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Advice / Job Search / Networking

23 Mistakes Even Smart People Make Online—and How to Fix Them Fast

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You’ve probably heard just how important it is in this day and age to have a strong online presence. If you’re a job seeker, it can help you stand out among other candidates. If you want to be known in your field, it can help you tell a story about who you are. And if you’re building your network, it can help you connect with people you never would have had access to before.

But did you know there are ways in which your online presence could be hurting you?

That’s right—you want to make sure that everything from your Google results to your social profiles or personal website to the way you interact with others is sending the right message to your contacts (and future contacts!). Read on to learn some of the mistakes we often see when it comes to connecting, networking, and presenting yourself online—and how to fix things fast if you’re making one of them.

Personal Branding Problems

1. You Haven’t Defined Your Brand

Simply creating profiles on all of the major social media platforms does not a personal brand make. In fact, one of the most common mistakes is jumping into representing your brand online—without having a clear understanding of what your brand really is. But skipping the prep work will not only make your work harder, it’ll also make it more difficult for folks to get a clear sense of who you are.

The Fix

Time to put all your tweeting, ’gramming, and blog writing on pause until you sit down and clarify what your personal brand is. We’ve found a pretty great personal branding workbook here that will guide you through step by step.

2. You’re Only Thinking About Your Past, Not Your Present (or Future)

Often, the information that’s out there online relates to what you’ve done in the past—jobs you’ve had, articles you’ve written, awards you’ve won. And while this is all great stuff, you want to make sure others get a clear sense of who you are now—and who you want to be in the future—so they can align you with the right opportunities for you to move forward. This is especially important if you’re looking to make a career change.

The Fix

Start by looking at your various bios across the web. Do they accurately represent where you’re trying to go, or do they simply present a laundry list of accomplishments from the past? If it’s the latter, try one of these more interesting approaches to your bio. Then, use this new version as a guiding principle for the rest of your online presence.

3. You’re All Over the Map

Maybe you’re tweeting about celebrity gossip one day and education reform the next. Or maybe your personal website presents you as a marketing strategist, while your LinkedIn profile makes you seem more like a copywriter. Yes, there are a lot of facets of who you are, but inconsistencies in your personal brand will leave people a little confused—or make you look unclear as to what you want.

The Fix

Remember: Your online personal brand doesn’t have to represent everything about yourself. Grab a sticky note, write out a short sentence describing who you are and what you want to be known as, and then hang it at your desk. Then, glance at it every time you post something new or revamp a profile to make sure it aligns.

4. You Don’t Refresh Your Brand From Time to Time

Of course, just because you think being a thought leader in employer branding or tweeting about sales industry news is important to your brand now, doesn’t mean that will always be the case. As you move into new jobs or develop new ideas of how you want your career to grow, it’s important that your online brand changes as well.

The Fix

Every six months or so, put some time on your calendar to revisit your brand statement. Does it still feel right? Does it still represent the most important aspects of your professional self? Revise as necessary to make sure your brand stays accurate!

5. You’re Not Authentic

There’s nothing more obvious than a fake personal brand. You’re clearly not enthusiastic about what you’re posting. You just copy what others in your industry are doing or play into fads you think will help get you more attention.

The Fix

When it comes to your online brand, do what feels right. For example, I have a friend who hates Twitter—she knows her posts there will feel forced, so she skips it altogether and focuses her energy on other social platforms.

6. Your Tone Is Off

When making a professional online presence, people often fall into the trap of sounding robotic or overly formal in their posts. Worse is when people try to sound authoritative—but end up sounding mean.

The Fix

In everything you write for your personal brand, challenge yourself to write like you speak, which will help keep your tone sounding natural.

Google Result Guffaws

7. You Never Google Yourself

Hiring managers considering you for a job, that stranger you just reached out to about a networking coffee meeting, the person who thinks you might be a great fit to collaborate on a project: They’re all Googling you, and you should be, too. After all, you want to know what these people are seeing when they look you up!

