Last June, ten members of Harvard’s incoming freshman class who had just received their acceptance letters to Harvard received another letter from Harvard. It was a letter rescinding their acceptance because of their posts on Facebook. How tragic and embarrassing for these students and their families!

Social media can impact our lives in ways we never imagined. As experienced by those ousted Harvard applicants, almost 100% of colleges investigate the social media behavior of applicants. Now, businesses routinely check the digital footprint of job applicants and employees as do online predators who may disguise their identity as they search for gullible prey.

Having social media etiquette, or “netiquette,” is important for your overall health, wellness, career and relationships. Recently, a client explained that he fired an employee after discovering on Facebook that the employee had lied to him. The employee had asked for a week off to visit her gravely ill father in Colorado. My client had granted the leave of absence despite the department being short staffed. Then pictures surfaced on Facebook of the employee drinking margaritas and partying in Acapulco. Additionally, her posts contained animosity and vitriol toward her boss as she boasted that she was playing hooky from work for a week!

Social media behavior can even affect a job search. Recently a woman shared with me that although she is well educated and successful, she was having difficulties finding a new job. When I checked her Facebook account, I found angry, negative political commentary that certainly didn’t make her appear professional. This is an indication that she might not get along with the rest of the team or with customers who may have different views or beliefs.

Predators scour the internet searching for unsuspecting victims who may freely share information about their private lives, i.e., when and where they are vacationing. Frequently homes are ransacked because thieves can track addresses and whereabouts by following the digital footprints and can easily find when a family is out of town on vacation or business.

Here are ten tips for “netiquette” and ways to protect your digital footprint:

  • • Before posting on social media, ask yourself these important questions:
    • Who’s going to see this?
    • Why am I posting this? For attention or revenge?
    • Could this go viral?
    • Could this come back to haunt me? (Postings never disappear.)
  • Follow your Mother’s sage advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” A good rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it online. Think before you post!
  • Never have conflict in writing. Words capture only 7% of communication while facial expressions, tone of voice and body language register 93%. You cannot effectively express yourself when only using words. Before sending an angry message, sleep on it!
  • Don’t share controversial opinions. Stay away from politics, religion and sex. Instead, use social media to build bridges and relationships with others.
  • Don’t assume everyone you meet online is who he or she seems to be. Anyone can create a user profile pretending to be someone else.
  • Don’t share personal info that could lead someone to you offline. Avoid posting photos like license plates, vacation info or landmarks that indicate where you can be found. Over time, predators can piece together your detailed information.
  • Don’t reply to harassing or disturbing messages. Cyberbullies want to know if they are making you worried or upset; they want a reaction from you.
  • Don’t post sexually explicit photos or videos. These indelible footprints could haunt you forever. Your first photo should be a professional picture of your face and shoulders to ensure that your initial image is positive when your name is searched online.
  • Be respectful when tagging others. If there’s a good picture of you and an ugly one of someone else, don’t post it! Consider obtaining permission before tagging.
  • When emailing, think twice before responding “Reply All”; delete previous addresses when forwarding messages; avoid sarcasm and don’t use ALL CAPS which may be interpreted as yelling.

Bottom line: It’s important to take charge of your reputation. In business, your reputation is known as your “brand” and your digital footprint reflects on you and your brand. Everything you do and say online becomes a permanent record retrievable throughout your life, so be sure your posts, comments and interactions are positive, professional, courteous and non-confrontational.

Social media can be an extraordinary medium for communicating with friends, family, and professional associates. Use it wisely and successfully!

Dr. Susan Murphy is a best-selling author, coach and speaker specializing in relationships, conflict, leadership and goal achievement. She co-authored In the Company of Women and Life Q and can be reached at (760) 674.1615. [email protected]

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Comments (14)

  • Really great advice and easy to follow! Thanks!

  • Good advice! Thanks for sharing.

  • Dr. Susan Murphy

    Great to know you found this helpful, Kip. Thank you for commenting!

  • Timely and excellent advice, Dr. Murphy! Should be required reading for us all and especially for teens and young adults with careers ahead of them.

    • Dr. Susan Murphy

      Thank you, Pam, for your comments. I agree that it would be great to help teens and young adults learn this information! Their successful careers depend on sharing this. Thanks!

  • Patricia Clark

    Excellent timely topic. I plan to send it on to granddaughters, nephews & nieces.
    Very well written.
    Thank you, Susan.

  • This is wonderful and important info! It’s factual, clear and concise! I am passing it on.

    • Dr. Susan Murphy

      Hello, Alice. Thank you for taking time to comment – I’m grateful you found this important enough to pass on to others!

  • Bettina Pfeifer

    Dr.Murphy, awesome article and so needed for the direction of social media today! If I may I would like to share with my R. E. Compan?. Again thank you!!!!

    • Lauren Del Sarto

      Thank you, Bettina! Yes, we invite you to share with others. Thank you for noting that you saw it in Desert Health.

      Thank you for reading ~
      Lauren Del Sarto

    • Dr. Susan Murphy

      Thank you, Bettina, for your support of this article. Please share with anyone whom you think it could help. We appreciate your endorsement!


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