With social media, it’s so easy to hide behind a screen and hit “send” that you don’t always consider the consequences of your digital footprint. Although social media networks, like Instagram, allow you to connect with like-minded people from all over the world, every comment or photo you post could potentially harm your reputation later on in life. This is where a social media clean up comes in handy.
A social media clean up may include anything from updating Facebook privacy settings to deleting questionable posts from Twitter. These small changes could potentially save your teen from a college rejection letter or even prevent a scandal during the job application process.
Keep scrolling to learn more about the importance of a social media clean up and how it can improve your child’s online presence.
1. Know what is out there
Andrew Selepak, Social Media Professor, University of Florida
The best way for students to clean up and protect their online presence is to do a regular social media audit. Students should reexamine their Instagram posts, go back through their Twitter posts with Advanced Search, check their TikTok videos, and review their daily Facebook Memories notifications for posts that no longer accurately reflect their reputation or could damage their reputation.
Too often we make posts when we are emotional that doesn’t accurately reflect our true views or at least our more articulate and subdued views, or posts we made when we were younger that embarrass us today. While it is always important to pause before making a social media post that might be made in anger or despair, it is just as important to pause and review any old posts that were made under similar emotional distress, or made without thinking. Parents and educators should also remind students that posts made today for likes, comments, and follows, could be the same posts that tomorrow prevent a student from getting a job, internship, or letter of recommendation.
Andrew Selepak discusses social media reputation management and branding on the SmartSocial.com Podcast
2. Ask yourself, “Would I Be Proud to Have This Accredited to Me?”
Michelle Enjoli, Founder, Connect with Michelle Enjoli
Social media has become a powerful tool that can be extremely beneficial or destructive to a student’s online presence based on the content they share and their use of it.
The number one piece of advice that I give to students when discussing their social media profiles is to think about the content they share on each platform. When deciding on what content to share or what conversations to take part in, a good question to ask yourself is, “If this post or conversation were to make it on national television and accredited to me, would I be proud?” If the answer is no, do not share or participate in the dialogue.
If you are looking for ideas for content that would be appropriate for you to share, think about your future. What profession do you see yourself in? Follow the accounts of people in that profession for motivation, inspiration, and education. Take a look at what they post and who they follow as well for additional ideas on how to position yourself on social media.
I also suggest routinely cleaning up your accounts by deleting inappropriate posts, comments, and other social media users that negatively affect you.
3. Remove content that would damage your reputation
Aaron Simmons, Founder, Test Prep Genie
Remove suggestive, offensive, and explicit photos and posts. Frankly, you really shouldn’t be uploading things like these on the internet because so many people can use it to invade your privacy. If you have posted tweets, shared posts, or uploaded photos and videos of you drinking or
doing something you shouldn’t, it’s best to hide them in a private folder or better yet, delete it altogether.
Like doing volunteer work or at-home projects? Share them. This will help build up your character which will give you better chances of getting accepted.
Remove all accounts from shady websites. Websites like JustDeleteMe are very helpful for this task. It’ll automatically detect the email address you use on your account and show you all the websites you have registered it in as well as the instructions on how to delete your account.
Bottom line: It’s important to build a positive online presence to keep yourself safe online. It becomes even more important if you are trying to appeal to a college or university. To create a positive image, try removing explicit, offensive, or suggestive photos and posts, post about positive things like volunteer work or creative projects, and clean your account of dubious websites.
4. Know the Rules
Melissa Lowry, Melissa Lowry Education Coaching
Social media provides teenagers with a window to the world, a portal through which they can connect with others, form & nurture relationships, support causes in which they believe, and express themselves in clever and unique ways. Establishing a positive digital footprint, however, is not as easy as it sounds, so teens should abide by a few simple rules.
The Golden Rule: If you wouldn’t want someone to post something about you, you shouldn’t post it about someone else.
The 24-Hour Rule: Posting angry or explosive comments in the heat of the moment can leave you with regrets. Give yourself a 24-hour “cooling off period” before posting anything angry or explosive. You may very well find that your viewpoint has changed once you’ve let an issue sit for 24 hours.
The 10 O’Clock News Rule: Before posting pictures or videos, answer the question, “Would I want to see this on the 10 o’clock news? In other words, if your grandma wouldn’t display the photo on her mantle or play the video for her friends, you probably shouldn’t post it.
The Leave Them Wanting More Rule: We’ve all encountered someone who gives us TMI: Too Much Information! Social media is not your personal billboard to the world. You do not need to post every photo, say everything you feel, or selfie yourself to death. In other words, leave your followers wanting more!