The Fix

Every month, take a second to Google your name (make sure to do it in a private browser or incognito mode to be as accurate as possible!). Scan down at least the first page of search results, as well as the first page or two of image results, looking out for red flags such as…

8. Your Search Results are All About a Person Who Isn’t You

This is an all-too-frequent problem—especially for people with common names—and a tough one to crack. But it’s definitely worth trying to fix it; you don’t want someone looking for more information on you to have a hard time finding you and give up, or get you confused with the serial killer who happens to have your name.

The Fix

Consider whether adding a middle name or initial to your moniker would make you easier to find—or try some other tips from Lily Zhang on getting found online when you have a common name.

9. Your Search Results are Dominated By Irrelevant or Embarrassing Stuff

Okay, so maybe all of the results are about you—but they don’t exactly fit your brand anymore (read: that Survivor fan blog you started eight years ago).

The Fix

If it’s content you have control over—like that blog—great. Take it down or, if you want it to stay live on the web, put it under a different name than the one you use professionally. If it’s content that someone else owns—like an article you wrote for your college newspaper that you’re not super proud of—ask if they can remove it or put it under a pseudonym. If they won’t, your best bet is to create new content on higher-ranking sites to bump down the stuff you want hidden. Make sure you have profiles on the main social media networks (these tend to rank highly), and don’t make the next mistake…

10. You Don’t Have a Central Hub on the Web

A personal website or other landing page of your work can really boost your search results, not to mention your personal brand at large. If done right, this should show up on the first page of the results for your name and give you a place where you fully control the content that’s being put out there about you.

The Fix

Make yourself a personal landing page! It doesn’t have to be a long, dreadful process—in fact, you can get a simple one up in just an hour. Carve out a little bit of time, and follow our instructions for building a single-page site.

Social Media Mess-Ups

11. You Only Talk About Yourself

While, yes, you want to use your online presence to help people learn more about you, people will get fed up fast if you’re just singing your own praises all the time—and un-follow you faster.

The Fix

People like to see the value for themselves when they follow others on social media, so think about ways to provide a benefit to your followers—think sharing interesting articles or inviting people to come to an event you’re hosting. For a bonus challenge, every time you write something about yourself, schedule a post calling out something awesome someone else did!

12. You Never Talk About Yourself

The opposite of the above problem is just using your social media to share great articles or cat GIFs but never sharing your opinions or accomplishments. But, done well, it’s totally OK to toot your own horn once in a while.

The Fix

If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like talking about yourself, this can be tough to get used to, so start slow. At the end of every week, think of one task or idea you’re proud of—and share a post about it on your favorite platform.

13. All Your Posts are the Same

It’s easy to get in a rut with social platforms and quickly start sharing the same type of content in the same format over and over again. I know I’ve had weeks go by where I look back and realize all I’ve tweeted are Muse articles with the title and link—not very engaging for my followers.

The Fix

People are most likely to enjoy following you if you share a variety of content in a variety of ways. Try writer Aja Frost’s 30/30/30 rule to mix it up: roughly 30% original content, 30% retweets, 30% engagement. Also, have fun adding pictures, or even GIFs, to your posts!

14. You Post About Controversial Things

Social media—especially Twitter—can quickly become a podium for you to voice your opinions on controversial topics. It’s as easy as retweeting a smart comment from someone else, and you’ve suddenly entered the conversation. And while this can be a good thing, engaging in hot topics can be a red flag for future contacts or employers.

The Fix

Just keep the political or hot-button talk off your social accounts. If you need an outlet for talking about these topics, text a friend or create an account totally removed from your name and primary online identity to engage.

15. Your Copy Is Full of Typos

Just like your resume and cover letter, the content on your social accounts is a reflection of your attention to detail and ability to communicate effectively. And a stream full of grammatical mistakes and typos can really send the wrong message.

The Fix

We know how easy it is to whip up and submit a post on Twitter or LinkedIn. But challenge yourself to stop and read it one more time before publishing it—ideally out loud to yourself to up your chances of catching mistakes. If you want to be super pro about it, carve out some time every week to write up and schedule all of your social posts at once. This will give you a little more time and focus to review what you’re writing, helping you avoid last-minute errors.

