On the Internet, everyone knows if you’re a dog.

OK, I know what you are thinking.   He’s got it all messed up.  The original cartoon from the New Yorker  reads “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”.  Well that was in 1993 and now it’s 16 years later, we have Web 2.0 and social networking sites that were not even imaginable back then in full swing.  Facebook has more than 200M users, LinkedIn more than 40M, Twitter more than 9M, and the list goes on.  A month from now many of the numbers will have grown again dramatically. 

So where am I going with this?  Well if you are intending to network then you will find yourself using sites like LinkedIn and Twitter and Facebook or Myspace (which has been eclipsed globally by Facebook but still has more US subscribers).  Also, even if you are not intending to purposefully network, you may find yourself using sites like Flickr to share pictures with close friends.  Sites like Flickr are incorporating social networking tools that allow groups of users to congregate and share.

So unless you are purposely avoiding a lot of these sites then you are likely putting out a lot more information than you may realize onto the net.  Or perhaps you even realize that but haven’t given it a lot of thought?  I would like to take a moment to encourage you to give it a lot more thought.   A long time ago a good friend and colleague, Ed, told me that he thinks of every email he ever sends as being “public”.  That is, it could be published for the world to see, even if that was not his intent.  It’s a good way to view things since we have already seen countless examples of emails that were forwarded for enjoyment or even ridicule that were never meant to be shared with millions of folks on the net.

I have been having a lot of fun with the openness of this information simply because it has allowed me to do some great research on people I intend to meet.  I might find that they love photography and perhaps are enamored by pictures of nature, or even urban decay.  I can then use that information I learned to help strike up a conversation and relate to them on a more personal level.  I’ve even met people for the first time and had it be on or very near their birthday and been able to wish them happy birthday.  How do I find this all out?  Well it’s all part of what we willingly put out there as part of the social or professional networking that we do intentionally or unintentionally. 

Why should you be thinking of this?  Well the person that has the biggest control of your reputation is you.  These days, you can expect future employers will do some simple yet powerful searches on your background.  What will they uncover?  If you want to work on an on-line “brand” or “persona” then you may want to purposely leave your networks very open so that people can find it easy to discover you.  That’s fine but then give it some thought as to what they will find and keep thinking that way whenever you post.  Because once you put it out there, you can’t take it back. 

If you love Facebook and leave yourself searchable, will your future employer be amused or even impressed when they see what groups you have joined or read some of your rants and posts.  Or, will they be aghast and think this person is not the kind I’d want on my team, they look like a sexual harassment suit waiting to happen!  I don’t want to make everyone uptight.  I like to have fun on-line too.  But I try and be sure that generally if my mother suddenly joined Facebook, I would not be embarrassed by having her read all my posts/etc. 

So take the time to learn about the policies and privacy settings on the various sites you use.  If you are intending to be incredibly frank and perhaps a bit risque, then you should probably put some serious restrictions on how public your profiles and posts are (just remember, that even if you tighten down who can see your profile, sometimes your friends will share things you have done without your permission anyway).    Or, just give it the Mom test.  If your Mom read the post or saw your profile would you be embarrassed by it?  If not, then you’re probably doing OK.

Social networking on-line is a powerful tool that lets you have fun and expand your network.   Just remember that like a lot of other powerful tools, you can get hurt if you don’t use them carefully.

– Yeti.