Your mother always said that you’re judged by the company you keep, and nowhere is that more true than online. Social media — including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other sites — have connected people from all over the world who might otherwise never have met. And while that is a good thing in many ways, connecting with anyone who crosses your path is not the best way to build a solid online image.
Spambots and Fakes
Almost everyone who has joined Twitter has received a message like this: “(Fill in name here) is now following you on Twitter!” To those new to Twitter, this is an exciting message, especially to a professional or organization trying to build a following for their products and services.
And then you check your new follower’s profile — and that excitement turns to disappointment. The person doesn’t have a bio (or his bio is decidedly fake), has only a few followers when he follows thousands, and has only posted a few random tweets — mostly links, quotes or nonsense. While you appreciate seeing your overall follower count climb, when the vast majority of your followers are spammers or bots, your image suffers. Potential followers who are doing their homework before connecting with you may disregard your profile, believing that you too are a spammer or have nothing important to say.
The problem with fake connections is not limited to Twitter. Almost everyone on Facebook has received a friend request from a member of the Nigerian royal family or some other random person they’ve never met. LinkedIn, Pinterest, Goodreads and nearly every other social media site have also been infiltrated by spammers looking to gather information and spread malware. For all of its benefits, social media have become a potential minefield for those who only want to connect with real people.
It’s not just fake profiles that can harm you, though. Real people, those you know both in “real life” or simply online, can harm your online status. Perhaps it’s your uncle who shares his strong political opinions on your timeline every day, or a high school friend who tags you in posts about inappropriate behavior “back in the day.” While you can mitigate some of the damage that these connections can do to your reputation by limiting your engagement with them and untagging yourself from offensive content, someone who is determined to sully your reputation may use your connection to an offensive person or group against you. Use caution and do some investigating before hitting the “accept” button when you receive a friend request.
Choosing Who to Follow
When someone you don’t know follows you on Twitter, or sends you a friend request, human nature dictates that you probably want to make the connection — you want to be polite, after all. Before you click the button, though, do some homework to determine whether you actually want to be associated with that person.
- Review their profile. Is the profile complete, i.e., with a name, location, Web address and bio? Avoid following those without a photo (or who obviously use a stock photo for their avatar), since chances are they aren’t real. And never follow someone who doesn’t include a full bio but leaves the field blank or simply includes a link — it’s probably spam.
- Read their previous tweets and posts. Does this person have something interesting to say, or does he simply retweet others’ thoughts, share quotes or blatantly promote spam? Does he tweet every few minutes — or save his 140 characters for meaningful and valuable information? Constant tweeters with nothing to say will only clog up your feed. On Facebook, review the potential “friend’s” profile. Who is he? Who are his friends? If you’re suspicious, send a message asking for more information about him and why he wants to connect with you.
- Compare the number of followers they have to the number of people they follow. If someone follows 4,000 feeds, but only has a few hundred followers of her own, she probably isn’t going to help you accomplish your goals.
- Focus on connections that share your values. If your follow or friend lists are full of controversial figures, or biased toward one side of an issue, public perception of your opinions will be skewed.
If someone follows you that you’d rather not be associated with, you have the option of blocking that person. Blocking blatant spammers not only keeps your follow list “clean,” but it also helps Twitter and other social media outlets identify those who aren’t using the service for its intended purpose.
Maintaining your online image requires more than choosing your own words and posts carefully. The people that you connect with can also influence public perception of you, so be cautious with your connections.