The internet is both a massive place and a very small world. For anyone who works as a freelancer, there’s even more truth to that statement. An independent contractor who manages his or her online presence carefully can rely on it as an asset. At the same time, an unprofessional online reputation – even one you’ve unearned – can sink your chances of landing major clients without your even knowing.
As important as it is to maintain a professional-looking online presence, it’s also not that hard to spruce up a shabby-looking one. The digital equivalent of a good dusting and a few throw pillows can work wonders; here’s a quick and dirty guide to keeping your online presence squeaky clean.
Social Media: Your Best Friend and Worst Enemy
Social media is here to stay, and there are plenty of advantages to maintaining a healthy online presence through a number of social sites. Any freelancer worth his or her salt likely has a fully fleshed out LinkedIn profile page, for example, and entrepreneurs who have business-to-consumer companies can leverage their visibility through groups or pages. on Facebook and official Twitter accounts. None of this should be new or surprising information.
None of this should be new or surprising information.
There’s a dark side to social media presence, though – with a little effort, anyone can find out information about almost anyone else. That includes you. It doesn’t matter how professional-looking your LinkedIn profile is if you’ve got an old public blog associated with your name that talks about your passion for strange and inappropriate hobbies – all it takes is one prospective client to put two and two together and what might have been an excellent opportunity can go up in smoke.
So what’s a freelancer to do? Should you go line-by-line through old LiveJournal entries from your teenage years and edit out anything that seems inappropriate? That’s one option of course, but there are far easier ways to make sure your social media accounts are scrubbed clean of anything that looks unprofessional – ways that don’t involve your going over everything with a fine-toothed comb.
Your first step is to see if there is anything out there that might raise a few eyebrows. Conduct a search for your name to see what, if anything, comes up besides links to content you want people accessing. Feel free to go two or three pages deep into your search results but no further – even the most assiduous prospective client isn’t going to go wading through much more than that. Then, once you’ve identified the likely culprits, it’s time to get to work.
Sometimes a Fig Leaf is More Than Enough
Shielding inappropriate social media from prying eyes doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve got to purge years of accumulated content. In a good number of cases, privacy settings for specific platforms can instantly filter your posted content to whatever you feel is appropriate, like a strategically placed fig leaf over Michelangelo’s David.
An excellent example of this is Facebook, where users can alter their security settings and lock down all their posted content. You can reserve content specifically for people on your friends’ list, filter it even more to an even smaller subset of those people, or simply make your entire timeline private so that only you can see it. Other social media sites and blogging platforms have similar privacy functions, so you can lock down your online reputation tighter than a drum.
Repopulate with Professional Content
Locking down your online presence to prevent negative reputation is all well and good, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. While colleagues and prospective clients won’t be able to find any dirt on you, they also won’t find much in the way of positive content either. That’s why it’s so important to repopulate any now-barren social feeds with professional content that reflects well on you.
What form can this take? The possibilities here are endless. Blog posts or podcasts discussing something pertinent to your industry or niche are always popular, as is sharing news stories that relate to what you do. As long as you stay away from the stuff that could have gotten you in trouble in the first place like politics, religion, or tasteless jokes – anything and everything that’s any fun – you’ll be able to polish your online presence to a fine sheen.
Wrapping it All Up
In the end, keeping your online presence squeaky clean might take a little bit of work, but it’s not anything you can’t handle. It’s often enough simply to keep a tight rein over what type of content you make available for public consumption over the internet on social media. Doing so will ensure that none of your professional contacts ever find out just how much of a weirdo you might actually be.
Author: Ben Shepardson is the founder of NoStop Business Blogging a boutique writing agency focusing on helping small business clients take their websites to the next level