Ever imagined something as “silly” as a Facebook comment making you miss out on an important job opportunity? Well, for all you know that could be what’s happening right now as you blame nepotism, witchcraft or your family’s bad luck. Judging from some posts I have seen on social media it is clear that many people do not understand the impact of online social networking and their career. Social media contributes to building up an individual digital footprint, or Internet content linked to individual names.
Social media emerged as the most popular use of the internet this past decade. Social networks have been linked with the creation and exploitation of social capital in recent literature.
However, the effect that individual digital footprint has on their career prospects as remained underestimated. Today the digital footprint has become so important that now there are professional organisations that specialise in cleaning up reckless digital footprints.
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So what is the digital footprint? It is a visible history of your online conduct termed the “digital” tattoo by some writers. In other words it is a visible online record of all their comments and other content ever posted on the internet. As a result of online social networking individuals tend to generate content associated with their name linking them to other individuals into a formal or informal network. Online networking has been positively linked to building and reinforcing social capital. It’s interesting to note that this includes all the online posts connected to user’s name online.
A growing number of researches have continuously drawn attention to issues of privacy of individual information available as a result of social networking, citing the rapidly changing boundaries between ‘privacy’ and ‘publicity’. Despite the activation of social media profile privacy settings and membership of online groups that enjoy protected visibility, the internet remains a public space with the technology available to locate anyone’s digital footprint. This is why researchers have noted that the internet has rapidly become a network for both personal and professional interactions.
What not to post
Presently, some of generation X, most of generation Y and all of generation Z is almost always connected to the internet, but with little knowledge on the negative impact that careless online engagement has on their digital footprint and consequently on their careers. Research has demonstrated that a digital footprint containing the following is behind the dismissal of the suitability of some young people as prospectives for certain jobs;
- substance abuse;
- poor communication skills;
- badmouthing a company, boss, customer or colleague;
- provocative or inappropriate photographs;
- profanity, spelling and grammar;
- level of professionalism,
- photos related to alcohol and illegal drugs, images and comments displaying substance abuse;
- inappropriate sexual content and other offensive content
Increasingly, there are warnings that individuals should be careful of their use of networks generally as employers are more and more using information extracted from social networks to assess future employees in what has been duped “social recruitment”.
This benefits employers as opposed to the traditional means of recruitment process as it helps them to have a better understanding of prospective employees.
According to Sheehan (2010) social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn, provide search functionalities where recruiters are able to easily target and locate candidates that meet specific requirements and skills.
Also important to the screening is a verification process where recruiters verify whether the information is presented consistently across social media profiles and without any discrepancies when compared to a candidate’s actual resume. A related social recruiting study by Jobvite (2012) found that 83% of the workforce makes use of Facebook, while 46% rely on Twitter and 41% are actively involved in LinkedIn. In total, 16% of the workforce attributes their current employment to social media (Jobvite, 2011).
What can you do to improve your digital footprint?
In order to have a positive professional online reputation management, I advise young people to remove unwanted content and damaging references or to approach professional organisations that specialise in cleaning up negative digital footprints. However, prevention is better than cure hence other ways to manage a responsible digital footprint include being selective about blogs, message boards, forums, social media networks and friends to engage and to carefully consider the interpretation of content by others before posting.
Overall, one of the most underrated relationships is the one between the digital footprint and career management or business opportunities. In future, issues of privacy and security are likely to intensify hence it is important for young people to understand social media and its implications on future career opportunities and more efforts should be geared towards sensitising young people on how to maintain a responsible digital footprint.
Karen Maturure is a dedicated development worker. She is a young woman aged 27 who lives for development work as well as writing (development research, women centred fiction and poetry, articles, etc.). Her life and career have been driven by a strong passion to contribute to the improvement of the position of disadvantaged people in her country and the world over and she believes in the woman. She is currently the Zimbabwe Country Representative for Travel For Change, the Communications Officer for ROOTS Africa, and a part time volunteer for a couple of organizations whilst studying towards a Master’s Degree in International Relations with the University of Zimbabwe.
Karen has a strong academic grounding in human rights and project management having completed a Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies at Midlands State University. She is also a holder of a Professional Certificate in Monitoring and Evaluation with the University of Zimbabwe.
Karen is also a qualified, dedicated and experienced development worker, with over three years’ experience in project management particularly over two years under the Zimbabwe Human Rights Fund at Hivos, the Urban Space Harare environmental project and the Adolescent Sexual and Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights department at the United Nations Population Fund Zimbabwe.