Is Social Media Helping or Hindering Your Future?

Can social media threaten your advancement in a business career? A growing number of companies are answering with a resounding yes.

Facebook now boasts over 500 million members. Twitter comes in second with roughly 200 million, and LinkedIn follows with about 100 million. On YouTube more than 24 hours’ worth of fresh video content is uploaded each minute. With so many people sharing their lives on these and other sites – and with so much of their personal data, images and postings so readily searchable — many corporate human resource (HR) professionals are beginning to eavesdrop.

For organizations, it’s more than idle curiosity. It’s a matter of self-protection.

The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that employee theft accounts for an incredible 30 percent of small business failures. Meanwhile, lawsuits and civil damages associated with workplace violence and malicious conduct are on the rise.

On a more basic level, the recent “Security Threat Report, 2010” by Sophos, a well-known IT security firm, indicates that more than 72 percent of surveyed companies consider employee social media habits as potential threats to business.

Because of these and related concerns, an estimated two-thirds of HR professionals now make social media research a routine part of their recruitment and pre-hiring screenings — with many of them continuing to regularly monitor employee social media habits after hiring. There are even large companies that specialize in media monitoring tools for HR managers to make their web investigations faster and more efficient.

There’s an ongoing debate within HR and business circles about the ethical and legal standards of such checking-up. While many employers limit their searches to professional social networks such as LinkedIn, others cast a much wider net to include personal blogs and Websites, Facebook, Twitter, and many of the other 100-plus popular social networking sites. Although employers must conduct research within the bounds of their jurisdiction’s worker-protection and anti-discrimination laws, regulations vary from place to place.

As this debate continues, now is the time to take a hard look at your personal “brand” on the internet. The good news is HR managers are also using social media to find and recruit top candidates, so you can actually leverage social media, build your online reputation, and advance your career.

First, investigate yourself on several search engines. What comes up? Reset your privacy settings on Facebook and other social media to narrow access and review. Scour your profiles and pages clean of information, comments, images, postings and “friends” that may tarnish your image. Next, add more professional and business contacts to your social networks.

Most important, as your pursue your career, volunteer efforts, or advanced education, such as an online degree program with American Sentinel University, chat up your progress. Frequently post links to interesting news and topics related to your fields of work or study. When you achieve your degree or other accomplishments, post it to all your Web profiles.

The bottom line is the right social networking now can pay vast dividends in the future!