It’s true that the premise behind social media is to showcase your individuality and personality. However, it’s important to keep in mind that in an increasingly digital society, potential employers and patients may look to your online presence to help assure them of your professionalism and abilities. And, as is true for any other profession, what you say and do on social media can reflect back on your employer as well.
So how can you, as an educator, help your students understand these lessons? Here are three ways:
1. Show them real-world examples of how fast social media can spread — even for seemingly mundane items.
You’ve probably seen Facebook posts of teachers asking their friends to share a picture to prove how far and fast it can spread. Fortunately, since this experiment has been done already, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. But sharing them with your students as a refresher can’t hurt.
Also, the Internet has a habit of latching on to even the most seemingly benign posts and making them go viral (think: Pizza Rat, Left Shark, and Alex from Target). You never know what the collective “hive-mind” of the Internet will find amusing, so proceed with caution.
2. Have your students make a list of the qualities they would like to see in their own health care provider, then analyze their own social accounts to see if they match.
Part thought experiment and part self-reflection, this exercise allows students to see how their social media accounts stack up against those of their ideal practitioner. Have them make a list of what is important in a primary care provider, for example, being knowledgeable and thorough, up-to-date on the latest health news, and down-to-earth.
Then, have them think through posts that would accomplish these goals. Perhaps it’s retweeting the latest news from the National Institutes of Health, or maybe it’s tweeting out health facts that the general public should be aware of. Maybe there’s a little splash of humanity — pictures of their pets, hobbies, or travels.
After that, have your students take a look at their last 15 posts on each social account and answer this question about themselves: Would I hire this person as my primary care provider? If the answer is no, some house cleaning is likely in order.
3. Have them Google themselves.
In the words of Jack Donaghy from “30 Rock,” “Don’t you ever Google yourself?” If not — you should. You may be surprised by what comes up. Any time you register for social media with your real name, even if you use a different screen name, there is a chance it can show up on a search. Even a picture of you posted by someone else — if it’s tagged with your username — can come up.
You should also do a Google search for usernames you use on sites such as Instagram, Twitter, or Reddit. Many people don’t take the time to separate their online presence from their real identities: using their real names on platforms that don’t require it, using the same usernames on multiple platforms, or connecting accounts even if they have different usernames (for example, having Instagram automatically post to Twitter or Facebook). This makes it relatively easy to find additional profiles of someone once you have found one of them.
Encourage your students to search the biggest engines — Google, Yahoo, and Bing — to see what comes up with their names and usernames. What they find is what potential employers and patients will find. If they don’t like what they see, it’s time to do some social scrubbing.
Time to start cleaning house.
Hopefully, your students have started to understand why a clean digital footprint is so important and how their current social strategy will or won’t get them where they want to go professionally. Now the ball is in their court. But here are some tips and tricks you can share to make sure they have the tools they need to build a professional digital profile:
- Consider context (or the lack thereof) — One of the downsides of digital communication is that context is hard to get across – no tone of voice, no facial expressions, no backstory. Remember that something you post may not be taken the same way by others. Before you post, try to think through how you would view the post if you had no context for it.
- Know your privacy settings — Use Facebook’s “view as” feature to see what your profile looks like to those who aren’t “friends.” Here’s a helpful guide. With Facebook, you can also set separate permissions for each type of post. Other platforms have similar features.
- Secure your accounts — Most social media platforms allow you only to grant viewing access to select people. Taking advantage of these options can help keep your information out of the wrong hands.
- Post thoughtfully — If it’s something you wouldn’t say in public or something you don’t think future employees or patients would deem appropriate, don’t post it on social.
- Be discerning — Always require approval for images, status updates, and comments tagged to you.
- Follow your digital trail — Set up a Google Alert for your name and usernames, which will alert you when there is a new relevant search result.
When it comes to social media, remember that it’s better and easier to be proactive than having to clean up later. Because, as they say: Once it’s on the Internet, it’s there to stay.