Working at McDonalds taught me a valuable social media lesson

Like many teenagers around Australia, I had a part-time job working in a fast-food restaurant. For me it was manning the grill, with my clip on tie and visor at the local McDonalds.

I learned a lot during my time in that job, most of which I didn’t fully appreciate until years later.

Surprisingly, one lesson learned over that 18-month period has become increasingly relevant in my business, advising (mostly young) athletes on their online and social media behaviour. It was drilled into us daily by managers as we worked. That lesson:

“Clean as you go.”

It meant rather than letting things get too messy, or out of order surrounding your designated station, they encouraged you to ‘clean as you go’ and tidy that small spill, bin the rogue pickle or chicken nugget, and clean up your mistakes immediately, as you worked.

It was pretty simple. Instead of scrambling to get things back to tidy, in order, restocked, or clean at the end of your shift, or when the store owner dropped by to inspect their investment, you’d taken small steps during your shift to keep on top of things and take responsibility for your area.

Whether there was one customer or twenty waiting for their burger, we worked like there were one hundred. The pressure was on from clock-in to clock-out, so we had to stay on top of our game to avoid being overwhelmed.

What’s the connection?

What does this have to do with someone’s online and social media presence? Quite a bit I’ve found, particularly if you are an athlete looking for opportunities to be sponsored, employed or recruited to a college, club, school or program.

Sitting around with a bunch of young Aussie athletes recently, all top of their field in their age-group, all hoping to one day play their sport at a higher level, (specifically at the US collegiate level) it struck me that they’d reach a point where the spotlight was now on them, and it was getting very bright, very fast.

Some of these kids were suddenly getting a flood of interest and contact from people they did not know, looking to sum-up their suitability for different opportunities, strike up relationships, and learn more about them via their social media profiles.

This experience is similar for many promising young athletes – when the interest and attention comes, it can be swift and overwhelming, so it’s best to be prepared.

What are you hiding behind those privacy settings?

A default response when asking people about the content they post and share on social media is that their accounts are set to private, so they don’t need to be too careful about the appropriateness of their updates. Their close friends behind the privacy wall like what they say and do, and don’t judge them for what they share.

Ensuring your social media accounts like Instagram and Facebook are set to a certain level of privacy is a smart move for young people, but it must be understood that there is never any guarantee that what you post will remain private and confined to your current audience.

So you think you’ve done the right thing. You listened during the cyber-safety class in school, and have hidden your online identity from all but your close friends.

Then, something happens. The spotlight is shined your way and suddenly people you do not know, but could influence the opportunities you are striving to get, request to be your Facebook friend, or to follow you on Instagram.

These are the people that might help you get the opportunities you’ve worked so hard towards in your athletic pursuits, and they are requesting a look behind the wall. What are they looking for? What will they find?

If you don’t know the answers to the above, it’s time to get proactive and start having a serious think about the content that you’ve posted, been tagged in, and how you have presented yourself on social media. It’s time to “clean as you go.”

When attention comes from those who could influence your opportunities, do you know what they’ll find?

Time is of the essence

An athlete recently relayed to me that after being sent a Facebook friend request by someone who could influence their opportunities, they had taken the time to go back and delete a few things off their social media accounts that could have been deemed inappropriate and thought they better tidy up before accepting.

It’s a sensible move, but what if time was of the essence? (PS: It often is.) What if they were making a snap or urgent decision about giving you a sponsorship, scholarship or employment opportunity? Might it be too late to wait a day so you can search through and clean up years of social media content?

When you rush, and are reactive rather than proactive, small details and issues can get missed. It’s safer and more easily manageable to ‘clean as you go’. It’s better to delete that photo, inappropriate language, links, or any other seriously questionable content, as it occurs, because as an athlete you should expect that if it hasn’t already, attention is coming.

Working at McDonalds taught that me whether we were busy or not, under pressure, or the spotlight was on us, we should prepare and work like we were. We made sure to ‘clean as you go’ so that when the pressure was on, we were ready and able to avoid issues and overwhelm.

I think it’s great advice for keeping on top of your online persona or identity.  Remove and un-tag yourself from things, adjust your privacy and other settings and approvals as you go. Update, adjust and optimise little by little as time goes on, so when the future employer, recruiter, coach or colleague follows you, you’re ready to accept their invitation to communicate, and put yourself forward for any opportunities they may offer.

What’s next?

Having this level of preparedness and the awareness to ‘clean as you go’ is a great start. But as an athlete looking for opportunities to reach higher levels, you should be welcoming of contact and interest in your online persona. You should be excited that people are taking the time to reach out to you. Removing things you don’t want people to find is only the beginning.

The next important step is deciding what you actually want people to learn about you on these platforms, and making sure that it is easily findable. You have control over what you post and become known for online, so treat your accounts as platforms to showcase your character and qualities in a positive light.

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