This is the first generation of young people to have a searchable online history that dates back to their pre-teen years. Never before in the history of the internet have so many people had so much information about themselves available online and accessible to just about anyone with a wi-fi connection and Google.
If you are a college student that means it’s very easy for people to find you online. Which can be extremely helpful if people need to contact you or if you’re doing some really great work and have a positive reputation that future employers and college recruiters can access. But having that much information about yourself available online can also be a bad thing if you have a history of angry blog posts, a portfolio of pictures of yourself drinking in Tijuana, or social media posts that brag about how easy it was to cheat on the last Biology test.
Today, more than ever, young people need to learn about and be aware of online reputation and how it can be managed to create a positive online reputation that can aid, rather than hurt, your chances of future success. So here are a few things for college students to keep in mind as they strive to keep their online reputation clean and presentable to the world.
1. Be social
Some young people may think that the first step in cleaning up your online reputation is to close all your social media accounts. That is false. Having a variety of active social media accounts is actually a really good because it gives you a better chance of being found online when someone searches your name. The key is to control your social media profile so that they help you, not hurt you.
Think about your social media profiles as auditions for future jobs or internships. Is there anything on your current profiles that would be a turn-off for the recruiter for your dream job? If so, get rid of it. And start posting content that is positive, useful, and unique—content that displays your talents and personality. Then when those important people start looking for you online, they’ll find someone they want to hire.
2. Create content
Another way to build a great online reputation is to create content. Blog, design, build widgets—whatever, and post them to a central location, like your own website. If you are creating unique, sharable content on your website, you’ll make it much easier for people to find you online, see what you really do, and understand the talents you have. If the content is truly sharable, your site will rise in rank, and your website will gain traction for your name, creating a positive online reputation.
3. Get involved
Another way to spread your positive online reputation is by getting involved—both online and off. Online, take part in forums and online groups that fall within your niche. Get to know group members, comment, and ask and answer questions. The more you can show your knowledge and willingness to help, the more people will look to you as a resource and link to your website, social profiles and more, all of which will help you build a stronger online reputation. Offline, attend conferences, volunteer at non-profits and more—and make sure you get your name listed on the website as a participant or volunteer.
4. Be smart about what you share
Once you’ve cleaned up your profiles and created positive relationships and great content, be careful what you share in the future (and what others share about you). Think of your online presence as something that needs to be curated and pruned from time to time. Be mindful of what you post and make sure that other people are not posting photographs or information about you online that could damage your reputation.
Overall, think about your online reputation as a reflection of your ideal self. It’s not that you have to be serious and straight-laced all the time. Just make sure that when you post to your social profiles or personal website, the content reflects the personality you want to display to the world—your best self. If it’s not currently doing that, clean it up. And start looking toward the future as an opportunity to create an online reputation that you can be proud of.