Building and Protecting Your Online Image
My favorite cause – Cancer and Careers (www.cancerandcareers.org) commissioned freelance health journalist Kathleen Doheny to write an article about the dos and don’ts regarding your online image. While written for readers who have been diagnosed with cancer, the tips are spot-on for anyone who has an online presence. Please enjoy this reprint!
What you post does make a difference, especially to current and future bosses.
Here, how to shape your image.
You’ve just finished chemo or recovered from surgery, and you’re ready to rejoin the world and the workforce.
So, why not share that by posting on Facebook, tweeting, or otherwise telling the plugged-in world?
Think it through. Before you share, take time to ponder your online image. What you say and do online could thwart your career success–or build on it, says our expert panel. It includes:
- Joanna Fawzy Morales, Director, Cancer Legal Resource Center, a program of the Disability Rights Legal Center and Loyola Law School, Los Angeles.
- Julie Jansen, career coach and author of “I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Know It’s Not This,” a book for those seeking gratifying work.
- Jenny Blake, life coach and author, “Life After College” (www.lifeaftercollege.org).
Here, their 7 best tips:
Tip #1. Google Yourself
Who hasn’t Googled others? This time, Google yourself with the critical eye of a boss or potential boss.
You might also check other sites, such as www.spokeo.com, which includes such information as marital status, education, political views and religion. Does a future boss really need to know all that? (You can remove yourself.)
Remember that once you put information ”out there,” it is often eternal.
By checking, you will at least be aware of what your boss or potential bosses can find out.
Tip #2. Quiz Yourself Before Posting
Before you post information, opinions or photos, especially to a social site, ask yourself:
- Would I want a boss–current or future–or coworkers to know this?
- Would I want this on the front page of a newspaper (or the home page of my favorite news site)?
- Would I want my grandmother or mother to see this?
If you have been very open about your diagnosis and don’t care who knows it, at work or outside, the questions won’t be as crucial. But if you are hoping to keep a lower profile about your cancer, you have to think seriously about what to post.
Another consideration: should you talk online about your volunteer work or other affiliation with cancer organizations, or keep it quiet? If you decide to talk about it, you’ve then got to decide whether you want to identify as a volunteer only or as a volunteer and a survivor. It may be a tradeoff between inspiring and encouraging others versus preserving your privacy. Only you can decide if that tradeoff is worth it.
Tip #3: Blog Your Way to Recovery
Many patients and survivors blog about treatment, recovery and other cancer-related topics.
You can decide whether to blog anonymously, use a pseudonym or use your actual name. “Going public” makes it easier to build an audience, as readers will identify with you more easily. But if that’s uncomfortable or you are not planning to disclose your diagnosis in professional circles, go the anonymous route or choose a fake name. If you want to remain anonymous, get IT help about how to set it up to minimize the chances of being ”unmasked.”
Tip # 4. Seek Support Under the Radar
If you feel a need to share information about your treatment or recovery, but want to keep a lower profile, consider private, dedicated and free websites.
One is www.caringbridge.org. It’s meant for anyone with a significant health challenge. You can post messages seen only by those with access to your page. You can also use it to update family and friends easily–in the process saving you multiple emails or calls.
Another, www.mylifeline.org, offers personal websites for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers.
Tip #5. Go Pro With LinkedIn
Consider the professional website LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com). It is meant not only to help with job hunts, but to manage your career identity and build it.
In the last few years, employers have been turning increasingly to this site.
Two good reasons: they can tap a much wider market. More than 100 million are on it, including Fortune 500 employers. In this troubled economy, it’s replacing pricey head hunters.
Devote some time and effort when you join, and it will likely yield benefits. Don’t just go on, sign up and download your resume. You should post not a recounting of your entire work history, but a focused profile. It should tell visitors what you’ve done professionally and what you hope to do.
Be strategic about your connections. For instance, experts warn not to invite someone you don’t know at all. The goal is to have people help you and for you to help them–and that’s not as likely from strangers.
Join groups (LinkedIn offers suggestions) or create one. Once you join, be active. Ask people for specific recommendations about job hunting and career advancement. Remember to give back.
Set a goal–such as 15 minutes a day–to participate. If you look active on the site, you will look more attractive to a potential employer.
Tip # 6. Monitor Yourself
Pay attention to privacy settings on social media such as Facebook, which allow you to control who sees what.
You might want to set up a new, separate social media page, meant just for your inner circle. On that, you could put a caveat not to re-post anything about your health elsewhere.
To keep your social media page just that, you can decline requests from colleagues. A simple reply works: “Thanks for the invitation; I am keeping all my professional contacts on LinkedIn.”
On Twitter, you can sign up for an account for public tweets or protected tweets. Only your approved followers can view Tweets if you choose the protected option. (And they can’t retweet.)
Test your privacy settings occasionally. Ask a friend not in your network to try to find you.
If you are job-hunting, consider the time of day you tweet and network online, including using the chat function on sites such as Facebook. You will look most professional if you do it before or after traditional work hours or during lunchtime. Otherwise, it may look like you post and Tweet the day away.
Tip # 7: Understand Privacy Rights
Even if you set your online privacy options correctly and monitor them often, glitches can happen.
Consider this hypothetical example: You post an online photo of yourself in a fashionable head scarf as you finish chemo. It’s meant for your close circle of friends. By some mistake, it is posted to a much wider group. Your boss sees it. He asks you if you have the energy to finish a project. The next week, he gives you a bad work review.
Before taking any action, know that the Constitution protects your right to privacy. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulates how much your employer can talk about confidential health issues. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulates confidentiality by your health care providers.
However, enforcing that right to privacy isn’t always realistic or simple.
For the scarf photo, you would have to show that the release of it caused harm to you. You would have to prove the bad review was a direct result of the release of the photo. You would probably have to file a lawsuit. More often than not, you would need an attorney.
That complicated process underscores the value of thinking through everything before sitting down at the computer.