Social media: Students should take care with their online history

University of Georgia basketball player Connor Nolte is using social media to promote himself.

ATLANTA — He has a website, a blog, a YouTube channel and he’s on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

If you want to know University of Georgia student Connor Nolte, 23, of Milton, Ga., take your pick. It’s all there for the world to see.

Done the right way, social media can be a boon for high school students and young adults such as Nolte seeking a coveted internship, employment in the tight job market or a slot in this fall’s freshman class.

But college admissions officers and employment experts say it also can have the opposite effect.

Dan Rauzi, senior director of technology programs for the Atlanta-based Boys & Girls Clubs of America, said he has seen it happen.

Rauzi recalled a cautionary tale delivered by a Holland, Mich., senior at a recent youth conference. After a run-in with a school official, the student went home and, in frustration, posted a note on his Facebook page asking, “Do we now have permission to brutally murder” the principal.

Although the student was accepted into college, Rauzi said, he faced felony charges that were later dropped and was given in-school suspension, fines and community service.

The student told his audience it was “11 words that changed my whole life.”

“As a parent, especially of two Division I athletes, there’s a lot of fear about that in my household,” said Kurt Nolte, Connor’s father.

And for good reason. In addition to playing an ever-increasing role in people’s personal and professional lives, social media use also is playing a role in job and college application decisions.

Charleston-based Roper St. Francis Healthcare is among those employers taking advantage of social media in its hiring process. Krista Robertson, interactive marketing manager, said employers can discern various details about a job candidate before a regular interview is scheduled.

“Social media is playing an increasingly larger role in the hiring process,” Robertson said. “It has allowed employers to get a more in-depth view of the candidate. Social media can really give you a glimpse of a person’s personality, their interests, community involvement and how they conduct themselves overall.”

Adell Hutto, employment supervisor for Roper St. Francis, said human resources doesn’t check social media sites as part of the screening process because they “can distract decision makers and lead them to make choices based on misleading and irrelevant factors” rather than focus on qualifications and experience. “While we do not use social media to screen applicants, we do use it to source applicants. As more applicants get tech savvy, we’ve had success sourcing via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, reaching candidates we might not get with traditional print campaigns.”

It has become increasingly common for employers to scour social media profiles to learn more about job candidates. Almost one in five people surveyed in the U.S. are going online to find jobs, but many are nervous about potential fallout from personal content on social networking sites, according to a 2011 survey by global workforce solutions leader Kelly Services.

And according to Jieun Choe, executive director of college admissions for Kaplan Test Prep, a 2011 Kaplan survey found that 24 percent of admissions officers checked applicants’ Facebook or other social media pages, up from just 10 percent in 2008. Of those, 12 percent said they found something that had a negative impact on an applicant.

Choe said students should be mindful of their digital trail. Her advice to students?

“Google themselves,” Choe said. “The Internet has a really long memory, so this isn’t just about a specific phase in your life. This goes beyond college admission. It could impact your reputation, your job choices.”

That impact doesn’t have to be negative. Connor Nolte has used social media to brand himself the way corporations do, playing up the positive.

His website, www.connor, pictures him on the University of Georgia basketball court, with this simple message:

“My name is Connor. I play basketball at the University of Georgia. I graduated with a degree in marketing and am currently working on my master’s degree in sport management. I hope to combine both degrees to work in sports marketing in the near future.”

The graduate student credits the site, Twitter and his blog with helping him land two internships, one in 2010 with ESPN and another this summer with the U.S. Olympics.

“Without social media, I am fairly certain I wouldn’t have gotten either internship. I wouldn’t have been able to differentiate myself as well.”

During the 2009-10 basketball season, he began posting a series of “game day trick shots” on his YouTube account, embedding them in his blog.

The shots, including those by basketball great Charles Barkley and University of Georgia coaches, were featured on ESPN’s “SportsNation” and caught the eyes of Nolte’s future internship bosses.

Kurt Nolte said that he and his wife, Julie, drilled into their three children the need to be socially responsible at all times. “We tell them whatever they put out there, it better be something their grandmother can look at,” he said.

“I’m not saying I’m perfect, but ... I’ve found that the best way to guard against posting negative photos is to not engage in an activity that might be frowned upon by a future employer,” Connor said.

In 1999, when Boys & Girls Clubs of America released its first Internet safety program, Rauzi said people went online mostly to pull information off the Internet.

But today we push information onto the Internet.

“Now I’m posting my life online,” he said. “That’s why Boys & Girls Clubs takes this seriously, and I think it’s really important that everyone who comes into contact with kids and teens, particularly parents, are talking to them about this, not in a way that is accusatory, but in a way that educates them and reminds them that this is important stuff.

“Just like Nike guards their brand, teens need to guard their personal brand,” he said.

Adam Parker of The Post and Courier staff contributed to this article.