I was lucky enough that when I was 20 social media barely existed. This means, much to my relief, any mistakes I may or may not have made have simply become hearsay.
You are not so lucky.
You may think you're too cool to care what your future employer thinks right now, but someday you will need to/want to grow up and your posts on social media WILL come back to haunt you.
Social media has become for young folks what a diary was to me back then. The difference is my diary is now locked deep inside a storage bin where no one can read it.
Social media may be a diary for you, but to your future employer, it is a resume. Would you put how "crazy" you got last Friday night on your resume?
It is VERY hard to earn and deserve respect as a young professional. Are ‘likes’ worth making an already difficult endeavor harder?
Here are some things to consider before you put up your next post:
First, it is never OK to harass or threaten people online, even if you think it's just a joke. You can't always hide behind that computer, and even if you feel it’s not to the point of harassment, in the least you can be classified as a troll. That is not a compliment.
Ask yourself this: Can you trust everyone in your friends list to keep your secrets to themselves? To never get angry at something you post? If your “friends” are only people you have known since you were a wee lass or lad, good for you! The majority of people have mostly acquaintances in their friends list and you should consider how easy it is for someone you turned down or upset to take a screen shot and make that post public only to haunt you in 3 years when you want a job.
Just say no to posting provocative photos on social media. You’re in your late teens/early 20's. You are adorable. We get it. We all were at that age. This is not unique to you. I’m not saying you should be ashamed of that, but it's just not necessary to put it in places where you can't take it down. Would you make that your LinkedIn profile picture? Employers WILL Google your name and look for you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. These photos are much harder to delete than you realize.
Don’t spill about your break-up all over social media. You likely just experienced the loss of a first love. We all remember how rough that is. Young loves are hard to get over and we all get a little crazy when our hearts are broken. At that age, I did paint-by-numbers to pass the time until I healed. Lucky for you, paint-by-numbers still exist and it’s a much better alternative that you won’t be ashamed of in a year. Hey, it may even end up decorating your bathroom wall while you're in college!
DO NOT discuss drugs or alcohol online. Just no. This is just common sense. If this is something you do, STOP and delete it now!
Hyper-opinionated posts. There are ways to share your thoughts, passions and beliefs without attacking the views of others. As a professional, you need to find ways to get along with people that have drastically varying beliefs. Don’t establish at 21 that you are incapable of this. Aside from what your potential employer may think, have you ever heard the saying “You attract more bees with honey than with vinegar”? We support you having opinions but we also believe in getting along.
Don’t use profanity on Facebook. There is no value in cursing on social media. “What the heck?” gets your point across just fine.
You cannot sum up a complex issue in the limited characters of a meme.
Health issues. There are some things in which you need support. Social media is fabulous for that. Your circle of friends can support you through difficult times like they never have before. This is wonderful. Women and men are discussing topics that, in the past, they had suffered through alone. It has united us in ways we couldn’t have imagined in years past. However, there are some things that belong in your diary and that you may not want out in the universe later in life. Choose wisely, my friend.
I understand that it's very hard at your age in this digital world to understand the difference between things that should or should not be shared. The world has opened up to you in ways that 18-year-old me didn’t even dream of.
Let social media help you, inspire you, educate you, and support you, but don’t let it destroy your professional future.