By: Blaire Knight-Graves, DePaul University web content producer

What used to be a wild and vast frontier of aliases, browser histories that could be scrubbed, and avatars as personal representations has shifted into a world where personal branding on social media and public identity are an essential part of the professional toolkit—even as early as your career begins in the entry-level space. If you want to pursue a job in one of the various fields held under the umbrella of communications, consider taking the opportunity to evaluate your social media feeds based on the following personal social media skills.

Clean up the feed.

It goes without saying, but our feeds are generally filled with memes, viral videos, long sentimental posts, pictures of food and entertainment, and articles dissecting pop culture, politics or local events. Personal feeds may also feature something deeper—pictures of raucous parties, angry rants, opinions from five or more years ago, and diverging opinions on even the blandest of topics. Both of these feeds are intrinsically tied to your name when someone decides to look you up on a search engine. Believe it or not, hiring managers pay attention to this stuff, and make informed decisions based on personal research during the candidate selection process. I can think of at least three separate instances where I didn’t take on an intern because I didn’t like what I found on his/her Twitter or YouTube accounts. Brand perception now runs deeper than the messaging and marketing itself—in the eyes of the public, employees can — and often do — represent the values of a business, and a business needs to have digitally exemplary employees. So, when you’re applying to jobs, ask yourself if your feed can be used against you, and clean up accordingly.

Learn to lurk and digest, then react.

The Internet is a hot bed of opinions. Discourse is encouraged on most platforms—Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and even the comment section of your local news source. But as discussed above, sometimes it’s best just to pay attention to the discourse and nod or shake your head as you scroll through your feed instead of reacting, no matter how tempting the topic may be. If you really want to join in on the conversation, force yourself to sit on your idea for 15 minutes or longer before typing a response to or “liking” someone else’s post.

It’s also worth mentioning here that the groups that you belong to on Facebook can sometimes be viewed publicly, or your comments in “private” groups can still be screen grabbed and posted for the world to see. Keep that in mind before taking part in difficult discourse.

If you’re going to post, pick your personal niche and stick with it like it’s a brand.

Finding a little niche on the Internet and sticking to it is my most recommended method of personally using social media. Whether you love food, television, film, travel, fashion, makeup or power tools—pick a hobby and have that dominate the posts you put in your feed. Now, of course your personal brand doesn’t have to exclusively feature stylized photos of pasta and smoothies, but once you’ve picked your niche try to keep your posts in that realm 75% of the time. My personal niche is my love of television and film, and all things geek culture, but yours might be fitness and nature. Whatever you pick, try to make an intentional effort to stick with it for at least six months. Not only will you be playing it safe, you’ll also start building a community with the same interests and learn some additional branding skills along the way.

Don’t “Vaguebook” or “Subtweet.”

This rule is short and simple. Don’t vaguely post your bad thoughts about other people while omitting their names, and consider not posting bad thoughts about anyone at all. You never know if you’re going to hurt someone’s feelings or if you might be eliminating an opportunity to network in the future. Professionals who pay attention to others in their field won’t want to take the risk of networking with you if they fear you’re a busy body on the web. I’ve said no to coffee with other professionals over subtweeting because I didn’t think it was worth the risk of ending up in their feed, and you don’t want that to happen to you.

A picture’s worth a thousand words, and so is your avatar.

There’s a balance between being professional and having a personal life. You shouldn’t feel like every profile photo has to be you’re LinkedIn headshot, but you also shouldn’t post a profile picture with anything that could be deemed controversial. Think about your profile picture or avatar within the context of your personal story, and what that tells the world. You could be in a blouse and slacks while at a cocktail bar, hiking with messy hair and an unwashed face, swimming in the lake, or maybe you’re kissing your significant other on the cheek. All of these tell the outside world something about how you live your life, and none of them are bad. In your profile picture you should look warm, welcoming and as though your interests matter to you. Having clean social media doesn’t mean that you can’t have or project a personal life with your own interests, and an avatar is a perfect place to start.