I just did a Google search of myself. Save one entry, the entire first page of results, including my website, blog, LinkedIn profile, FaceBook page and other information was content created and controlled by me. Had you done that search before I set up various social networking pages a year ago, you would have found the amusing photo of me in the early 90s with a lot of blond hair, still hosted on a website of a friend in St. Cloud.

While that photo is not exactly baring it all in Cancun, it is also not what I want to show to anyone looking to hire me. Jumping into social networking has many potential pitfalls but it gives you the opportunity to control more of the early-page search results for yourself and your company. While I agree with Dan Kelly’s earlier post (The Rise and Fall of Social Networks?) that social networking sites are “clunky, inefficient and inhospitable,” they are one of the most critical spaces to take control of our reputations and brands.

Setting up a firm page on FaceBook or a LinkedIn profile takes control of your personal or business brand. Establishing social networking policies (among my advice is never FaceBook or Twitter after even one martini) addresses the privacy and discretion gap that is a big part of inter-generational issues. Boomers and above tend to think sharing pictures of themselves on the information highway is similar to putting their personal details on a billboard. They have a “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” mentality. Millennials will happily share photos of themselves at the proverbial slots, whooping it up.

Hoping social networking will go away while letting your unhappy staff or customers control the cyber reputation conversation is naïve. Take control of your personal brand through social networking and hide in plain sight.

Wendy Nemitz, Principal, Ingenuity Marketing Group