Photo illustration: image, ©iStockphoto.com/Joan Vicent Cantó Roig; Tattoo illustration, Steve Hedberg
Have you been "dooced" yet? That's the term for the snafus that result when someone's online personal life oozes into work. In 2002, Heather Armstrong was fired from her Silicon Valley job because she made snide comments about her job and co-workers in her personal blog, "Dooce." Armstrong was just named one of Forbes Magazine's "most influential women in media," so that little online indiscretion worked out for her. Not so for most people carelessly mixing business and pleasure online.
Jim Daab dooced one of his workers this year. Daab runs the Mystery Dinner Playhouse theaters in Richmond and other Virginia locations, and is one of the more than 300 million users active on Facebook, an online social network. His "friends" list includes more than 250 family members, co-workers and employees. They all post and read each other's regular updates about their activities.
When one of Daab's actors skipped a performance, citing a family emergency, Daab substituted an understudy and the show went on. But later, he noticed that at about curtain time, his actor had posted an update on Facebook saying that he had double-booked himself again.
"We sent a message asking if that referred to his performance that night," Daab says. "And he got all bent out of shape. He insisted that his mother was in the hospital." Later that night, Daab checked the actor's Facebook status again. Instead of updates about his supposedly sick mother, it read, "I'm in a bad mood, who wants to go to a movie?" Apparently, it never occurred to the actor that Daab was eavesdropping. But there's probably lots of spying on the endless revelations in Facebook posts, Twitter feeds and blog entries. Many people think of these online venues as social party time, without realizing that bosses, recruiters, clients and co-workers are often crashing the scene. Not only can you get dooced, you may have trouble getting hired or landing a new client. More than one graduating student has lost a job offer because of an incriminating Facebook photo, according to the career center at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Top Online Turnoffs
Looking for a job, clients or other work connections? If not today, you will be at some point, and that's when recruiters and other potential business partners will be scanning your online footprint. What you post today can potentially stab you in the back tomorrow, so be aware of these bad moves:
Profanity : If you wouldn't say it in front of your grandmother or on national television, don't post it online. It may actually end up in front of your grandmother or on national television, or — just as bad — a recruiter.
Inconsistency: When you put online resumes and bios on LinkedIn, Facebook or your blog, make sure they match what you have in print. If you tweak anything, tweak it consistently.
All Play and No Work : Fool around all you want on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. But be sure to mix in some online business — join some industry organizations, actively participate and tweet positive things about your work.
"A lot of students are surprised that employers are looking at their Facebook pages," says Haley Sims, assistant director at VCU's career center. "They say, ‘That's my personal life, why does that matter?' We have to remind them it's a public forum and anyone can see it."
No Ego Trip
Recruiters in Richmond say that the first step they take with any résumé is to do a Google search on the applicant and look at the person's online history. That means anyone looking for a job should first find out what's there. Googling your own name isn't an ego trip; it's a new-media necessity.
"If you're going to participate in social media, then you have to actively participate," says Jeanette Waterman, also at VCU's career center. Waterman wrote a student guide to social media, which is on the department's Facebook page at facebook.com/VCU.University.
Career.Center. "If you don't manage your online presence, someone else will manage it for you," she says. She means that your customers, co-workers, employees, bosses and friends are probably already posting photos and stories about you online, so you'd better join in and help manage the flow of information.
"Google yourself as often as you can to see what comes up," she says. For example, students often discover that a friend on Facebook has tagged them in a photograph that won't impress recruiters, or that someone has trashed them in a blog post. Some even find they have doppelgängers — people with the same name but in a completely different, or even controversial, field.
In the mistaken-identity cases, Waterman suggests adding a middle initial or some other name modification. Photos and blog posts are tougher, because even if they are removed, the information can still show up in some searches, particularly for persistent and experienced recruiters.
Experts say that the most effective way to fight bad is with good. "Put good news out there so that the bad news moves to a later search engine page," says Sims. "Most people won't look past the first page." She suggests starting a blog and creating a LinkedIn page. Some online sources, like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, are ranked higher by search engines. That means someone searching will see those sites before seeing, for example, your friend's blog with an incriminating party photo.