The Internet is Forever Rule: Once you’ve posted, blogged, texted, commented, hit record, or clicked a snapshot, what you’ve posted is on the Internet forever. Yes. Forever. Refer to the four rules above if that still hasn’t sunk in!
5. Take inventory, start scrubbing, and build a positive digital footprint
Adam Reynolds, Web Designer/Developer, Clarion Univ. of Pennsylvania
For students, social media has been around for most of their lives, and today’s students are likely on at least one platform every day. If you ask a student who their favorite celebrities are, you might be surprised by what you hear. You may find athletes and movie stars on their list, but other names might pop up that you’ve never heard of. Social media stars and influencers often take the top spots as more of the entertainment students consume comes in the form of user-generated content. As an unfathomable amount of content is generated, there is a draw for students to create content themselves. And with so many young adults creating content, they want to stand out from the crowd. Creating a business or brand online used to be something you’d do in addition to your personal accounts, but now it’s not uncommon for your personal account to be a part of your brand. That means having your personal accounts cleaned up and ready for the world to scour.
Tips on ways students can clean up their social media feeds:
- Take an inventory of your posts often
- If you post a lot, look back at your content and see if there are any posts that might be less than desirable.
- Delete posts that you think might cause you trouble
- Try to view your posts through other people’s eyes. Potential employers, family, friends, etc.
- Set yourself a standard for posting in the future
- Post content that is true to you, and stick to it.
Tips for creating a positive digital footprint
- Stop and think before you post
- Your social feeds might be the only real window someone may have into your life. Try to make the message you’re putting out there positive and real, setting yourself apart from the noise.
- Show the good and the real
- There is a thirst for real and positive content in today’s social media climate. Be genuine and kind.
- Steer clear of fake positivity and fake drama.
6. Start with a Google search, think before posting, and remove inactive accounts
Andrea Paul, Founder & CEO, Health Media Experts
1. Check yourself on Google
Do check out your name on Google or what information you have in the search results on Google. If there is something, you don’t want to show, visit the site and remove the content. Do check your interaction places, for example, discussion forums, comments sections on your feed, or the places where you are mentioned.
2. Removing content, you don’t want to show
Immediately delete things you don’t like rather than keeping it and thinking a lot about it. Delete those images that you don’t want to show to your future employer.
3. Limiting access
Set up a limit on your social accounts. Allow your friends to tag you in the post so that you don’t have to clean additional posts on your feed later.
4. Think before posting
Appear what you are and don’t post something that can risk your reputation.
Avoid unnecessary postings, which you might delete later. It would be best if you explore more on social media instead of posting more about yourself. Follow the rule of 80/20, 80 percent about others, and 20 percent about yourself.
5. Deleting inactive accounts
You should delete the accounts that have your personal information, or there may be the risk of hacking.
6. Reviewing Permissions
Check out the apps you have granted permission to a social media feed and if you’re not using the app, then take back the granted approval.
7. Before deleting your accounts, be sure to delete individual posts or photos
Arash Fayz, Executive Director, LA TUTORS 123
In order to maintain a positive social media presence, students should consider setting their social media profiles to ‘private’ or ‘locked’ so that only friends can view them. However, they should also be aware that even if their profiles are set to private, there is still the possibility of their school or classmates accessing their profiles, so they should be cognizant of what they post and not post anything they wouldn’t want screen-grabbed by another student or shared with anyone outside their immediate social circles.
If students decide to leave a social media platform for whatever reason, they should be aware that many platforms will archive their posts or information. Therefore if there is information they don’t want made public on that platform, they should make sure to update their pages or delete individual posts or photos before deactivating their accounts. Students should also be wary of the material being posted and shared within their social circles online. Social media company algorithms prioritize engagement in a way that promotes inflammatory or inaccurate material. Students should make sure any articles or information they share or repost comes from a credible source.
8. Do an audit and improve your content with positive posts
Aisha Marshal, Co-founder, Creative Label
- Complete a biography audit (begin to think of your Instagram bio as your resume. Be sure to include your name, an appropriate description, contact, call to action, etc.)
- Closely monitor your tagged photos. (be sure all images you are tagged in properly represent you and your personal brand)
- Showcase your community initiatives. Involved in charities or volunteer projects? Showcase these social impacts on your feed and in a highlight reel.
