The internet never forgets

Social media is still very new to much of the world. I tend to forget that in my day-to-day work. In recent weeks, I’ve had the pleasure and honor of exposing new eyes to the wonders of the medium, and of course, the potential pitfalls.

I moonlight on the faculty of UMass’ online journalism program. Been teaching for the better part of 10 years. I absolutely love learning from my students, many of whom tend to be working professionals seeking to sharpen their skills, or to train for a second career. The course itself has morphed from web publishing and writing for the web to more of a social media pedagogy. My students almost always have Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, but seldom have used social in business or to engage with others in conversations.

Here at EMC, I recently volunteered as a featured speaker for our STAR program, introducing college-bound students to a range of career opportunities and professional development skills. Like my journalism students, these “STARs” all use Facebook and are just getting familiar with the idea of LinkedIn.

For both of these groups, we have lively debates on the nature of all the social networking channels available to them. They question me on why one might tweet or why a company values blogging, The conversation naturally lands on this question: “can college admissions staff (or company recruiters) Google me for information?”

Inevitably, yes.

When it comes to Facebook, however, we have a little bit of fun. The stories range from photos at parties (you know the kind) or to friends posting phony status updates to another’s Facebook wall. I explain to them why Anthony Weiner is immortalized in internet chronicles.

This conversation brings the class back to a question I usually start from: “Who’s not on Facebook?” I might see one hand go up. That frames the conversation around why we flock to Facebook and what we share there. I ask, “Who’s using Facebook’s privacy settings?” Some do, but mainly enough to hide from parents or exes.  It’s in personal branding that I explain and implore these students to do better, to lock everything down from prying eyes and nosy apps. That that fun pic from last night’s party could haunt you. It’s sobering, but the classes generally get the idea… the internet never forgets. And companies like Social Intelligence are making money from archiving your info and selling it to HR recruiters and other investigators.

This concept is equally critical for businesses and organizations to grasp. That one employee faux pas or PR nightmare will be forever archived online (think Domino’s Pizza). Take it from a practitioner who’s keenly aware of the potential… LISTEN. Not just for folks saying things about you, bad and good, but for what you’re saying about yourself. Are your web sites and blogs engaging folks with valuable content? Or are you letting things wither on the vine? If you’re working through a public relations issue, are you using the opportunity to your advantage? Are you offering a transparency-laden selection of content? Are you connecting with audiences? While that photo of Anthony’s weiner is out there forever, so is his mea culpa. Not only did Domino’s respond to the employee videos that brought infamy, they responded in kind, and ultimately used the episode to relaunch the brand.

Use social media. Use the web. Use search engine optimization. Take control of the conversation happening around you online. Leave behind an online record of how you respond to that issue. At the very least, don’t fall victim to it.