These are just a few of the many social and professional networking sites that exist right now, and the connections are widespread. I don't know a single University of Chicago student who isn't on Facebook right now, and that includes CAPS (search for the CAPS Facebook page and you can join our group or become our friend, whichever you prefer).
So many individuals are using networking sites like these now, that the lines between you and your e-persona can begin to blend together. Your persona is "a person's perceived or evident personality, as that of a well-known official, actor, or celebrity; personal image; public role" - your e-persona is all of those things, on the internet. And thanks to the widespread use of networking websites, it's not just well-known officials or celebrities who have e-personas anymore - it's everyone.
So what's the problem? All of my friends are on Facebook. Some CAPS staff members even have their own pages. I'll even introduce my e-persona to your e-persona, what do you think?
The potential pitfalls of all of this on-line networking are examined in a recent article from the journal Science. In the article, the author, Peter Fiske, warns of the dangers of putting too much information out onto the internet - and what the consequences can be. Fiske states, "Even if you refuse to sign up for any social-networking sites, there is information about you on the Internet. Are you familiar with the term 'vanity Google'? If not, search online for it, then search for your name. It’s interesting what comes up, isn’t it? This is your e-persona: the record of yourself as preserved and presented on the Web. Every employer considering hiring you will likely search online for your name. I do it with everyone who makes my shortlists."
Yikes. A quick Google search of my name revealed some photos of me from a friend's birthday several years ago, beer bottles proudly displayed in each one. Is this a huge problem? Maybe not, but the last thing I want a potential future employer to do is look at those photos and think "Candidate A looks like a party animal. Let's go with Candidate B."
It's not all bad - as Fiske points out, "the use of networking sites can help you find contacts in companies or organizations that interest you through your network of friends and colleagues (and the people they know)," and you can also use these networks to find out when opportunities open up in an organization that you are interested in working at.
Bottom line: In order to take advantage of the doors that a networking website can open for you, be sure that the photos or comments on your profile won't result in those doors being slammed shut.
Do you have tips or questions about keeping your on-line profiles professional looking? Post them here. And don't forget to visit CAPS on Facebook, to link keep up to date about upcoming events and resources.