It’s a new year and a great time to shape (or reshape) habits, including your online presence. Everything you post online becomes part of your overall brand and communicates what you represent to current and potential employers, professors, friends and even romantic interests, etc.

Rules to post by. Own your online presence.

Rules to post by

Keep the following in mind before you post online, and you’ll be on your way to building a digital brand that truly represents you!

Personal information

You wouldn’t share your Social Security number online but what about other identifying information? Is your full birthdate listed on your profile? Phone number? Address? Hometown, etc.? Be mindful about what you share and consider what you might be revealing in your posts.

For example, posting “I’m SO excited to hit the slopes next weekend” will automatically communicate that you won’t be at your home in Birmingham the next weekend. This could make you a target for someone to rob your home. Not only could sharing these personal details signal to future employers that you might be a security risk, it also puts you personally in a vulnerable state.

Pictures and videos

Imagine an image or video you want to post ends up in a presentation in front of your entire future company, a family gathering, reporter’s search results, etc. What would the content say about you? Are you comfortable with this idea and image following you?

Background content

Look at the background of images and videos and notice any distractions or inappropriate items that don’t match what you are wanting to communicate. Edit the photo or pick another one that’s a better fit.

Questionable or even illegal or immoral? Be smart.

What activities are you documenting with this photo or video you want to post? Even if it might seem innocent or funny in the moment, ask yourself “will it still be in another context or time?” Across the country and world, people have lost credibility, damaged their reputation or even been fired for images and content they post. Don’t risk it; be safe.

Remember the golden rule

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, you really shouldn’t say it behind a screen. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Even private messages can be shared and disclosed, so choose your words wisely and say only what you are comfortable with anyone, and everyone seeing.

Be positive

The tone of your posts can infer a lot about you. Are you always happy, positive and uplifting or complaining, critical and cynical online? What will the tone of your online brand convey about you now and in the future?

Be authentic

Post things that represent you. “Like” and share things you are proud of and want to be associated with. Keep in mind that your profile, including pages or people you like, can be seen by others. Double check what information you have out there; be sure that it accurately represents you and set your security settings to a level you are comfortable with.

If in doubt, toss it out

If you ever aren’t comfortable with something, don’t post it. Delete your draft or alter it to better reflect what you intend to communicate. If you come across something from your past that you don’t like, delete it. While the information may live on forever online, it will be harder to find.