Whether it’s a celebrity Twitter feud or a corporate social media disaster, we’ve all seen how online posts can flare up into huge news. But you don’t need to have started an international career-ending media storm to have your online presence wreak havoc on your professional life.
In fact, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled in recent years that employers can justifiably fire you for comments you make on social media, even if they had nothing to do with work. Meanwhile, a recent CareerBuilder survey found that 48% of hiring managers have found something on a potential hire’s social media account (such as inappropriate photos or discriminatory comments) that caused them to pass on that candidate.
Yet, though most of us know that terrible tweets and Facebook faux pas can cause trouble, that doesn’t seem to prevent the occasional slip-up. Plus, even if you monitor your activity, friends can quickly unravel your image by tagging you in questionable posts or pictures or leaving less-than-palatable comments on your account.
So what do you do if you’re feeling a bad case of social-media remorse? We asked a few experts to outline the steps to take if you find you need to do some damage control and reclaim control of your online brand.
Step 1: Figure Out ASAP Who’s Likely to See and Take Issue With Your Post/Tweet/Instagram
You attended an epic bachelor party on Friday night and, in a less-than-sober state, you captured the highlights on social media—including that 3 a.m. trip to a racy club that would make your boss cringe. What now?
You’ll want to assess quickly not only how many people—and which ones—may have caught wind of it—stat. “If only one or two people saw it, but it’s the ‘wrong’ one or two people, you still have a problem,” says Miriam Salpeter, a social media strategist and founder of Keppie Careers.
If your faux pas happened on Twitter, you can use the app’s analytics feature to see how many impressions a tweet has (i.e., how many users saw it) or engagements (i.e., how many times someone liked it or retweeted it, for example). Though it doesn’t list the users individually, it’ll give you a sense of how viral the tweet became.
If your lapse in judgment happened on Facebook, you may be able to deduce which people likely saw your post in their News Feed. As Facebook explains it, what pops up on a user’s feed is influenced by who they engage with the most, as well as how many comments or likes the post generated. So if you’re in the habit of liking your boss’s Facebook posts, it’s much more likely she may have seen yours. But if you haven’t interacted with her in the last several months or don’t see her show up much on your feed, you could (fingers crossed) be in the clear.
But the only way to be 100% sure someone saw your post is if you actually noticed that they commented on it or shared, liked or favorited it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. So …
Step 2: Get Rid of the Evidence
We know, we know—nothing is ever truly gone from the Internet, right? But still, the first line of defense would be to “immediately delete said post,” says Bill Fish, founder and president of ReputationManagement.com.
So here’s a quick cheat sheet on how to do that across some of the most common social media platforms:
Facebook: Go to your Activity Log. From there, you can delete a post, hide it from your timeline or untag yourself from any questionable photos. (Better yet, ask your best buds if they’re willing to delete any photos of you that they posted.) For further control, you can enable your privacy settings to review posts or photos your friends tag you in before they hit your public timeline.
Twitter: Go to your tweets, open the offending tweet, choose the ellipsis symbol and hit “Delete Tweet.”
Instagram: Go to the incriminating photo, tap the ellipsis shown beneath it and hit “delete.”
LinkedIn: Go to the regrettable update and hover your cursor over the time stamp on your update. You’ll see the option to delete in the drop down menu.
Google+: Click on the post you wish never existed, click on the menu icon (the three vertical dots) and select “delete” from the drop-down menu.
Depending on how bad your social media slip is, you might be tempted to delete your entire account—but unless you’re being threatened, that might be an extreme move. “Shutting down an account admits defeat and basically looks like you are hiding from the issue you caused,” says Fish. “Why delete any good will you have built with your posts over the years? Simply go in and scrub your account to get rid of anything that could be offensive.”
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that what you’re trying to cover up won’t live on in screenshots, shares or similar photos from oblivious friends who can’t stop trying to relive the moment. This means you may have to keep doing some digital triage (more on that later).