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Keep It Classy: Protecting Your Online Reputation

The internet is buzzing with tales of the latest web 2.0 casualty—the Cisco Fatty. The man who managed to jeopardize a new, high paying job, in 140 characters or less.   

After receiving an offer from communications giant Cisco Systems, the jobseeker Twittered about it, telling his followers that although he had been offered a “fatty” paycheck, he wasn’t sure he would be able to endure the commute and “hating the work”.   
Soon thereafter, Cisco’s Tim Levad saw the tweet, and responded: “Who is the hiring manager? I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web.”

We don’t know yet how this story ends. We do, however, know that there is a big lesson to be learned here. The same lesson we can take from other, similarly excruciating stories of social networking, and its assault on professionalism.

We all know that these days, the line between work and play is increasingly blurred. And social networking sites are no longer just for extroverted teenagers or tech-savvy college students.

Your mom is on Facebook. So, more likely than not, so is your boss. And you can’t exactly ignore his friend request. What you can do is avoid embarrassment, and possible joblessness, by being smart about your online activity.

Nothing is Really Private
Keep in mind that anything you say online could potentially be seen by your employer. Even if they aren’t a friend or follower, and even if your account is set to private. You never know which one of your contacts is friends with your boss, knows his wife, or goes to school with his children. It’s called the Web for a reason. Virtual connections are vast, and they aren’t always transparent. If you wouldn’t want your employer to see it, keep it offline. It’s good practice to just assume that once you’ve put it online, it’s public. 

Watch What You Say
Avoid badmouthing your boss, company, or co-workers. Don’t tweet about your “soul-crushing office job,” or how many Sudoku puzzles you managed to solve this afternoon, while you were supposed to be finishing up that status report. If you called in sick, don’t post pictures of your day at the mall with your best friend. Similarly, if your boss can see that you updated your status twelve times between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., took twelve quizzes and wrote twenty-five things about yourself, they will probably (rightly) assume you have been less than productive.

Watch That Comic Streak
It sounded funny in your head. It may even have read funny to your friends. But to someone who doesn’t know you, it was crude and derogatory. Keep in mind that taken out of context, a lot of otherwise hilarious comments might be construed as offensive. A few LOLs are just not worth the risk. 

Be Mindful of Multimedia
Did you have an awesome weekend of all-night shenanigans? Drink so much you couldn’t get out of bed on Sunday? Great. We really don’t need to see the photographic evidence. The same goes for video. We also don’t need to see pictures of you posing in your bikini or boxer briefs. And beware of friends tagging you in photos of a less-than-professional nature. Check in regularly, and un-tag yourself as necessary. If the site allows it, block users from tagging you. 

Stalk Yourself
Google yourself regularly to see what’s out there. It’s a fact—employers are Googling their employees, present and potential, to gain as much information as possible. Former Delta Air Lines flight attendant Ellen Simonetti lost her job because she posted suggestive pictures of herself in uniform on her blog, even though she didn’t name the airline itself. And while you could argue that Ellen’s job loss was the result of poor judgment on her part, sometimes, your online reputation is beyond your control. Comments, reviews, and media posted by other people may come up in a search for your name. If you stumble across something questionable, try and get it removed. If you cannot remove it, be prepared to explain it.

In an age where we feel the need to share every mundane thought or activity with the world, it’s probably smart to exercise a bit of restraint. When it comes to Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, or any other social networking site, keep it absolutely private or keep it absolutely professional. At the very least, keep it classy. Your professional reputation is not worth jeopardizing over a snarky remark, however cute or hilarious it may seem. You might just find yourself laughing all the way to the unemployment office.

By Tania Khadder of WomenCo.