- Delete your oldies (If you still have older social profiles that no longer reflect you, delete them)
9. Moving forward, build a proactive strategy instead of spontaneous reactions
Mark Beal, Assistant Professor of Practice in Public Relations, Rutgers University School of Communication and Information, and author of Engaging Gen Z
Building a positive online presence for today’s students requires a proactive strategy versus a spontaneous reaction. Reacting on social media is being impulsive and mistakes will be made. Students, especially college students, as they prepare for their transition to a career, should aspire to be ‘social media thought leaders.’ Based on their area of study and career focus, they should strategically and consistently post relevant content on social media that positions them as a thought leader.
Content can include sharing articles as well as publishing and distributing original content featuring their point-of-view on a timely topic. Additionally, proactive and positive thought-leadership content online should go beyond mainstream social channels and extend to platforms such as LinkedIn, blogs, and even producing their own podcast.
10. Implement the Swear Jar Method
Heinrich Long, Privacy Expert, Restore Privacy
The Swear Jar Method creates good habits for life. I’d start by reviewing what is and isn’t appropriate to post on social media. What kind of thoughts, words, and content should be removed? That’s something you can decide together as a family, depending on the age of the student. From there, institute a swear jar approach. Every time you put out negativity online – whether that’s a mean post, an inappropriate one, insulting someone, swearing online, doing something unproductive or unnecessarily negative – you put a dollar in the jar. That should reinforce good habits online.
When the jar is full, it can be donated to an institution that helps end cyberbullying. That will motivate students to be on their best behavior and will remind them that it is their duty to uphold a standard for their online presence. This creates good habits into adulthood when they will be immensely grateful to have a squeaky clean social media presence and to not have Facebook remind them of that time they said something inexcusable, or of that picture of underage drinking.
11. Be sure to audit who and what you follow and like online
Jennifer Will, Editor, Etia
First of all, we should unfollow accounts that we are not interested in. It can be anything from food accounts to rival exes. This will not only make your feed less messy but also more positive. Also, you don’t have to be present on all of the platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok, Facebook, etc. You can cut back your activity by deleting some of the apps that you don’t use that frequently. Lastly, your feed is directly related to the comments, likes, and posts that you share and make. So, if you want to have a positive feed, you just have to focus on positive posts on social media.
12. Highlight your accomplishments and make sure that everything you post is positive
Dianna Taylor, High School English Teacher, QuickQuote.com
Most employers will find you on social media before setting up an interview. This happens because of the many people who have a negative, inappropriate social presence, and it’s especially true for young people.
Students are driven by their likes and shares, so they sometimes post without thinking. In the moment, they don’t realize that the wrong online personality could take away the chances of a job- or even a friendship.
In order to keep your online footprint positive, it’s important to get rid of any pictures or posts that appear overly negative or divisive. Everyone should have a voice, but you have to be smart about what you make permanent.
Make sure you keep your personal sites clean. If you have social media, make a professional profile to highlight your strengths and accomplishments. If you choose to post publicly, don’t say or do anything you wouldn’t want your future boss to see.
The best idea is to limit your social media privacy. With that said, even private posts and content are not guaranteed to stay that way. Anyone can take a screenshot and share your information within seconds.
13. It’s better to have a social media presence than to not have one at all
Denise Walsh, BDW LLC
In today’s world, Social media feeds play a significant role in defining a person’s personality. It is very likely that any employer, before hiring you, will look up your social media profiles. You may have posted stuff for fun throughout your life, but it must be filtered before you enter your
professional life. Not having a social media presence can also play a negative role in hiring; the employer will not interview you if they can’t find anything about you. So, what methods should we use to filter our social media feeds?
- Start by reviewing your media files shared, remove any inappropriate photos or videos.
- Remove any political posts, discriminatory comments, or any complaints about your previous employer
- Keep the content that shows your positive side; information that shows your professionalism and depicts your integrity and responsibility must also be kept
- Think like an employer when reviewing your profile, and ask yourself if you would hire you
- Edit your ‘About page’ on your social media platforms to update it and make it look professional
- If you have a blog, that’s good, but make sure it shares a positive image of yours; you may need to remove some of the content if it depicts otherwise
- The content you make public on your profile must be very carefully selected
14. Freedom of Speech may be free, but the consequences may come at a cost
Michele Ramsey, Associate Professor, Communication Arts & Sciences and Women’s Studies, Penn State Berks
One of the first things I talk about with students is that nothing posted online is private. Ever. So if students use bad judgment when posting on social media, that momentary lapse of judgment can stick with them for years to come. We all make mistakes, have lapses in good judgment, and are just plain imperfect humans. Sometimes we have opinions at one point in our lives that we look back on later and can’t imagine ever having. But with the advent of social media, those momentary lapses or opinions borne of ignorance can follow and define students for years. Cache files and screenshots mean nothing is ever really deleted, either. So thinking carefully about posts is very important.
