high probability that they would’ve Google’d my name – wanting to know who I am. Why do I know this? Firstly because those that I have met have known more about me than I’ve presented them with, and secondly because it’s what I do myself.

Google is king

If I am meeting someone for the first time, I Google them, and if you have never Googled your own name then I suggest that you stop reading and you do it now!

The Internet, and especially social media is like a forever absorbing sponge, it just keeps soaking up what you give it. Google just let’s you squeeze in the right places. If I am looking to hire a professional in the area, then I will unquestionably Google and search them out.

Forget, first impressions upon meeting a person! If I Google and uncover a stream of dubious photos, then that’s my first impression. Whilst I am sure that it was a superb night out, does it set the right professional or personal impression as I am viewing them?

Walk your life in someone else shoes

It’s a great exercise to do one evening. Log out of all your accounts (Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, everything!) or use someone else’s computer and see what you can find on yourself. Google your name, search twitter for your name, find yourself on Facebook, and look – seriously look.

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • What does your profile picture say about you? Does that photo of you drunk on the floor say the right thing? Is it even you in the picture?
  • Are you sharing more than you thought? Are all the photos of your ‘good’ night posted publicly on Facebook?
  • Do you use services like Instagram? What are you posting on there?
  • If you are self employed or using the Internet to drive business, would you do business with yourself if you saw what you can see?

Bottom line is this, “the Internet is an open space” – ANYTHING that you put online, stays online, unless you remove it, but even then it might still linger. You might think that photo was only posted on your Facebook timeline, but then did you know that it’s potentially visible by friends of friends? Or even worse, publicly.

I once saw a person share their new personal business cards on Facebook (containing all their personal telephone numbers, email address and house address) whilst at the same time using FourSquare to publicly announce when and where they were. Seemingly innocent as separate pieces of information – unless you wanted to know when and where to rob their house!

People seem to think that what they share is only accessible to their friends. Seriously, wake up! The Internet lulls you into thinking this with Groups, Circle, Friend lists, and Communities. If you put it online then assume that it is public (It might not be, but assume that it is!). Sure you can limit its reach, but you cannot control it. It’s simple for one person to copy and re-post something online. If that happens you have no chance.

The blocking mentality

There’s this concept of ‘blocking’ on many social media networks. It’s is my opinion is like using a chocolate teapot – pointless. If I block someone from a feed of information, then there is nothing stopping them looking at it with another identity or account. Remember if you place it online, then assume that everyone can look at it. If you don’t want anyone looking, then simply don’t post it. Blocking simply doesn’t work, so don’t trust it.

Beware the social app

We’ve all done it: logged in with our Facebook account, or our Twitter credentials. It’s easy, it’s quick …. it’s also potentially very dangerous. When you authorize an app or game on Facebook did you actually know that in many cases you provide it access to not only your information but to your friends as well?  Be cautious of an app or website that has access to what you are sharing, as you are inviting them in as one of your friends.

What happens online, stays online

Another common mistake is that you can simply delete something online, and it disappears. Not always true. The tweet that you fired off on anger, and then deleted 10 minutes later, has already been cached and stored in your followers feeds, indexed and stored on various search engines. It’s out there, unleashed, no going back.

That photo you uploaded and then thought better of? Already been indexed, already been copied and pasted into someone else’s feed. Sorry!

That series of posts ranting about another, or even worse insulting them? Sorry, already circulated about, already cached, indexed, copied.

Hopefully, you are getting my drift! If you don’t want people to see it, then don’t put it online.

You are the person that the Internet tells people you are. I’m not going to hand my kids over to the childminder who I’ve seen photos of drunk on the floor. I am not going to be comfortable in the meeting that we have if details of your sexual conquests and relationship are plastered for all to see. There’s no chance of me letting a local tradesman into my home if what I see online does not convey a sense of trust.

Top Five Tips

So what are my top-tips?

  1. Put put it online unless you are happy to pin it to your own front door.
  2. First opinions matter, and many are made online.
  3. What goes online, ultimately stays online!
  4. The internet doesn’t protect you. What you say online is no different to saying it to someone face-to-face.
  5. A picture tells a 1,000 stories. Be careful what storied you are telling,
Oh, and one last one for good measure:
  • Don’t post anything unless you know where it could go and how it can be used (and yes, that means actually understanding Facebook and Twitter’s privacy policy!)

This is why personal branding is important. Call it personal branding; or call it common sense, it makes little difference. We live our lives online, and ultimately get held to account online as well.