“Branding” used to mean burning your emblem into something, like a wooden sign or a cow’s butt. Although it still means the aforementioned, it has also come to mean influencing the public’s perception–either of you, your company, or the product you’re offering.
Now, here comes the difficult part: if you have a Facebook profile, you are already a brand. You, personally. You are being judged on what you post, and with whom you associate, because these are factors that make up your brand identity. That photo of you doing a keg stand? Part of your brand. Your half-informed political rants? Brand. Those smarty-pants, anti- (or pro-) religious tirades? Brand, brand, brand.
Some people take this very seriously, and they employ high standards for their brand’s quality control. For example, I’m sure WAY more of my friends like Billy Joel than admit to it in their musical “likes.” They’d rather admit to liking The Velvet Underground, because it better supports the hip narrative of their brand. These same people may enjoy that photo of you with your aunt, but they’re reluctant to like it because they want their brand to only be associated with edgy photos, or ones taken in other countries, or ones involving cats from Brooklyn.
Others look at Facebook like a middle-school diary, where (with inconsistent capitalization and punctuation) they vent about “drama,” home wreckers, and why The Voice was better last season. Believe me, I get it: we joined Facebook to keep in touch with old friends, and to have an online “trading card” that represents us. But, over the years, the same pattern happened to Facebook that happens to all successful websites: corporations (including some of your future employers) saw an opportunity, jumped in, and peed in the pool. Nowadays, Facebook is more of a corporate marketing resource (we already come right out and tell them what we “like”) than social network. We can all move to a different pool, but if it gets popular enough they’ll pee in that one as well.
The answer, then, isn’t to keep switching pools; it’s to decide beforehand what our brands will be, and to act consistently with those brands. If you’re OK with being known as “that guy who constantly makes jokes about colostomy bags,” then don’t look back: joke away! If those overused, poorly-written “e-card” rectangles really do sum up your thoughts and opinions perfectly, then great! Regardless, however, you should know in advance how you want to be perceived by potential employers. Anything outside of that desired image should be saved for personal interaction rather than puked all over the internet. Until Google glasses get more popular, personal interaction is still relatively safe. I know, the thought of actually talking to your “friends” is daunting, but that’s reality. Chances are, that’s how your parents met, unless they’re sixteen years old.
Of course, Facebook does have certain parameters you can set regarding who sees what of yours, limiting your overly-personal or risky posts to your inner circle. Please remember, though, that:
A) Many people got their jobs from people they already know, people who can see all of their profile posts.
B) Your “friends” could be making screen captures of you in your moments of poor judgment. Maybe they’re sharing them elsewhere, or maybe they’re keeping them “just in case.” Either way, keep your guard up.
C) Your word-of-mouth reputation is heavily influenced by what your inner circle sees. If your inner circle is still seeing your thong, they may be talking about it, even to people you’ve blocked.
Like it or not, you are a brand. Define that brand for yourself, and then stick to its parameters. Happy kegging!