Two weeks before national signing day, a time when high school seniors commit to play football for NCAA schools, four-star cornerback and top recruit Yuri Wright became the star of a social media scandal. Several of Wright’s graphic, sexual tweets hit headlines and almost ruined his dream of playing college football. The University of Michigan retracted its scholarship offer. Other universities also questioned their decision to sign with Wright.
Wright swore off social media and deactivated his Twitter account during the controversy. But that didn’t last long. After announcing his plan to commit to the University of Colorado, Wright launched a new Twitter page and gained nearly 1,000 followers in a mere two weeks.
Each day, more than 100 million global Twitter users post 250 million tweets, according to a 2011 report from CEO Dick Costolo. Like sports recruiters, future employers and admissions officers often sift through these social media streams while they perform background checks on applicants. In 140 characters or less, students can jeopardize their chance at their ideal career or dream graduate school.
A college environment can make it difficult to maintain a clean social media image. However, understanding the dos and don’ts of picture uploading and status updating is one of the best ways to avoid trouble in the Twitter world.
Sara Oelschlaeger, a junior at the University of Florida, was at a party when a friend tried to tag her in a tweet with references to alcohol. Although the 21-year-old was of legal drinking age, she asked her friend to not post the tweet. Earlier that day, Sara tweeted at a national company when she submitted her application for its summer internship program. To her surprise, the company replied, wishing her luck. With her dream company following her, she could not risk appearing unprofessional.
Sara may have avoided a potential Twitter tragedy, but others are not so lucky. Even A-list celebrities have suffered from social media slip-ups. During the recent Penn State scandal, Ashton Kutcher tweeted his outrage over the decision to fire head coach Joe Paterno. He later apologized for his hasty remarks, admitting he was unaware of the entire story before he voiced his opinion. Following this controversy, Kutcher turned control of his page over to his publicist.
“People might label you by what you say and who you follow. You have to know your audience. And the thing with Twitter is, your audience is everyone,” said Jill Skufe, career development coordinator for UF’s Career Resource Center.
The rules of Twitter are not an exact science. As students, graduate schools and employers begin to rely on the site even more as a networking tool, the line between what is appropriate and what is not continues to blur. Here are answers to some of the most common questions when it comes to Twitter.
1. Should I keep my Twitter professional?
Social media can be a great tool when used correctly. Twitter is an avenue for people to network, and it has become a method of interaction between professionals. When students join live chats, use hash tags related to professional organizations, ask thought-provoking questions and post appropriate articles, employers may be impressed, Skufe said. She advised students to avoid posting negative comments about people, or tweeting about controversial topics.
“Pick a person you’d want to make a good, professional impression in front of, and ask yourself, ‘Would I want them to see this?’” Skufe said.
2. How can I make my Twitter private?
Employers often tell UF Career Resource Center directors that they Google job applicants, Skufe said. This simple search can reveal your entire online world, especially if your email address is attached to a social media account. Skufe recommended that students enhance their online privacy settings. Twitter users can disguise their names so they are not visible through searches. They also have the power to deny or approve a follower’s request.
You can protect your tweets in three easy steps. Once logged in to Twitter, visit the page that lists your settings. Scroll down on the page labeled “Account” until you find a section marked “Tweet privacy.” By checking the box to “Protect my Tweets,” only those who are approved to view your Twitter will be able to see what you post.
3. Twitter and alcohol are not a good mixture.
The next time you’re about to tweet that picture from happy hour, remember who is watching your every social media move. Context is the most important thing to remember when deciding if a post is appropriate, Skufe said. For example, employers will likely view a picture of a 21-year-old with a drink at a social gathering differently than they would a snapshot of your friend’s beer keg Halloween costume.
In general, stay away from references to drugs or alcohol, and avoid pictures of revealing poses or outfits, Skufe said. Your future company could be one of the 44 percent of companies that track employees’ social media use in and out of the office, according to a 2011 study.
4. What’s the deal with Twitter and swear words?
One of the most popular Twitter accounts of the moment is called “Shit Girls Say.” The page has over 1 million followers, many of them college students. Something as simple as re-tweeting a post from one of these accounts could give employers the wrong impression, Skufe said. Her main advice to college students: Always err on the side of caution. Students should be mindful of participating in hash tags that contain language that would be inappropriate in a work environment, Skufe said.
However, this rule has an exception. If the setting of your dream job is a less formal environment, your employers may be tolerant of such language. Focus on your target audience when deciding how to present yourself online, Skufe said.
Have you ever had a Twitter mishap? Share in the Comments section below!