social mediaDid you do anything fun this weekend? Maybe you had a little too much fun at the after-work happy hour on Friday, and now the whole office knows because someone tagged you in a Facebook photo. Everyone likes to cut loose on the weekend, but what you do in your free time is hard to keep secret thanks to social media. Between Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, it’s easier than ever to share every detail of your day-to-day life — including the details you might not be so proud of come Monday morning or job interview time. That’s why it’s important to understand how to manage and protect your reputation on social media.

Can an employer ask for my social media passwords?

Beginning in 2012, states began pushing for legislation to protect privacy on social networks. According to the National Conference of State Legislation, as of 2014 at least 18 states in total have enacted laws which prevent employees from having to reveal their account credentials to employers in order to get or keep a job. Many of these states also have protection in place for students to keep public universities and colleges from accessing their personal accounts. This includes asking that you log in and let someone look over your shoulder as you use your account. It is also good to know that giving anyone your password is a violation of many websites’ terms and conditions.

How can you protect your reputation on social media?

Although laws have been passed and many are in the works to prevent employers from directly accessing your accounts, it will never be illegal for someone to do a Google search and find your social media accounts. Anything you post publicly — or even what you post for friends to see, depending on who is on your list — is fair game. The good news is that you are in control of your reputation on social media. Here are some ways to protect that reputation.

1. Strengthen your privacy settings. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram are among the most widely-used social media networks, and all of them have privacy settings available for you to use. Facebook is especially important to keep on top of when it comes to privacy settings. Not only can you choose between “Public,” “Friends of Friends” or “Friends Only” to determine who sees what, but you can create custom lists or exclude specific people from posts as a whole or individually. You can also use the “View As” feature to see how your profile appears to certain people, as well as the general public. It is important to look at how your profile appears to the public often to ensure nothing shows up that you wouldn’t want just anyone to see. Google+ offers similar posting restrictions. Instagram and Twitter enable you to protect your feed so only your friends or followers can see your posts. It’s important to note that both Twitter and Instagram automatically set your posts to public, so you’ll have to go into the settings and adjust that yourself.

Want some help keeping things private? Many Internet security programs now offer some kind of social media privacy scanner to keep you on top of your social network privacy.

2. Think before you post. Probably the most obvious tip we could offer, but you would be surprised at how many people post without a second thought. Not all pictures need to be shared with your friends list, and some personal opinions are better left unshared. Worried about what other people are posting? Fortunately, on Facebook you have the option to review any posts you are tagged in before they can be linked to your name. To enable this feature, go to Settings and then click on Timeline and Tagging in the sidebar. You can also edit the settings for or remove past posts by going to the Activity Feed page. There, you can see all of the posts on your timeline, as well as filter for just posts made by yourself or others.

3. Google yourself. When you apply for a job, there is a high likelihood your potential employer is going to type your name into a search engine. The best way to ensure nothing negative pops up is to search for your own name. Look through the results, including the image results page. If you see anything that you wouldn’t want someone important to see, take action. If it is an old social media account or a post on a website, try to log into the account and remove the negative image or post yourself. Can’t do that? Contact the website administrators. You can also submit a form to have Google remove the link from its search results page. Bear in mind, this process may take some time. That’s why it is important to repeat this process every couple of months. You might want to check other popular search engines, such as Yahoo! or Bing, as well.

4. Use an alias instead of your real name. A great way to ensure your social media accounts don’t pop up when someone searches for you is to use an alias. Similar to the use of a stage name as a performer, those who are concerned about privacy can adopt a nickname for use while surfing the web. Keep in mind, some social networks such as Facebook have policies against using fake names. If you decide to use a name different from your legal name on Facebook, it’s wise to choose something that won’t raise too many eyebrows — such as an alternate spelling of your first name or your mother’s maiden name in place of your surname. If your job requires you to keep a social media presence, this can also be a good way to ensure you can maintain a separation between your professional and personal lives.

5. Be careful about who you add as a friend. In the age of friends lists and followers, it can be easy to forget that every username or avatar represents a real person. It can be tempting to connect with anyone, but if you are concerned about your reputation then you should be careful about who has full access to your posts. It wouldn’t be good to add the office gossiper as a Facebook friend, and you may regret letting your boss follow your Twitter account when the big game comes around and you use it as an outlet to vent about the home team’s loss. As strong as your privacy settings might be, unless you make every single post private, someone is going to be able to see. That’s why it’s important to remember to always add your “friends” with care to keep prying eyes at bay.

You can’t control everything that happens online, but you can do your best to protect your reputation on Facebook and other social networks. In addition to managing your reputation online, these steps may also help you protect yourself from identity theft by not allowing strangers gain access to your personal information. Although these tips won’t guarantee to give you a perfect social media reputation, considering it also depends on what you post, it will help you keep your social media accounts private from unwanted eyes.