First impressions were once based on an initial encounter. You could carefully select the clothes you wore, make sure your hair was fixed just how you liked it, and double-check to ensure there wasn’t food in your teeth.
Nowadays, a person’s first impression of a potential employee, business, or even date begins online with a click of the “search” button. Controlling and monitoring this means more than a simple mirror check, but it could be the deciding factor in even obtaining a first meeting – and the chance to make the “right” impression.
The New World of First Impressions
The Digital Age has brought about many changes, including how we learn about each other. Information spreads through word of mouth and the Internet astoundingly fast. A simple Google or Facebook search can return mountains of photographs (not all flattering), criminal records, satellite images of your home, and records of employment. Everyone has access to this, and most tend to use it.
How many times have you received a pitch from someone and immediately sought out his LinkedIn profile, reviews of his company, or his Facebook page? What impression did you have? And how did that affect your response, or lack thereof? Human resources professionals frequently use this research to vet potential hires, but the “Internet check” is also bleeding over into personal relationships. Many people are seeking information about a significant other, a first date, and even friends.
Businesses that solely rely on word-of-mouth advertising to promote their companies are counting on individuals to share and spread the “right” message. This is a dangerous tactic, as human beings tend to remember negative occurrences more easily than positive ones. A few negative statements and an inconsistent web presence could be the only impression a person ever has of the company.
The Dangers of the Internet
The Internet can be a treacherous place for your reputation, even if you only share seemingly innocent information. A prime example is former Miss New Jersey, Amy Polumbo. Some of her private Facebook pictures were used in an attempt to force her to give up her crown. The pictures used didn’t involve any “rule-breaking content,” but she was forced to release a statement – and the pictures – to diffuse the embarrassing situation.
There is also less innocent content that people make the mistake of sharing online. If you have a large number of pictures showing you drinking and partying, mixed with check-ins galore at bars or nightclubs (especially on weekdays), it paints you as irresponsible, reckless, and even juvenile. Katie Rees was dethroned in 2007 when lewd MySpace pictures of her surfaced. Although she claimed they were taken years before she was crowned Miss Nevada USA, once you post something on the Internet, it’s there forever.
If you have a blog or website where you spread gossip or post negative political or other opinions, this can be seen as undesirable behavior as well. Spreading malicious rumors can sometimes even result in legal action. Sheena Monnin, former Miss Pennsylvania USA, was charged $5 million in damages after spreading the false rumor that the Miss USA 2012 pageant was fixed, allegedly resulting in the pageant losing a sponsor. With most websites, even if your name doesn’t appear on the page, your identity can be ascertained, and you can easily be seen as a representative of that product or information.
On the flip side, a lack of information online can also be negative because it makes potential employers wonder whether you have any real-life experience or are involved in your community. A lack of an identity online can translate to a lack of an identity, period.
Focus on What You Can Control
With your reputation left to a listing of 10 search results or the banter between you and a few friends on social media, how can you control that all-important first impression?
Don’t let the risk involved with indirect first impressions make you shy away from the public eye. Instead, put enough positive information out so that when others hear something negative, they are quicker to dismiss it. Having a profile on LinkedIn, Google+, or other business-related websites can be a positive way to share your experiences, expertise, and interests. Newspaper articles about you, club memberships, or other philanthropic activities within your community can show you’re a leader and a credible individual.
In your personal life, don’t share every little thing online. Facebook is like a public diary, and no matter how good those privacy settings are, an incriminating photo can always slip out. Furthermore, many hiring managers pay to gain access to “non-public” features of profiles, rendering your attempts at privacy pointless.
And finally, don’t participate in incriminating activities! Be the person you want to be perceived as. If you want other people’s first impression of you to be up to a certain standard, live up to that standard. If you know there’s already something public that could be perceived as negative, be transparent and proactive about offering an explanation.
You wouldn’t throw on a pair of sweatpants or forget to brush your hair before a job interview or a meeting with a potential client, and the same concept goes for your online presence. A lack of attention to this will ultimately decide whether you get the meeting, land an interview, or are even asked out for a second date. Don’t let a bad online impression prevent you from the chance to make a great face-to-face first impression.