Are there embarrassing images of you on Instagram? Or are you tagged on Facebook in a photo from a friend’s bachelor party that you wouldn’t show your grandmother? Maybe you once took to Twitter in a fit of frustration with a thinly veiled insult directed at your boss. Or your inattention to LinkedIn makes you seem unconnected.
Like it or not, a projection of you appears online—whether you’re engaged with its active curation or not. And if you are a serial poster, what you choose to share reflects your discernment and judgment.
That’s why business schools have adopted the trend set by job recruiters to inspect your social media presence. They want to know if the profile presented in your resume and application is consistent across your personal and professional identities. This means your social media imprint should be aligned with how you perceive your personal brand.
At Fortuna Admissions, prompting clients to review their online presence has become an early-stage practice, since the overall narrative that emerges about you through social media can either harm or enhance your credibility as a candidate.
Here are six top tips to consider before submitting your MBA application:
#1: Do your own online audit. Start with a Google search of your name (in all its forms) and try multiple search engines like Yahoo or Bing. Remove or edit inappropriate content if there are any mentions about you on the first few pages that could hurt your application. Also try viewing your social media channels from a public perspective (logged out) to see what, and how much, pops up. Which is likely to prompt you to tune those ever-evolving security settings (see tip #3).
#2: Delete if you have doubts. Review your history of comments, photos and posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blogs, or other social sites for publically viewable content that could reflect poorly on your personal brand. Beyond the obvious—profanity, drug references or sexual comments—screen for rants or laments that veer into TMI (too much information). Social media persists in blurring the lines between personal and professional, so err on the side of caution. And while shorthand has become acceptable across electronic media, profiles littered with spelling and grammar mistakes won’t inspire confidence about your communication skills. Do keep in mind going forward that even if you delete content, your digital footprint can have a far greater impression than you might imagine.
#3 Update your privacy settings: If you’re someone who seizes the opportunity to quip spontaneous, unfiltered messages about how you’re feeling in the moment – which social media was designed to do – be sure to actively manage your privacy settings by controlling who can view these inner monologues. And while you can control your own comments and photos, you can’t always control what others post or share about you. Make sure to manage settings so that you must approve posts by others that include your name or tagged photo. In the age of digital photos and video, it’s just as possible that somebody else can post images of you that you don’t want the admissions office to see.
#4 Exercise discernment. The reality is that social media is not temporary. So while you’ve prudently deleted that handful of borderline posts from the past and set your privacy to known circles, it’s time to curb any bad habits like empty over-sharing. In the day of screen shots, even what you think can be deleted, can also be saved. So be wary of tools like Snapchat that suggest your content is temporary. Nothing is temporary anymore. Again, your social media footprint can be indelible.
#5: Maximize your professional profile. As a baseline, keep your LinkedIn profile up to date – business schools expect that you’re a good networker, and your well-developed LinkedIn presence supports an image of professional visibility and engagement. Consider seeking some recommendations on LinkedIn to give additional weight to your profile. While this may or may not be picked up by Admissions, it will likely be viewed by potential post-MBA employers. Next, follow and engage with your target schools (on LinkedIn, but also Facebook and Twitter). This allows you to keep up-to-date and connected with the latest school news as well as deepen your knowledge of each institution. A well-positioned and considered comment may even catch the admissions committee’s attention. LinkedIn is also a strategic channel to contact alumni networks or groups, whereas using Facebook wouldn’t be appropriate.
Take it a step further by following the individuals and groups driving the conversation in fields you purport to be passionate about, such as social innovation, renewable energy or microfinance. Similarly, exercise caution about who and what you choose to follow or like. It’s all visible, which is where your discernment comes in: While b-schools aren’t going to screen out candidates for their political views (unless racist or extreme), know that following, liking or engaging with controversial groups or pages can become a tricky issue.
There’s no need to get paranoid that admission officers will be trolling your blog archives or ancient Facebook photos. They have a hefty workload, and any online audit is likely to be brief. But a quick skim can impart incoherence, or, alternatively, a compelling personal brand.
Ultimately, your savvy engagement is fairly simple. Think about it like going to a cocktail party with a nametag on: If you wouldn’t discuss something in person, don’t talk about it on social media.
by Lisa Bevill, Director at Fortuna Admissions and former MBA Admissions Director at IE Business School in Madrid, Spain.