Juli Brinksman pictured 'flipping off' the President of the USA's motorcade

I’m still meeting lots of people who think that they have two profiles on Social Media. It usually goes something like this: ‘I use LinkedIn for my professional network, and then Facebook for my friends and family’. Sometimes it goes further:’I wouldn’t want people in work to see what I’m up to in my social life!’

Unfortunately, that’s simply not the case. Everything you have put in the public domain through social media, and any other type of publishing you’ve done (and stuff you might not be aware of, like newspaper reports) is out there for even the most cursory of observers to see.

I’ll let you into a little secret, I’ve not employed anyone over the last 10 years or so with out first checking out their social footprint. Facebook, Google+ Twitter or Blogs, podcasts, even a general Google search throws up enough information for you to be able to make an assessment of someone in exactly the way an employer would like to do so – with you in an unguarded, open and honest state. Sounds like spying doesn’t it? Well, apart from the fact you are complicit in the sense you’ve put that stuff out there and are willing for other people to see it (through your privacy settings etc.) it is…

It so mainstream now, the news is full of stories of people who’ve actually lost jobs, most recently and extremely high-profile, making the news around the world, is the story of Juli Briskman who was fired from her job after being pictured ‘flipping off’ the president of the US’s motorcade, passing her on her bike.

Juli Brinksman pictured 'flipping off' the President of the USA's motorcade

Juli Brinksman said she had no regrets about the public attention Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Juli’s bosses called her in and let her go after she herself raised the issue with the company’s HR department. Up to that point all the pictures had appeared in her ‘personal’ profiles. The company cited policies banning ‘lewd or obscene’ things in her social media as the reason for her sacking.

Speaking as an MD myself, and as someone who has employed hundreds of people of the years, I am amazed every day at what some people put up in their feeds, even digitally aware people who really should know better!

And it’s not so much the case that you might get into trouble. Though that might be reason enough to be more aware of the digital footprints you are leaving behind you as you consume and share content. Bear in mind we have recently seen that there is no ‘statute of limitation’ on this stuff either, with recent high-profile cases of people brought low by accusations from 10 and 15 years ago. Whether those people have any guilt or not, their digital footprint, the image an observer might take of them after a glance through a Google search, is indelibly inked with the allegations and stories that have been run.

For most people I guess these issues wont be a big deal. Most of us beaver away at our jobs, and live our lives in glorious ignorance of what other say or think about us. We aren’t subject to the scrutiny of the ‘media’ and think nothing of posting uncensored pictures and forwarding on licentious meme’s to our friends. But I think, if you have ambition to progress in your world, to run a business or management or even some kind of fame and fortune, you need to be aware of these things and take a proactive stance as early as you can.

Think about 5 years time, 10 years time. What will you be doing? What will you want to achieve then? As a young carefree ‘lad’ or ‘ladette’ (do they still have those?) pictures of you and your friends drunkenly enjoying all your fine city has to offer may seem harmless. But you’ve seen those viral posts in Buzzfeed of embarrassingly drunk men and women falling around, being ill, and generally misbehaving? Whats to stop your pictures ending up in one of those in a year or two? At least totally embarrassing you, and worse, maybe the company you work for?

Arguably even worse are those ‘concerned citizens’ sharing those pictures of people who have been accused and tried only by social media of horrendous crimes. By sharing those images and adding to the story you yourself are potentially breaking the law. You don’t know that person, you don’t even know that the picture you are sharing is the person that’s being referred to in the post!

Newspapers get this wrong all the time. Printing misattributed images that wrap completely innocent and unconnected people into awful court cases, or even brand them as convicted criminals. Even worse, imagine your profile picture or your fancy dress costume showing up online with you being identified as a terrorist! Think that’s far-fetched? Thats what happened to this man.

There is also an opportunity here too though. Taking control, at least as much as you can, is something we can all do. Making sure you post things with a view that strangers, or a future employer, or a journalist could be watching, and the things you post could be used ‘against’ you is a start. But also consider it in a more positive way. What about deliberately posting things that show you in a positive light?

We aren’t very good at self promotion in the UK are we? But I think its time we grew up about this stuff. Taking control of the conversation online is essential for everyone from kids leaving school, to CEO’s of major companies.

Never has the power of the ‘influencer’ been greater, or the opportunities for influencers more available. So how do you position yourself as an ‘influencer’? How do you take advantage of the tools the internet has given us as well as safeguard yourself from these future time bombs?

Think about the image you want to portray. Think about what you need to be known for, famous for if you like. And think about how your footprint, your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Soundcloud, etc. think about how all that content you can produce can tell a story about you that you are proud to share.