By Esther “Essie” Wambui
First impression is everything. You can neither undo, nor redo. That’s what we were raised to understand. You prepared for a first impression, polished your act, practiced the encounter and hoped it paid off.
Things are different nowadays. The first meeting is hardly ever a physical one. Before you get together, you will have exchanged an email, phone conversation or chatted through social media. And if you are like me, you make it a point to google your contact before a meeting, and rightly assume they looked you up too.
Also in our globalized, highly interconnected world, it is very likely that you will conduct business remotely with a lot of people who you will never get to meet. Meaning the person you present online is all they will ever know.
So then, if your image – or the shaping of it – starts long before a face-to-face, how do you manage that online image? Here are some pointers.
- Take a look back
Look yourself up. Yes, google your name to see where you appear in both professional and social sites. If there are unflattering mentions or images, clean it up if possible. You might be able to delete some history by yourself while getting rid of others may require professional help.
- Check your privacy settings
Do you want to be private, semi-private or public? If you do not use your online profile to promote or sell a product/service, private settings will serve you well. But if you rely on people knowing about you, then that is the public persona that you must cultivate. Whatever settings you choose, make sure it aligns with your need.
- Be careful whom you connect with
This is especially important on social forums which require allowing the connection to access each other’s platform. If you don’t know a person well enough, don’t accept that request to connect and if you do accept, assign them to a category with restricted access to your personal information.
- Set settings to approve tags
If you are to be picky about whom you connect with, you should also ensure you approve others’ tags of you before they are published. You may not want that drunken party photo from college appearing on your timeline if that’s not the kind of person you are now.
- Cultivate the image you want
This means being decisive and selective about what you put out there. Remember, some people’s encounter of you online may be all that they will ever see or know about you.
- Be careful and calculating in your participation
By all means possible, avoid picking unnecessary fights online. While this may mean holding your tongue, or fingers in this case on an issue you’re probably passionate about, it does keep your image clean. If there is no way to contribute productively and amicably, I have personally found it better to avoid participation in highly divisive and polarizing topics altogether.
- Know your subject matter
If you decide to engage or comment on a topic, then do not do so for the sake of it. Instead, do some research, educate yourself and make sure you have the right information to contribute on the subject matter first.
It is important to keep in mind that everyone is entitled to their opinion on and offline. But with the sense of freedom and anonymity the Internet provides, there will be people who will stretch this freedom. Hold your peace and exit a discussion if it takes a direction you are uncomfortable with.
- Be true to yourself
As much as possible, be the same person online as offline or draw a clear line between. Would your real life friends, family members and colleagues recognize you online? If you espouse compassion, kindness and consideration for those around you, extend it to the World Wide Web.
- The Internet doesn’t forget
In my opinion, this is the cardinal rule that needs to be taught to everyone who will ever use the Internet. What you put out there last forever! Needless to say, apply caution with everything you post. Always remember that items may appear deleted to you but that’s not necessarily the case and might still be found somewhere in the archives, via a screenshot or link.
- As in with real life, mix up your online activity
Change lanes sometimes and distribute time spent on the Net wisely. Mix friends and family time on social media for example with making valuable professional connections on platforms like LinkedIn. Visit YouTube for some tutorials on a particular skill you are interested in or to upgrade a job skill you haven’t used in a while.
- Remind people that you exist
While most people will quickly tire of a daily update on your life, “out of sight out of mind” does also apply online. Being an eternal silent observer can harm your image. It is therefore advisable to find subtle ways to every now and then remind your connections that you are still around.
As with most things, the Internet has both a good and a bad side but its effect on your image to a large extent depends on you. Apply common sense and also be aware that there are more and more laws to legislate online behaviour. Take charge.
Esther “Essie” Wambui