It's been well over a year since I first wrote about how the social networking frenzy is impacting the personal and professional reputations of Internet users. Since then, we've continued to see stories about how many companies are now running Google searches before hiring applicants. In fact, it's becoming more and more common for companies to decide not to hire someone based on what they've found in a potential hire's online profile.
As I was looking around Facebook a few weeks ago, I found myself wondering if we're reaching the point where we not only have to worry about our own profiles, but the profiles of the people we associate ourselves with.
I've watched the online marketing industry flock to sites like Facebook and LinkedIn over the past year and I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed the race to show off one's "social power" by building up massive lists of contacts. I've come across more than one profile associated with 500+ or even 1000+ contacts and thought to myself "either that person spends more time chatting than working, or they aren't very discriminating about who they dub a 'friend.'"
I've found myself sorting through my own friend requests from people I've never heard of and who give me no reason as to why I should add them to my account. That's not to say I'm not happy to make new friends or to expand my network, but some type of email or note explaining why you'd like to connect with me goes a lot further than an otherwise random request.
Last week, I clicked to view the profile of one of the people who randomly attempted to "friend" me and was shocked at what I found. I suppose if I was a 20 year old guy pledging a college fraternity, I might have been impressed, but as a marketing professional, I can't say I found the profile even remotely appealing. I certainly couldn't see any reason why I'd want to associate myself with this person.
That got me thinking and I began surfing around looking at some of the profiles of people I had "friended". While I didn't find many surprises there (as I only tend to accept invites from people I already have an acquaintance with) I did find some shockers when I clicked through to view THEIR connections. Strippers, bongs, beer stands, and talk of both recreational and hard-core drug usage left me wondering who exactly my "friends" were hanging out with. I'll admit, it didn't leave me with the best taste in my mouth.
So I wondered...with so much press popping up about the need to keep your social media profile "squeaky clean" and "professional" in case a company does a little background checking on your "character"...do we need to also watch for the day when they start examining our friends?
Will it matter if your profile projects you as being a model citizen (whether you are one or not) if a single click shows that your friends and acquaintances like to party like an 80's hair band?
Does the company you keep, define who you are? Perhaps even more so than your own profile?
I'm not sure of the answer on this one. There's no doubting the professional skills or qualifications of many of the people whose profiles left me a little shocked. But that's because I've been around long enough and know enough about them to really *know* what their marketing and business skills are.
Someone new to the industry? Well, they may focus more on the image and the actual results. Especially when the results are hiding somewhere in the computer behind the shot of someone with their pants around their ankles and the drugs on the desk.
Reputation management was a big buzz word in 2007. It leaves me wondering if reputation management is going to extend to considering the impact of the reputation of your friends and associates in 2008.
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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