Social networks have emerged as an open outlet for individuals to share anything from what they’re eating for breakfast to links, opinions, pictures and videos. But how many people think about what impression these online profiles are giving to outsiders?
A recent study by MENA job site Bayt.com found that 70.5 per cent of employers in the region have changed their mind about a candidate after researching their activity on social networks.
Indeed, just as the popularity of sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn has grown,  so too has employer’s willingness to use them as a research tool, with 42 per cent of those polled in the Bayt.com survey indicating they always research a new employee on the internet before hiring them.
“The Bayt.com ‘Personal Branding in the Middle East and North Africa’ poll has revealed that before you even step inside the job interview, most employers will have reviewed your online professional profile, read your public Facebook wall and taken a look at your last 20 tweets,” says Suhail Al-Masri, VP of sales at Bayt.com.
While many of us may have opened accounts on Facebook or Twitter as a means of staying in contact with friends, without any consideration for our ‘personal brand’, it is increasingly important for social network users to take control of how they present themselves.
A perspective that particularly rings true given that nine out of 10 respondents to the company’s survey admitted turning to the internet to search for people they’ve just met or are about to meet. 
And this means – much like in the physical world – managing our public image.
Those drunken photos at a party or nights out in fancy dress are great to share online between friends, but for any current or would be employer they are likely to reflect badly on the individual. This is particularly true in the case of Facebook, which has around 56 million active users in the MENA region. While the social network does now allow users to view their profile from the perspective of the public, and therefore manage what can and can’t be seen, a recent change has removed the option for users to prevent outsiders from looking them up by name using the site’s search function.
There is also no option for users to hide both their profile photo and cover image, and given that nearly 80 per cent of respondents to the Bayt.com survey said that they believe an online photo effects how they are perceived, it is important to make sure these are not inappropriate.
Managing privacy also means managing who your friends or followers are and being aware of who can see what, as one teacher in the US found out.
Ashley Payne was fired from her job at Barrow County, Georgia in 2009 because of photos and status updates she posted to her Facebook account. Despite Payne’s account being set to private, the photos of her drinking alcohol were brought to the attention of the school’s principal because she was friends with some of her fellow teachers on the social network.
In another example of social media management gone wrong, Twitter user Connor Riley found herself out of a job she hadn’t even started after her tweet – “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.” (sic) – was responded to by a Cisco employee offering to pass her comments on to the hiring manager.
A PERSONAL MARKETING PLATFORM
Yet while these examples show how social networks can work against an individual’s employment prospects, when used in the right way social media can also prove advantageous.
The overwhelming majority (92 per cent) of respondents to Bayt.com’s poll said that personal online branding increases their career opportunities, with 23.2 per cent finding the means to showcase their abilities most important.
Professional networks like LinkedIn have built-up around this concept, allowing individuals to create an online profile of their employment experience, look for jobs and maintain business contacts.
“More and more professionals are joining LinkedIn to establish their professional identity, connect with their network of professional contacts, and access the insights and information they need to be better at the job they have,” says Richard George, corporate communications manager, EMEA at LinkedIn.
In a recent survey of its Middle Eastern audience, 67 per cent of LinkedIn’s respondents said the social network helps them build relationships and drive new business leads, with career opportunities marked as one of the most sought after content types by users of the platform.
“At the same time, employers are realising that LinkedIn gives them access to the best talent, even if those professionals aren’t actively looking for a new job. For our members this means having access to potential new career and job opportunities that could have otherwise passed them by,” adds George.
Overall Bayt.com advises those looking to use social media to help their employment prospects or find work to do so in a very smart and conscious way.
“We advise them to use professional platforms that allow them to showcase their education, experience, qualifications and skills, rather than other personal information that is best kept private or shared with friends and relatives only,” says Al-Masri.