One of the constant refrains I hear from people who don’t want to be told what they can or can’t or should or shouldn’t post on social media is that it’s a free speech issue. Aside from the fact that the First Amendment only protects citizens from government censorship of speech, the fact of the matter is that speech has consequences. So yes, students can technically post whatever they want on social media, but then they must also be willing to accept the consequences of that communication, which can never be “taken back”, no matter how many times they apologize or swear that they “didn’t mean” what they said.
In terms of social media overall, students are surprised usually to learn how many future employers look at social media when hiring. And while most realize that they are taking risks if they post something problematic on a social media site, they often don’t realize that posting only bland material isn’t good for them, either.
Organizations actually do want to see that students have a life with friends, family, and events. They want to see students fitting in with people and having fun. If students don’t have any of those types of posts, employers may assume that they’ve wiped all the potentially negative messages from their profile and wonder why nothing is left and/or assume that they’re not social and may not fit into their organization. Thus, students are often surprised to learn that they should be posting appropriate pictures from typical life events like beaches or weddings or the like.
Students should post about once a week at least and these posts should include expressions of gratitude for people who help them, appropriate humor, support for others, discussions that support the brand they’re creating for themselves linked to their majors/careers, stories/memories about their life without overly dramatic tones or deep secrets, and things that are a continuation of their résumé.
Students should not post illegal activities, bullying communication, trashing of teachers or complaining about school/classes, any images that others could see as negative, or anything that they wouldn’t be fine with being posted on a public billboard with their name attached. Also, students should not post when emotional. I encourage students to write those feelings down somewhere else, not online. Finally, students shouldn’t retweet or repost the posts of others that might be inflammatory. Once someone posts something that someone else has said, that student “owns” that post as if they’d been the original poster themselves.
It’s important for them to know that most companies use social media for hiring and pay attention to grammar and spelling in addition to the content of posts. So, I also talk to students about using social media to create their brands. Crafting an online brand means that they identify what makes them compelling or different and communicate those things to the world. Ways to create a brand online include blogs and social media posts that help define who they are and what they have to offer as a professional that others do not.
15. Utilize the “Memories” tab on Facebook to bulk edit your old posts
Cat Smith, Get Social with Cat
It’s so easy for students to put something out on social media that they’ll later regret. Almost no one has a spotless online presence. Now, Facebook accounts can go back 10 years. Yes, that is 10 years’ worth of old opinions, emotional moments, random polls that accidentally give out personal data. Just imagine going from ten years old to twenty in today’s online world. It could be very embarrassing.
One of my favorite features of Facebook is the “Memories” tab. This page is available on the left side menu under “Explore” or via the lower right menu in the app. Conveniently, your notifications and feed will give you a reminder that “you have memories”, so you don’t have to remember to visit that page every day.
Once you’ve clicked through to the Memories page, you will see all of the posts you made every year on this day, going back to when you joined Facebook. Trying to clean up your web presence as a whole can be a daunting task filled with anxiety. This is a convenient way to go back in time and take out things you wish you hadn’t said or shared.
You should always be hyper-vigilant about what opinions you share publicly because even if your profile is set to “private” and you pick and choose your friends, posting online is a PUBLIC forum. Think of the Memories Tab as your personal time machine to go back and fix the small mistakes in your digital footprint.
16. Create profiles on high domain authority websites
Sameer Somal, Blue Ocean Global Technology
Online Reputation is everything. We are presented with opportunities based on our reputations. Today, we interact with friends, family, and colleagues largely through text messages, email, and social media, where perception and reality are often confused.
Google and other Search Engines have made it easy to search for anything online. The emergence of social media allows negative comments to be shared and circulated among large numbers of internet users. Students must take proactive measures to build a positive digital reputation; they must also prevent and address negative or defamatory content.
Some digital assets that can be considered for proactive reputation management include:
- Have an active social media presence and coordinated approach for sharing content on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google+, and Instagram.
- Do a Google Test (Google search) for your name and evaluate your online presence.
- Create profiles on high domain authority websites like Behance, and about.me, resume.com to build an online presence.
