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The Social Media Background Check

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Posted on | July 7, 2011 | by Maria Elena Duron |The Personal Branding Blog

In today’s world, your online reputation precedes you. Employers are searching the internet for information about you, the potential employee, and what they find can be used for or against your job application.

Another criterion in evaluating you as a contact or candidate

photoBackground checks don’t only include your criminal and credit record – you will now may undergo a social media background check. The Federal Trade Commission has given its approval to Social Intelligence Corporation to sell reports of the check they make on your social media accounts to employers. And this file will be kept for seven years.

So when was the last time you did a social media check on yourself? Are you the type of person who censors yourself when you’re online, and takes care of what content you put out for the public? Or are you the type who doesn’t really care, who basically says and posts whatever you want online, considering this as a way of expressing yourself?

Reputation is still everything

If you’re one of the former, then good for you. It means you’re thinking of the long-term, and you know how your online reputation can affect your future. But if you’re among the latter, you’re in a bit of shaky ground here. Your expression of yourself may not be taken kindly by your potential employers or clients, and it may come back to bite you hard.

Some red flags that will be picked up in a social media background check are:

  • Frequent use of offensive language
  • Racial slurs, discriminatory posts
  • Drug use, frequent alcohol abuse, illegal activities
  • Badmouthing previous employers and companies you’ve worked for
  • Compromising pictures of you
  • Sexually explicit photos
  • Excessive social media activity while you’re working
  • Discrepancies about your job qualifications

It’s a double-edged sword

Of course, in addition to the bad things that could be discovered about you in your social media accounts, there may actually be good things as well that could make you an even more suitable candidate for the job. The social media background check also includes the positives with the negatives.

This is why it’s vitally essential that you are aware of what you’re posting, and what others are posting about you. Yes, it’s not only the things you post that will be seen – what others are saying about you will be considered as well.

Time to untag and distance yourself

When was the last time you untagged yourself from all the photos that friends have tagged you in Facebook? This is included in your social media background check, so be wary. In addition, when was the last time you evaluated the privacy settings of your account? Are you sure that only the information you want public is public, and the information you want private is private?

Somethings were meant to be private

Remember to regularly update your privacy settings in your different social media accounts. Facebook’s default privacy setting, for example, is set to everyone, so if you haven’t changed yours, the whole world will be able to see your wall posts, your pictures and videos, what your friends post on your wall, what pictures and videos you’re tagged in, and so on. So if you don’t want the whole world to know what you’ve been up to last night, better change your account to “Friends Only.”

What happens with friends, doesn’t stay with friends only

But the problem with keeping it Friends Only is the fact that your friends also have the option of reposting or retweeting your content. So even if you’re resting easy because you think only a few friends can read your post, you may be surprised that one of your friends have decided to repost what you said because it was so interesting, and so the trail leads back to you.

Basically, a good rule of thumb is that: if you don’t want a stranger or possibly your clients or employers to read it, then don’t post it. It’s also not a good idea to have your email address, phone number and address on display in your social media accounts, even if it’s placed on Friends Only. And be wary every time you join an application or click on a link – do you know that these applications can typically access your personal information?

Free may not really be free

In October 2010, it was discovered that Farmville, a Facebook game owned by Zynga, was transmitting people’s private information to tracking companies and Internet advertising. Though Facebook and Zynga immediately took actions to fix the situation, it’s still best to be cautious about the information you’re letting applications and games access about you.

Privacy and passwords are the gateway to your online identity

Guard your privacy and password as if they were your reputation – because they are!  Be more careful with your private information, especially nowadays, with hackers rampant everywhere. Make sure to regularly change your passwords, as you don’t want these compromised.

One option for you to protect yourself is to change your browser settings on Facebook. Use the more secure “HTTPS” settings, which will encrypt your login cookies and data so other programs may not access them. To change your setting, simply go to the Account tab on your Facebook and then click on Account Security. Remember that if you use this setting, you won’t be able to access any application or game.

Also, make sure that you access your email and social media accounts on a secure Internet connection. Free WiFi is definitely not secure, so you should avoid accessing your accounts when you’re using it. Use secure connections such as wireless connection, password-encrypted LAN and hotspot.

Reputations proceed you and live “forever” or at least for seven years on a social media background check.  Seven years from now, will you be proud of what you just posted?

Maria Elena Duron, CEO (chief engagement officer), buzz2bucks | a word of mouth marketing firm, is skilled at making networks “work” and harnessing powerful online and offline buzz, she facilitates online visibility services and word of mouth coaching and workshops – taking companies and professionals from buzz-worthy to bucks-worthy.


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