If you liked someone in elementary school, you would just pass them a note. You didn’t need to set up an online profile or sign up with a phone carrier to get your message across. And if your crush didn’t like you back, there was really no way to trace the letter back to you. After all, didn’t we all have the same scribbled handwriting in the second grade?
In today’s brave new world, you can access the person you fancy after school hours, but everything can be traced back to you. “Accidentally” is no longer a valid term. Whatever goes on the Internet can never truly be deleted.
The same is accurate with employers. If they like you, they have the option to reach out to you online and it doesn’t only have to be after an interview. I once tweeted “thank you” to a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer, who came to speak to my journalism class. She tweeted back, we now follow each other on Twitter and occasionally favorite or retweet each other’s posts.
So can I still post a photo of my lunch now that a professional, in my own field nonetheless, is following me? Twitter is a lot like email, but with a personal touch and a limited word count.
When I began interning at NBC News, I signed a contract agreeing never to go up to any celebrities in “30 Rock” and request their autograph or invite them to my house for dinner and that I would never post anything about the internship on social media sites or blogs.
While I could talk with future employers about my work there and display my portfolio of what I accomplished, I could only blog or take pictures of the internship at my own risk of being dismissed from the network. It’s important to note that once you have the internship, your social media sites are monitored.
With that in mind, clever jabs at your place of work might just stab your future in return.
Regardless of whether or not your employer does catch a complaint about work or an inappropriate photo, a potential employer could and would not take the time to get to know you in person simply because they don’t want to risk you damaging the reputation of their company.
On the other hand, I’ve been asked to do a lot of social networking for my past and current internships. When I was covering food at Philadelphia Magazine, I always had Twitter open to monitor who tweeted at the publication, and of course tweet out every couple of hours to keep our hungry followers informed.
At 5 a.m., I’m out on the “Good Day” set at Fox 29 with specific instructions on what pictures to Instagram, and to get the Twitter handles of our guests in the green room so we can tweet at them during the show and they can tweet back at us, to network and share our fan base.
With so many online sites to post personal content, it’s not only important to keep your online profiles clean, but to use social media as self-promotion. Post a picture of the new robot you built in your engineering class on your Facebook, or tweet about an artist’s work that you’ve always admired. If they see that you share a similar passion, then they’ll be more likely to talk with you.
Esther Katro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.