But Sims points out that it is always smart to assume that potential employers have seen everything you have. When heading to an interview, "make sure you have a good story ready," she says.
It might start to sound like even signing up for Facebook is a liability, but Waterman says it is not. "We've actually been told by employers that they are discouraged when someone doesn't have a Facebook page." Having one demonstrates that the candidate is comfortable with new media, and Facebook can be a place to feature positive photos and experiences. "Recruiters want to see pictures where you are interacting with others," Waterman says. "They want to see you are a team player."
Candace Nicolls is a recruiter at Ironworks Consulting in Glen Allen, where she uses online searches as a first step in evaluating potential hires. One candidate looked promising, and his résumé directed Nicolls to his Web site.
"It had a link to his blog," she says. "When I went there, the first entry said, ‘Today I walked off my job.' " Nicolls was taken aback. "Wow, clearly not someone I'm going to hire," she says. "Someone who will walk off a job and then celebrate that out there for everyone to see."
Another potential hire submitted an impressive résumé. When Nicolls Googled him, she found a page on MySpace, a social network similar to Facebook. "His work history there didn't match the résumé at all," she says. "It wasn't even close." Dates didn't match, and neither did job listings. When Nicolls looked closely, she realized that her version of the résumé was missing jobs that weren't in that particular field, and the candidate's existing work history dates were stretched to cover the gaps. "We didn't pursue him," she says.
Nicolls and other recruiters point out that MySpace and Facebook pages can be hidden behind "privacy" settings. For example, on Facebook you can categorize your friends, and allow only some to have access to your photos. MySpace pages can be set to "private" so that only those you invite can see them. That way, recruiters can see that you are active online and savvy enough to hide the photos of your bachelorette party.
"It's absolutely, totally fine if you have a personal life," Nicolls says. "But if you are talking about anything professionally online, we just want to make sure it aligns with what you are telling us."
Nicolls also checks feeds on Twitter, the social media tool that allows members to post short updates about their activities for their lists of "followers" who receive those updates. Twitter can feel like an intimate and private place to post your personal thoughts, especially if you know everyone on your list of followers. While "locked" Twitter messages cannot be accessed by non-followers via Google searches, experts point out that even private messages can easily be re-posted by others, when they would become public.
"If you are tweeting things that are confrontational or inappropriate, that could give us pause," Nicolls says. "Or if you tweet that you hate doing one particular aspect of your work, and that's the thing we are looking for." Not surprisingly, Nicolls likes to see a little industry chatter on potential employees' Twitter feeds, so it looks like you're using it a bit for professional development.
Working 9 to ?
Wasting work time on social media is a real issue for many employers, according to research sponsored by staffing company Robert Half Technology. At more than 1,400 companies surveyed, 54 percent say they block access to social-networking sites.
Cara Dickens recently visited Altria for a meeting to discuss ways to publicize the Keep Virginia Beautiful campaign. Her PR firm, Rocket Pop Media, uses social media in promotion efforts, and Dickens tried to access Facebook to show Altria executives some promotional examples. When the site wouldn't load, Dickens says an Altria representative told her that the company blocks all outside Internet access. Altria did not comment on its policy.
Most social-media sites have the chatty vibe of a cocktail party, which can lead employers to draw the same hard line that Altria apparently does. Work looks like work, but Twitter looks like a private party. The difference between Twitter and partying in-person is that your real-life chatter isn't usually jotted down and posted outside your office door. Forever.
Jack Lauterback, author of Richmond's notorious Jack Goes Forth blog and an active Twitterer, says he never expects to work at Altria. A 26
Cleaning Up Your Cyber Image
When you Google yourself, make sure to check images, videos, shopping and news. Don't like what you see? Here are five steps for tidying up your online footprint.
- Contact sites and ask if they can take down unflattering material. Explain that you are cleaning up your digital image and what they have posted doesn't reflect you in your best light.
- If you haven't done so by now, create profiles on all of the major social- networking sites, including LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, Naymz and Twitter. All receive front-page preference from search engines, which means they will appear before other online citations.