16. Your Photo Doesn’t Match Your Brand

There are a lot of bad profile pictures out there. We’re talking selfies, corporate headshots that look straight outta 1994, clearly-cropped group photos with a floating arm, and more. But remember: A photo is often someone’s primary online impression of you—so you don’t want it to be unprofessional or misrepresent your personality.

The Fix

Getting a great shot doesn’t have to be expensive—but it’s worth putting some time into finding or taking the right one to use everywhere. Check out this advice for getting a great professional photo, totally free.

17. You Won’t Even Look Outside Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn

You know the main social media sites, but have you looked into using Periscope? Snapchat? Instagram? More fringe social media sites may not be the most obvious choices for your professional brand, but, depending on your industry or personality, they could be great avenues for showing off a different side of yourself or networking with new people.

The Fix

Whenever there’s a hot new social media app out there, sign up for an account and play with it for a day or two. At most, you might find a great new way to share your brand online. At least, you’ll have a working knowledge of what’s going on in the online world (which never hurts). If you do decide the service isn’t for you, just make sure to delete your account to avoid the next problem.

18. You Have a Lot of Dead Accounts

On the second page of my Google results is a link to my profile on Vine—where there are four posts from two years ago. Accounts like this don’t necessarily hurt your brand, but they dilute it a bit—not to mention present a dead end to someone looking to learn more about you.

The Fix

Many sites like this will rank pretty highly in your Google results, so as you’re looking through them, take note to deactivate any sites like this. The only reason to keep them would be if they’re pushing down other content that you definitely don’t want found or helping you win over others with your name—in which case you might want to bulk them up with a little more content.

Online Networking No-Nos

19. You’re Not Engaging With What Other People Post

It’s so easy to get on Twitter or LinkedIn, write up the post you wanted to share, and then leave—without ever engaging with the network you’re building up on those sites! In fact, with so many social scheduling apps out there, you never have to even look at your feed to post to your account. But paying attention to what other people are talking about is critical to using your online presence to build relationships.

The Fix

From now on, every time you log onto your favorite social site, make an effort to also engage with someone else on the site—whether that’s by retweeting something they’ve written or commenting on it to share your thoughts.

20. You Still Send the Generic Invite to Strangers on LinkedIn

As a rule, I don’t accept LinkedIn requests from people I haven’t met who just leave the generic “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” text on the invitation. Some people may be more lenient than me, but it certainly won’t hurt your chances of connecting with someone to give a little context as to why you’re reaching out.

The Fix

We’ve made this really easy: Check out these 10 templates you can use when connecting with people on LinkedIn.

21. You Social Stalk Too Aggressively

Social media can be a great way to connect with people you otherwise might not have access to. But, just because you can easily find your personal hero on the web does not mean you should like everything that person posts on Twitter or try to friend him or her on Facebook. It can get creepy fast.

The Fix

Lily Herman’s advice on interacting with someone you admire on Twitter can be applied across the web—and you should follow it to a T in situations like this.

22. You’re Missing Out on the Conversation

Networking online isn’t just about reaching out to people directly—it’s about amplifying your voice on topics you feel passionate about to build your thought leadership and connect with people you didn’t even know you needed to know. So make sure you’re engaging in the wider conversation!

The Fix

Use hashtags in your posts to help other people find you—and search for the hashtags you use often to engage with other related posts! And if you haven’t heard of Twitter chats, it’s time to learn about them—and start participating in them.

23. You’re Never Getting Offline

Of course the ultimate goal of online networking is to build your offline network—so make sure you’re not connecting with a lot of great people but never taking it to the next level!

The Fix

After you’ve had a few good online interactions with someone interesting, ask for her email or DM her, letting her know you’ve been enjoying connecting and suggesting you grab coffee or hop on Skype to connect further. If it’s a peer, frame it in a way that’s mutually beneficial for the two of you. If it’s someone above you, be extra respectful of his or her time, offering to hop on a short call or shoot over a few questions via email instead. Just make sure your relationship isn’t stuck in a land of occasional tweets!