- Set up Google Alerts or Mention Alerts to help you keep track of content being published and curated about you.
- Use Facebook privacy for permissions to tag you in a photo or status in order to prevent any reputational damage that an inappropriate image shared by a friend/acquaintance may cause.
17. Review your Google search results
Amy Kilvington, Blinds Direct
First, revisit your privacy settings and make sure your profiles have your desired privacy level. On Facebook, you can also see how other people view your page by clicking ‘View as’ on your profile. Often, all posts will be private and the only images that are publicly available are your profile and cover photos, so make sure any embarrassing pictures are also removed! An easy way to do this is to bulk delete photo albums that may contain images you don’t want new colleagues or hiring managers to see.
There are also tools available (both free and paid) to scan through your social media profiles and flag any potentially embarrassing, offensive, or controversial posts, including comments you’ve left on other people’s content. One to consider is Scrubber.
Search yourself on Google to see what content you rank for. If anything comes up that you’re not happy with, be sure to delete it from the appropriate website or social channel. If you don’t have the ability to do this, you can submit an EU Privacy Removal to Google. Once approved, certain web content that relates to your name can be deleted from the search results (although it won’t be deleted from the web completely).
18. For a fresh start, delete all social media posts before a given date
Justin Lavelle, PeopleLooker.com
Building a positive digital footprint takes more than a post or two in the morning. It is an ongoing process throughout each day that many people do not have time for. Cleaning up old social media posts to create a more positive digital footprint poses a major challenge for many students, especially when they have hundreds, even thousands, of posts over a number of years. If you would like a fresh start, begin by deleting all posts before or between given times. Additionally, websites like Hootsuite, TwitterDeck, and HubSpot allow users to manage their social media posts, track followers, schedule upcoming content, and more for little to no cost.
Join or create a Network Learning Space. A Network Learning Space, or NLS, is a community of like-minded people and/or professionals on social media and content sharing sites like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. who exchange experiences, tips, support, and resources for a given topic. Your NLS can focus on any one or more niches, ranging from video game walkthroughs to parents of children with autism. Not only will an NLS demonstrate your knowledge of something you are passionate about, but it can also increase your online network and build your digital footprint.
19. Avoid sharing content that you wouldn’t want your teacher or potential employer to see
Katy Lowe, Passion Digital
There are a few steps that students can take to ensure that their digital footprint is positive and won’t affect any of their future career prospects or opportunities.
- Don’t post negative, hateful, harmful, or offensive things on your social media page (you can search through your old content to make sure that none of this content still exists from when you were younger).
- Don’t engage with negative or harmful content.
- Remember that everything you post online can stay there forever, and could also be seen by anybody (“don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t show your grandma” is a good rule to follow).
- Avoid sharing content that you wouldn’t want your teacher or potential employer to see.
- Sometimes strong or controversial opinions are better left off social media – writing can easily be misconstrued or taken out of context.
- Ensure your privacy settings are set to what you want them to be (many people aren’t actually aware of what their privacy settings are).
20. Encourage positive online behaviors by teaching students password security
Victoria Merinda, HighSpeedInternet.com
An important part of creating a positive experience online is to educate your kids about online password security. Having their social media accounts or phone fall into the wrong hands could potentially lead to inappropriate things being posted on their accounts, or their information being compromised.
It’s important for family members to sit down with their children and explain the importance of the information they post online and how to keep their online accounts safe. One tip is to make sure you have a long password, which is a lot harder for hackers to figure out than a password that’s filled with numbers and symbols. Here is a pro tip from our report: You can choose stronger passwords like “goosegerbilcoffeeiphonepluto” instead of weaker ones like “Sc#[email protected]”. Why is the first option stronger? New guidelines show substituting numbers or other characters for letters doesn’t make passwords as hard to crack as increasing password length does.
Make sure your students or children are protected online. Though it may sound simple, creating a strong password and knowing the dangers of a hacked account are Internet basics that every child should know.
Once your student has spent some time online, it’s important for them to clean up their social media content regularly. This is especially important if they’re going through the college admissions (or hiring) process. Social media mistakes can happen to anyone, no matter how prepared they may be. So learning how to clean up those mistakes is a vital part of having a positive digital footprint. When students follow the steps above, they ensure that their online reputation is a positive reflection of who they are.
We want to hear from you! Do you have any social media clean up tips that aren’t mentioned in the list above? Has your child been affected by a negative digital footprint? Let us know in the comments below how other students can avoid the impact of a detrimental online presence.