CINCINNATI — It’s a perfect paradox for the 21st century: The internet is both ephemeral and eternal.
Although posts vanish off algorithm-scrambled Instagram feeds in seconds and a quick double-tap is enough to delete an ill-considered Facebook post, almost nothing is ever really gone. Deleted tweets may still have been screencapped, spread and filed under receipts; web pages that no longer exist become ghosts in the Wayback Machine.
Victims of revenge porn and celebrities who once joked about provocative topics have learned this the hard way. As more Americans adopt social media platforms earlier in life — about 88 percent of people 18-29 use at least one social media site — the likelihood grows that a future partner, boss or friend will see old posts.
Leslie Rasmussen’s Xavier University course on social media strategies teaches students how to use the rising tide of always-online life to their advantage. Creating a distinct “personal brand” may be a vaguely dystopian exercise in packaging a person as a product, but it’s also an increasing necessity in an Internet-oriented culture.
The first step: looking critically at what you’re already doing.
“You’ve got to start thinking about these social accounts as a way to help you rather than to hurt you,” Rasmussen said.
She asks students to write six words describing what they would like their social media presence to convey and then ask themselves honestly if what they’ve already posted accomplishes that goal. Often, she said, it’s “eye-opening.”
A student who hoped to come off as professional may have posted pictures of herself chugging beer. Another who wanted to convey a relaxed, friendly attitude with her no-makeup selfies and tweets about eating nachos in bed might just seem messy.
And excessive posts about politics, TV shows and personal events on a professional account? Those just muddy the waters.
“I understand social media is important to connect with others, and not just in the professional realm, but what I think students often forget is that there are security controls,” Rasmussen said. “You don’t have to have a public profile.”
Rasmussen herself keeps her public Twitter account professional and her more personal Facebook account, which she uses to connect with family and friends, private. Creating that separation is a good way to prevent embarrassment, she said.
Other pieces of advice she gives to everyone:
- Ask yourself: Is my post informative, engaging or entertaining? “If it’s not one of those three things, you probably don’t want to put it out there.”
- Think about why you want people to follow you and tailor your posts accordingly. Do you want to become a great account for news about comics? Post about those — not about your lunch. (Unless Superman was there.)
- Make every public post something you would be comfortable with your mother seeing. There’s a chance she will.
Xavier senior David Saunders, a public relations major in Rasmussen’s class, said he hopes his personal brand is empathetic, motivational and inspirational. To that end, he posts pictures of his life’s biggest inspiration (his mother) and jokes to make his friends smile on his Facebook account.
The profile picture on fellow senior Maddie Ramion’s locked Twitter account is of her, barely visible as a head emerging from a blanket cocoon, looking at her phone. In her header, the cast of “Queer Eye” looks at the picture askance.
Ramion said Rasmussen’s class has made her realize the importance of having something more professional and accessible available to the world, but the prickliness of some online communities can make having a public presence intimidating.
“I think that’s why my content might be lacking a little bit,” she said. “Because I’m so overly cautious that I don’t come up with my own content.”