Removing the social skeletons from your closet

Social media

‘How do I delete my Facebook account?’ is apparently one of the most popular Google search requests.

A Millennial generation, that has lived virtually the whole of its life online, has discovered the dangers of leaving a digital trail of past behaviour as it moves up the corporate ladder. This is one of the reasons why highly encrypted messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, have become increasingly popular for a group that has experienced the downsides of oversharing.

The advice for all of us using social media is to take control over what we share.  Understanding your privacy settings is one of the more boring pieces of social media advice you are likely to receive, but it is actually one of the most important.  The default settings on the main social networks are typically very open, giving other people to access to plenty of information about you.  It comes down to a personal choice but take the time to work through the options so that you can derive the maximum value from your networking activity and only share what you want to share, for example, the Facebook settings enable users to remove their Facebook profile from search engine results.  But no matter how smart you think you are with your privacy settings, do not assume that anything can stay completely private.  I have run social media training courses in schools and always suggest that teachers do not go anywhere near Facebook if they want to have an interesting private life – the kids will inevitably find out what they have been doing in their down-time.

It is possible to edit the digital footprint that you have left in your wake.  Inappropriate posts and tweets can be deleted from your social media timeline, although if the original content was shared, it may still come back to haunt you.

Every so often I will receive a request from a client asking what they can do to change an unflattering set of results produced by a Google search.  In the most extreme cases, where our online brand reputation is being damaged by an inaccurate or irrelevant story, those of us living in the EU can take advantage of ‘the right to be forgotten’.  This is based on a ruling by the European Court of Justice in 2014 which forces search engines to remove links to content that is deemed ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant’ in response to a complaint from anyone named in it.  There is a form on the Google website for this search removal request and it claims to accept around 40 per cent of requests for the removal of links.

Using the ‘right to be forgotten’ can potentially remove links to specific articles or content – bearing in mind that it will not disappear from the internet, just the search results – but more typically, changing an unflattering set of Google-search results requires a more structured process.  There are specialist agencies promising that they can transform your online reputation and make the ‘bad stuff disappear’ from the Google search, but it is not that difficult to achieve a more flattering set of results, just do not expect instant results.  The advice I give to my clients who are faced with this problem is:

  • Sort-out your LinkedIn profile to make sure that it reflects your career and expertise. LinkedIn does particularly well in search and a good profile should definitely appear in the first few listings.
  • For the same reason, start getting busy on Twitter which also tends to feature prominently in any Google search.
  • Produce your own content – blogs articles etc., all of which can feature in your listings, especially if you can get other people to link to them. Links are one of the things that the Google algorithm prioritises.
  • Get profiled/written about by online media, such as industry or sector titles. This means doing things that are likely to get you written about in a positive way, such as being on award panels, speaking at conferences or being quoted in press releases.
  • You might also want to consider creating your own website. This requires a bit of effort but can be a very effective profile builder.

About the author

Article by Martin Thomas, author of The Financial Times Guide to Social Media Strategy: Boost your business, manage risk and develop your personal brand, out now, on Amazon and in good book stores, published by FT Publishing International.

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