Social Media in Public Works 101 - Your Online Profile

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As we found out in my last blog while creating our Gmail account, it doesn't take long before these sites start wanting to know more about you. This can be intimidating to those of us who work in public works because normally our motto is "keep a low profile." We are the "behind the scenes crew," making sure everything is running well while the world goes about their business. And we like it that way.

However, in today's world we are beginning to see that this approach has worked against us. When things go so well and no one understands why, they don't realize what it takes to support that effort and the people behind it. So our revenue and salaries and positions get cut — you all know the story; you're living it everyday. So, yes, telling the world a little bit about yourself might be against everything you've been taught. But, in the end, it might be worth trying if it can help reinforce in the public mind the importance of what we do.

Your online profile — the username

Enough about the philosophy behind why we need to tell the world about ourselves. Let's get into the details of how we do that. Typically an online profile will include a username, a short paragraph about yourself, and a photo. Let's start with the username. We already had to choose one during our Gmail expedition. And if you continue on in this journey, you'll find that almost every social media site asks you for a username. So first, you should think about whether you want to use the same name on every site or change it depending on the site.

There's several thoughts on this. If you end up active on many sites with the same username, your username can end up branding you. People will become familiar with you, your ideas, your thoughts, and your interests. So when they see your username on a site, they have an understanding of what you are all about based on your online activity. Of course if someone else signs up on a site with the username you normally have, there is a risk your personal brand could be compromised. And few of us have the celebrity status it would take to allow us to contact the site and ask for the username to be transferred to us. This is why some people choose a name and then before going forward with it, check to see its use across social media platforms. You can use services like knowem or NameChk to see the availability of a specific username.

There are others who aren't interested in creating an online image or brand of themselves — they just want to participate in the online conversation without worrying about what others think of them. They aren't interested in protecting their name or in consistency in their online activity. The risk with this approach is that we are still in the beginning stages of knowing the results, or consequences, of our online activity. Perhaps doing whatever you want without a care about the image you create will someday be the norm. But for now, most professional people I know are treading cautiously online. They take care in what they post and how they portray themselves. One reason is employers have been known to disregard potential employees because of what they posted online.

And finally, there are those who aren't interested in creating an image or participating in the online conversation. In this case, creating the same username on every site is probably not that important. In the end, the direction you take with your username will be up to you, depending on what is important to you and your level and type of participation.

Your online profile — the photo

As we also found out in my last blog, social networking and browser-based email sites like Gmail want to know what we look like. They typically ask us to upload a small photo. While at first you might be hesitant to do so, having your photo tied to your profile is important to better reinforce your connections with people. So what you'll need to decide is if you want to use an actual photo of yourself, or use some other image to represent you. Remember, this is for work-related purposes, so using a photo showing you partying or worse, passed out, is not wise. If an actual photo is what you want, find one that shows you in a safe, neutral setting. If you decide to use some other image, pick one that will not offend anyone else. Something related to your work is probably a good idea.

Once you have your image in mind, you must prepare it for the sites on which it will be displayed. Typically, these photos are shown as a small thumbnail image on a website so they do not have to be large or high-resolution. If you are familiar with image-editing software, open your image in your favorite graphics program. For those of you who might not be very familiar with photo editing software, you can always use free online tools like Once you get your photo into the program, crop out any portions of the image you wish to eliminate. Resize the image to 120x120 pixels with a resolution of 72 or 100. Give this file a name like myprofilephoto and save it as a jpg or png file somewhere on your computer where it is easy to find. Then the next time a site asks for your profile photo, you'll be ready.

Your online profile — personal summary

Finally, these sites want to know what you are all about. They usually ask you to fill out a quick summary about yourself in 100 words or less. If you're joining these sites for professional reasons, this summary of you should focus on work-related information. While some people include the name of their employer and exact location, others choose to remain more vague. This decision is also yours to make. Perhaps if you have any reservations about sharing your life's details, you might want to start by using vague references such as "engineer for a mid-sized community on the East Coast," or "salesman for a small distributor in the water treatment industry," or "operator of a 4-mgd wastewater facility in the Western U.S." As you become more comfortable on a specific site, you can always go back and edit this information, adding more detail.

Some sites do ask your age and encourage you to state your gender. Usually you can turn this information on or off or make it private or public so you only reveal what you choose.

One additional tip for your personal summary: It might be a good idea to type it in a simple program like Wordpad. Then save and name it so it's easy to remember, using something like "mywebprofile." Then each time you sign up on a site, you can find the file and copy and paste the information. This also helps to make sure that no matter where people find you online, your summary will always be the same.

And that's it! With your username, photos, and personal summary, you're ready to join online sites!



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About the Blogger

Pam Broviak

thumbnail image A former senior editor of PUBLIC WORKS, Pam Broviak publishes the Public Works Group Blog at (All views expressed in this blog are her own and not those of PUBLIC WORKS.)