Facebook is Fantasyland: 5 Tips to Manage Your Online Presence

By Kristen Harris

Social media is everywhere. Whether it’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, social media sites are being used in a wide variety of ways. People build company brands, their own personal brands, communicate with family and friends, share interests or beliefs, champion causes and plan business or social events.  With such broad visibility and scope, it’s important to be aware of your online presence.

Studies show that users typically underestimate the number of people who actually see their posts. According to a study by Stanford University and Facebook, participants guessed their audience was about 26% of its true size. Beyond the connections within your immediate circles, friends of friends or people who are savvy with online searches can often see your posts, even when they’re not directly connected to you. 

Employers, clients and business contacts will frequently look up potential candidates or vendors online, and make judgments based on what they find. Is this discriminatory? Not necessarily. Saying something controversial or showing photos from your party-hearty weekend does not put you in a protected class. But it could change their view of you.

The porous nature of these sites surprises some people. Aren’t these your personal accounts, created for you to communicate with the people you’ve chosen? Yes and no. They are your accounts. But nearly anything posted online can be found, and once it’s found you can’t erase the impression it makes. There are no take-backs. They saw it, and can’t un-see it.

Here are five strategies to manage your online presence:

Assume it’s a public forum.

Don’t say or share anything you wouldn’t put on a billboard, with your name attached. That’s the equivalent of what happens when an unintended viewer sees your post. On these sites we interact with co-workers, friends, family, business connections, acquaintances through organizations, friends of friends, and more. Be aware of this massive audience when deciding what to post or share online. 

Manage your image.

The world of social media is a carefully curated peek into a person’s life. It is NOT their whole life, just what they are comfortable sharing (see point #1). The term “Facebook Envy” describes the depression some people suffer because they think their life is bad compared to what they see from friends online. It is better to be the person that creates a little Facebook Envy in others. 

Be nice.

Don’t say something online you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. Because digital posts are often brief and lacking in context, comments can easily escalate or be misinterpreted. If someone looks at your profile, you want them to think you’re a nice, reasonable, respectful person, right? Right. Behave accordingly.

Keep it interesting.

Your posts are always part of someone else’s newsfeed. Share thoughts or images that are fun, interesting, informative, or inspirational. Be the post that catches the viewer’s eye, that makes them stop and feel something positive as they scroll through endless comments, rants, and irrelevant ads.

Know Your Audience.

Each site has a specific audience. LinkedIn is more professional and career-focused. Facebook is for personal connections. Twitter is a newsfeed, and Instagram is image-based. Make sure your posts fit with the focus of that site. This is NOT a free pass to say anything you want on the more personal sites (again, see point #1).

Social media has a variety of purposes, uses and focuses. Being aware of the audience, both intended and unintended, helps to effectively manage the impression others have of you.