Freelancers, will a social media check-up of your posts kill your prospects?

Social media can be a great tool for creative freelancers for many reasons – including having an opportunity to showcase your work, creating a personal brand or presenting yourself as an expert in your field.

A regular (online) socialite...

‘Going social,’ while keeping up your social media presence on a regular basis as a self-employed creative, can also help you build contacts; develop a community or network for collaboration and potentially, it can even land you new and lucrative opportunities.

But use of social media profiles by freelancers can easily straddle being both personal and professional, creating blurred lines for what is or is not appropriate to post or share, writes Alex Gunthardt, founder of employment screening services firm CV Insight.

In the running? It’s already too late to check your own social media

Generally speaking, the key for self-employed people not wanting a post from the past to come back and bite them when they go forward for work is to be conscious of your social media content from the outset.

So while it might seem natural to check your social media accounts when you definitely know that you’re in the running for a new opportunity, reviewing your social media presence should be actioned well before any lead-generation or commission is in play.

Present the best version of yourself

As many creative freelancers may also be approached directly to fulfil potential briefs, ongoing social media management is key to presenting the best version of yourself online at all times.

The ‘checking out’ of your online presence by a prospective client is not as sinister as it might sound, however. In fact, one of the main reasons such clients might complete social media checks is to get an insight into if you could be a good culture and values-fit for the company – even on a freelance, temporary basis.

The six social media platforms most likely to get trawled

However, any client representative browsing your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and/or TikTok, will of course take note of any extreme views or opinions you’ve expressed. The categories such views tend to fall into include Hate & Discrimination; Inappropriate / Undesirable content; and Illegal Activities (including addiction and substance abuse). Violent content; or sexually explicit content, are arguably even bigger red flags.

Traditionally, social media checks on candidates were conducted om would-be employees during the pre-employment screening stage. But in 2023, freelancers will need to be mindful of how their social media presence might impact their search for commercial work.

Where are social media check-ups prevalent?

Remember, at their most basic level, social media checks that freelancers face will retrieve publicly available information on the six main social media platforms (named above), with a view to providing insight into the freelancer’s background and character. While we recommend freelancers be conscious of their postings, we are aware that these checks are considered particularly important in regulated industries. Similarly, going forward for work with a company that conducts work of a sensitive nature, where the brief or assignment may involve access to sensitive information, will increase the probability of a social media check being conducted on the freelancer.

Over at security services firm CareCheck, their managing director Charles Eason confirmed to me that industries where DBS Checks are compulsory or heavily advised, are big on their social media check-ups.

He further advises that sectors where the worker is due to engage directly with vulnerable people, children, or money, are increasingly keen to vet their candidates’ digital footprints too. And perhaps to be expected, social media checking is the norm where the job-hopefuls are applying to be in the public eye. So sports teams and political parties, Eason says, and even company or brand spokespeople.

Top tips for doing you online, without hurting your career prospects

My top tip for FreelanceUK readers? Share your personality in your social media activity -- by all means be authentic, but you should strive to keep your views neutral – particularly when it comes to personal views on politics, news items, and any controversial trends.

If you are any doubt over whether or not the content you’d like to immortalise in the Twittersphere or elsewhere online is appropriate, err on the side of caution – and simply don't post it. Even with issues that you’re passionate about (and perhaps especially with issues you’re passionate about), check whether you’re clearly showing respect by demonstrably being mindful of others. Think twice about how things can be perceived. Employ the same caution and consciousness when sharing, commenting on, or being otherwise linked with other people’s posts.

Review your social media settings

Are you a compulsive poster, or hooked on TikTok? If so, check your privacy settings and turn on the options for reviewing/approving tags. By doing this, you add another chance to check what is being associated with you and your online profiles, before it is pushed into the public domain.

Even if your social media presence is small by your estimates, we recommend you run a ‘Social Media MOT.’

First, do a Google search of your name with relevant factors such as location, industry, and job title or skill/occupation. What comes up?

Second, critically and objectively review the results as if you were the prospective client. How do they look?

Third, get rid of anything which either doesn’t align with who you are now or could be deemed as inappropriate. Remove these offending posts, or delete anything from your linked historic social media activity, including anything you have shared, commented on, or been tagged in which may deem you a ‘risky’ hire in the prospective client’s eyes .

Lastly, beware that ‘delete’ doesn’t always mean it has been deleted

Finally, be aware that once it’s out there, it’s sometimes out there forever! In other words, while you can of course manually delete the original post, you cannot control where that initial data has been viewed or potentially saved. Frustratingly, if you did sound off about a celebrity interview that you didn’t like; an advert that drove you bananas; or a politician’s gaffe you just had to highlight to your followers, any ‘deleted’ information can still potentially be recovered, particularly if someone at the client-organisation is looking hard enough, and is armed with the right technology. Post prudently freelancers!