Unlike LinkedIn, Facebook is not classified as a “professional social network.” For the most part, it’s a freely social place—a spot online where you can stay in touch with friends, family members, significant others, and other personal connections through multiple channels. However, just because Facebook favors the personal rather than the professional doesn’t mean that it has no impact on your online reputation. Many employers run background checks starting with searches for employees and potential hires on Facebook, and some Facebook pages or posts can appear on a simple Google search of your name.
As such, having a clean and “professional” Facebook profile is important, even if you don’t intend on ever using your Facebook for professional purposes. The major challenge here is that Facebook is vast and multifaceted. Unlike your LinkedIn presence, which is mostly defined by your profile page and your connections, your Facebook presence is sprawling, reaching back through years of posts, comments, photos, shares, and engagements. If you’re ready for a Facebook cleanup, where is the right place to start?
Getting Started: How to Start Cleaning Up Your Facebook
To keep things manageable, start by focusing exclusively on your Facebook profile. A lot of people—especially young people who have had Facebook for years and years—don’t update their “About” info very frequently. As a result, there could be profile information that you filled out 10 years ago that is still there today. That information isn’t particularly reflective of who you are now.
Here are a few profile segments to review.
The Profile Photo: Look at your profile picture. One of the cardinal sins that people commit on Facebook—in the eyes of prospective employers—is display photos that make a poor impression. Photos depicting drinking, drug use, nudity, or unlawful activity are all ill-advised. Group photos, while not harmful, aren’t great because they make it hard to identify you. Unlike with LinkedIn, you don’t have to upload a headshot to make a good impression here. However, you should opt for a clear, high-quality picture that looks flattering and makes you easily identifiable.
Your Cover Photo: The cover photo is a low stakes part of your Facebook profile. When done right, though, a good cover photo can add both personality and visual spark to your profile. Simply having an aesthetically-pleasing photo—preferably one that compliments the color palette of your profile photo—will do just fine. Alternatively, use a photo that reflects your hobbies, interests, or professional pursuits. For instance, a musician might have a cover photo of an instrument or concert hall. These personal touches help employers get to know you and connect with you on a more human level.
Your “About” Sections: The “About” section of your Facebook is the main body of your profile. This section is something of a mirror of LinkedIn, allowing you to display your work, education, professional skills, and contact information. You can also post other details, like an “About Me” section, links to your blog or website, political and religious views, favorite quotes, and other fillers. For the most part, you should just review these sections and make sure that the information is accurate and up-to-date. If you previously used your Facebook profile section to post jokes or make potentially offensive remarks, you should remove those details. In essence, take the opportunity to make your profile more professional, along the lines of what you’d do with LinkedIn.
The Next Steps: Going Back in Time
The big challenge with cleaning up your Facebook is the “Timeline.” Your Facebook account accumulates and saves everything you’ve ever posted to your Timeline. This huge hub of data is why nostalgic apps like TimeHop—which collects every post you’ve made to Facebook or Twitter from a certain day—work so well. However, it’s also why things you posted on Facebook years ago can crop up in Google searches or get pulled up when employers are researching you online.
If you don’t want anyone to dig up the skeletons from your Facebook past, you are going to have to go digging for them yourself.
Pruning Old Photos
Start by sorting through your photos. Photos are a trouble area for many but tend to be especially problematic for recent college graduates. Pictures of you at parties or at bars might seem fun when you are hanging out with friends on the weekend while in school, but in the professional world, such photos don’t necessarily reflect well on a young professional. You’d be better off leaving those photos on your phone or your hard drive.
Luckily, Facebook makes it pretty easy to look back through all the photos you’ve taken and posted over the years (as well as anything you’ve ever been tagged in by friends). Take an hour or two to look through each and every photo on your profile. If anything objectionable shows up, either delete it or un-tag yourself. You want to make sure that photos showcasing immature, inappropriate, offensive, reckless, or otherwise unprofessional behavior don’t have an impact on your online brand.
Doing Quality Control on Your Old Posts
Sorting through everything you’ve ever posted on your Timeline will be a longer project, and may or may not be entirely necessary. You will have to be the judge, here. If you know you have a history of posting things that may reflect poorly on your character on social media, then you probably need to set aside an afternoon to scroll down your Timeline and do damage control. If you tend to be a bit more measured in your posting, you might be able to get away with just going back through the past year or two to review the content that employers are most likely to see.
Either way, here are a few things to look for:
Misspellings and poor grammar
Posts openly criticizing colleagues, co-workers, bosses, or managers
Racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive jokes
Any posts that could be deemed mean-spirited
Shared content that no longer reflects your views
Posts about political, religious, or otherwise contentious topics that could bias an employer against you
Posts featuring particularly heated or inflammatory comment threads
Spam posts or signs that your account was hacked
“Oversharing,” or posts where you reveal too many details about your personal life
This list is by no means comprehensive. However, it does cover a fair number of the post types that can damage your online reputation, either with prospective employers or with the general public. Ultimately, the best advice is to trust your gut. If there is a piece of content on your Facebook profile that you wouldn’t be completely comfortable with future employers or colleagues seeing, delete it now.
A Word about Privacy Settings
Cleaning up your Facebook profile is a worthwhile task for anyone. However, if you would prefer not to have employers or other non-friends looking at your Facebook in the first place, you can make use of Privacy Settings to protect yourself.
You can access your Privacy Settings in the upper right-hand corner of your Facebook page by clicking on the lock icon. Here, you can decide things like who sees your posts (anyone, just friends, only certain networks, etc.) and what happens when you get tagged in new posts or photos. Using these settings is a good way to give yourself more control over your Facebook. However, if you want to make yourself as visible as possible online, making your Facebook profile private won’t help.
Author: Michael Klazema has been developing products for pre-employment screening and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for Backgroundchecks.com. He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries.