Making your social network work for you

“The online culture is to spill out everything. We have a job as educators and parents to teach behaviors and values,” said Kathryn Montgomery, a professor in American University’s school of communication and the author of Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet. “We need to teach students to be thoughtful and deliberate in what they say online.”

So how do we instill professional social-networking skills in casual Facebook and Twitter users?

To be successful in the business world there are guidelines to keep in mind when creating a social-networking page. Do not upload or tag incriminating photos of yourself. Unless intense privacy settings are in place, the whole world can see what is displayed on your page. Do not make it easier for them to dismiss you because of a bad first impression.

The first step is to choose a clean and friendly — and professional — profile picture of yourself. A Facebook page becomes a working résumé when important information about your education, interests, hobbies and past and present employers are included.

“Whatever is public is fair game for employers. As an employer, I try to take things with a grain of salt,” Montgomery added. “If I get an e-mail from ‘,’ will I not interview her? I may tell her not to use that e-mail professionally. Employers will weigh the information that they have.”

Careful attention is required in decisions involving who or what you choose to associate with on Facebook, LinkedIn or any other social network. Employers pay attention to your beliefs, your partisanship and your ability to communicate in a public forum.

“A social networking page is all about content — what are your tweets about? There should be no racial or cultural insensitivity. We look for the appearance of nonpartisan or all-partisan because the point is to express ideas and have civil discourse,” said Ayofemi Kirby, director of communications at, an all-partisan national nonprofit organization that works with and supports the Millennial Generation. defines this generation as encompassing those born between the years 1976 and 1996. The group strives to “improve the way democracy works by investing in Millennial-driven solutions.”

“There is a risk personally and professionally to get involved with posting. It is important to realize the risk to the organization and your personal life,” Kirby said.

It can be helpful to make two social-media pages — having a separate Twitter account for work allows you the freedom to post personally on your own Twitter, for example. Giving your personal page a different name — such as your middle rather than last name — is a way of increasing the level of privacy in search engines.

Most importantly, remember to log off. All too often, a Facebook page will be left up at school or at work, and a bystander might feel the need to write an inappropriate status. Your employer doesn’t appreciate this, and neither will your grandparents or aunts and uncles who are friends with you on Facebook.

“Students know how to interact with social media and it is an integral part of their lives. They hardly think critically about the implications of what they are doing,” Montgomery said.

Bottom line: clean up your social networks before applying for a job. Your employers will thank you for it.