- Solicit reviews or testimonials from other users on sites like LinkedIn and Naymz. Positive feedback can help offset any online negatives.
- Start a blog and/or comment on industry blogs. Blogs tend to rank high in search-engine rankings, which can push negative comments farther down the page when someone searches on your name.
- Always have a brief, upbeat explanation ready for any negative issue that may crop up. If it's on page two or three of a Google search, recruiters probably won't see it, but be prepared just in case.
-year-old college-educated bartender, he mainly blogs about drinking and dating, but he ran into trouble when he wrote about local politicians and media figures, casting them in an unfavorable light.
He lost his job at Havana '59 after his employer found out his blog through a Style Weekly story about a lawsuit threatened by WTVR/CBS 6 after an unflattering post about anchor Ric Young's tip at a local restaurant where Lauterback was spending time with friends. His employer also saw a post about mayoral candidate Bill Pantele's taste for Maker's Mark bourbon (information gleaned by his status as a bartender, not as a blogger).
But Lauterback has few regrets: He's now good friends with Young's brother; he's hobnobbing with WRIC/Channel 8 anchor Juan Conde; and he has a regular column in Style. Also, Havana '59 hired him back after the 2008 mayoral election — with his promise not to write about bar clients again. Despite his reputation for being blunt about his drinking habits and romantic exploits, Lauterback does draw a line.
"My mom has always read it, and my dad," he says. "I wanted to be as honest as possible, but you can't write every single thing," mainly information about women he's dated. Lauterback says he has toned down the blog in the past few months, not because of any restrictions placed on him as a print columnist, but because he's in a serious relationship.
He adds, "I definitely come across as more of an a--hole in my blog." As a result, he turned off the ability for readers to make comments on his posts about a year ago, when the Pantele and CBS 6 controversies made news. "There's a lot of anonymous haters."
Lauterback says he does worry about the effect his blog could have on his future employment — "I'll always be one Google search away from a lot of ridiculous things" — but for now, he's riding the wave and plans to explain to potential bosses that he wrote the blog in his mid-20s, when he was "partying a lot."
Social-media taboos exist, says David Saunders, who runs public-relations firm Madison+Main, where he offers social-media training to his corporate clients.
"There are certain things you just never post about: sex, politics, drugs and religion." Saunders points out that you might make an offhand lewd comment at a party that only a few people hear, and will forget later. But online that comment can "go viral" and instantly be circulated to hundreds or even thousands of contacts. And it won't ever go away.
"You wouldn't go into a cocktail party and open up your wallet and show pictures of you barfing in Cancun, so why would you do it on Twitter?" Saunders says. "It's really the same rules as in kindergarten — say please and thank you, share nicely and get along."
Saunders insists that none of his clients have made online blunders themselves, but he has a few stories about protecting them against bad mojo from other sources. For example, one company was trashed by a blogger. She had bought a supposedly guaranteed product, but then wasn't allowed to return it when it didn't work properly.
"She blogged to the world about it," Saunders says. His online monitoring software alerted him to the post a few hours after it went live. Saunders sent the blogger an e-mail asking her to remove the unflattering post. He offered not only to replace her product, but to give her a private hour-long phone conference with the company's owner.
Why bother? Saunders knew that her post would pop up any time someone searched online for that company's information, and the company was willing to bend over backward to protect their online reputation. It worked.
"We turned her from a critic into a fan," Saunders says. "She wrote a glowing piece on how the company was involved with social media, and how quickly they responded to her problem."
For Saunders, social media has paid off in several hiring moves. For example, when he was recently looking to add a blogger to his staff, he checked a promising candidate's online footprint. "I saw that he was writing regularly on his blog, and had 1,400 friends on Facebook. He was perfect."
Saunders has both a corporate and a personal Facebook page. But he doesn't kid himself that there's a hard line between the two. "I have done business from my personal account," he says. "I'm friends with colleagues, clients, family members, even kids. I don't write anything I don't want my neighbor's 13-year-old to see."
Kate Andrews contributed to this story.
NOTE: This article has been corrected since publication.