Control Your Online Public Profile Using Social Networking Platforms

I just taught a segment in David Lazer’s Social Networking class at Harvard on how people can analyze and visualize their social networks. David invited the whole class to join him on LinkedIn and we noticed that a couple of students were hesitant to join due to security concerns. We have a very mixed audience of MPP, MPA, Midcareer and PhD students from all kinds of different industries – some of them from the military and security area. One of the students asked me: “Can you give me one good reason why I should join any of the social networking sites?” – given the background and affiliations of some of the students, I couldn’t come up with an argument why people should join – on the contrary I understand that some people need to keep a low public profile, so that not too much of their private information or details about their CV will become publicly available.

So I started to think about what are reasons why I have all my information uploaded to all kinds of websites? I have a Flickr page, an openBC/Xing profile, a LinkedIn profile, a personal website, a corporate website and post on my own blog and on our blog at the Kennedy School. Am I too open to give away this much information? On the other hand, I am not working in the military or security area, right?

It turns out that there are ways to control what people can find out about you. I talked with Bill Liao, the co-founder of Xing (formerly openBC) about this issue and he pointed me to the people finder search engine ZoomInfo. It is a search engine that gives summaries of people (Find tab) or let’s you create a more detailed profile online, so that recruiters, etc. can find you easier (BeFound tab). Controlling what you actually want other people to find about you comes with a price: pro version for $49/month. But it is definitely one way to control what information can be found about you and also a way to manipulate your online information.

I tried it and was surprised about the result (Remember, I have a at least seven different pages directly connected with my name where I actively produce content). Here is the result:

Ines’ profile on ZoomInfo.com

So there are four entries – one with the direct link to my Kennedy School subpage, but the others are from older sources tracking some of my (past) academic activities. That’s about it. Google on the other hand finds 13.200 different entries.

Another way of controlling what is found by Archive.com or Google seems to be to ask thems to take down some of your indexed information and not display it when people search for your name.

What are your thoughts on the dangers of having your information publicly available on social networking platforms? Are there any measures you take to avoid having too much information available for the rest of the world?

(hm… guess I just created another piece of publicly available information)

Check out also the Netgov Blog for additional comments on this posting.

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About Ines Mergel

I am Full Professor of Public Administration at the Department of Politics and Public Administration at University of Konstanz, Germany. Previously, I served as Assistant and then Associate Professor (with tenure) at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, NY. In my research, I focus on informal social networks in the public sector and the adoption and diffusion of digital service innovations in government organizations. I teach classes on social media management, digital government, public management, and social network analysis.

2 thoughts on “Control Your Online Public Profile Using Social Networking Platforms

  1. This is something that’s been on my mind a lot.
    I’m an artist, exploring my identity in very honest and intimate ways through my art online, and I am an ambitious career woman, in a managerial position, who has just been accepted to a graduate program at Harvard.
    I struggle with how much of my art I need to remove from online. I don’t like thinking that I have to ‘cut off’ parts of myself, but the art is so revealing, it could seriously damage my career plans.
    I think I’m going to “kill” my online self.
    Web 2.0 allows people to develop extreme or isolated components of who they are. (I think this is a good thing). Unfortunately, that can lead to a dilemma such as mine, when our online personas clash with our more complex and traditional real time lives.

  2. Ines,

    I have also been thinking about this subject lately. I have posted much information online and have been actively promoting my own “brand” through LinkedIn, Ecademy and others, while trying to control the online profile so that what is found, is what I want to be found.

    You have a great blog on this subject and you clearly are a thought leader in this area. Thanks for sharing your views with us.

    Jim Rowland

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