A social media footprint is the trail that you leave behind for others to find every time you upload a photo on Instagram, check in on Foursquare, share anything on Facebook, tweet on Twitter, pin on Pinterest boards, publish videos of yourself on YouTube, get tagged in a Flickr photo, add jobs and education info on LinkedIn, and so on.
Many brands are beginning to realize that something they shared in the past is not something they want others to see in the present. For example, a company that published an insensitive tweet or controversial photo while attempting to attract more consumers.
Similarly, individuals are getting into trouble for what they've posted (such as "sexy" photos or statements about hating one's boss). Despite what you might think, whatever you post online, whether motivated through an emotionally charged moment of happiness, excitement, or anger, or in an attempt at leveraging social media to increase your company's conversions, people take what you post as a real opinion.
Here are suggestions on how to refine your personal (or your company's) social media footprint and be more vigilant in the future.
1. See What Comes Up
The first step toward getting a handle on your social media footprint is to see what comes up. Do an audit of the different sites you've been involved with. Platforms such as Facebook allow you to download your entire history that you can then comb through. While you may have signed up for accounts on many different social media sites, you might only be active on a few, but by being active, you attract Google's attention. Searching for your name (or username) in Google will allow you to see what has been indexed.
From a business perspective, large brands with their hands in "everything" may find that they are too watered down to use social media marketing effectively. Reebok, for instance, recently deleted hundreds of Facebook pages once the company determined that it was spreading itself too thin and not being able to give each one proper atttention.
A thorough assessment of the information available about you or your brand is invaluable and indispensable before any decision is made about what to do can be made.
2. Delete Inactive Accounts
Once you determine which social media websites you intend to continue using and which you won't, close the superfluous accounts. Unfortunately, this isn't always a simple process as many platforms actually make it difficult to close your account. Or, they allow you to close the account but keep records of the information altruistically in case you change your mind. (Who knows what they have in mind for that data?)
3. Limit Access to Social Media Information
While it is tempting to let the world see your every last like, move and check-in, consider limiting who sees what. For example, you may want to limit your Foursquare check-ins to a handful of closer Foursquare friends as opposed to your hundreds of friends on Facebook. On Facebook, as complicated as their privacy system appears to be, you can place limits on your content's shareability, remove tagged photos of yourself that may work against you, hide the details of your profile so your page can't be found in a Google search, and so forth. Keep in mind that for whichever social media account you're using, you want to limit access to anything that might get you in trouble later on, deliberately sharing beneficial information at your convenience.
4. Conceal Questionable Material
If you've posted something in the past that is questionable, or can be reasonably interpreted as such, you'd probably find it advantageous to hide it or delete it completely. Unless the risk is acceptable, there's no real need to allow the dissemination of dubious data.
5. Watch Your Words
Once you've set your limitations, simply watch what you say. Don't post status updates that you know you are going to regret later. As a general rule of thumb, if you're posting something in a moment of anger or impulsivity, or if you have doubts, abstain. Social media posts and updates are all about emotions and sharing them but it's important to have some measure of self-control.
6. Change Your Name
If you use an unusual name that you know can and will be tied back to you such as "hotstud69," I suggest cleaning it up by changing it to a more politically correct one (whether it's your real name or not).
7. Be Wary of Future Posts and Tagging
Unfortunately, social media technology either exists or is being developed in ways that the average user has no idea about. One of these is facial recognition technology which is going to be able to tag you across the web. Posting a photo of you today might seem benign but it's only when someone finds it and uses it in ways you never anticipated that it can become a problem for you. With facial recognition software, it will be much more difficult to disassociate yourself from photos of you in the future. By staying up-to-date, you are in a better position to protect yourself.
Obscurity vs. Infamy
In the end, your social media footprint may likely fade into obscurity. Or, it may become a source of embarrassment and frustration. Don't let the possibility of infamy due to negligence ruin your job prospects, relationships, and other personal aspects of your life. Make the changes you need to now.
(image: social media footprint / shutterstock)