Jan 14

10 Tips To Look Professional Online

I decided to write this post after getting frustrated with a couple of Facebook status updates during the snow holiday in Istanbul. Those messages looked very unprofessional, and I thought it was a shame because those teachers also had their students (maybe students’ parents) and some administrators as Facebook friends. Taking this as a starting point, I listed some other issues that I think are problems in terms of looking professional online. I want to emphasize that I am not an ‘online image management’ expert and these are just my personal opinions.

1. Use your real name and use the same name across all online networks.

If you are using online social networks for professional purposes, I think using a nickname on networks is no different to using a nickname in your school or classroom. Although these are online networks and the people in your network are usually people you do not meet face-to-face, they are still ‘real’ people and you are there with your ‘real’ identity. I do not think it is a sincere approach to use a nickname so people cannot see who you really are.

However, using a different profile name does not necessarily mean that you are hiding your real identity. I think it is perfectly ok to choose a different name if:

  • you have a long name
  • your name has been been taken by a person with the same name
  • you prefer to choose a profile name that is related to your profession
  • you represent a school, association or a company

…and you can still add your real name to your profile so that people know who they are talking to.

Besides, I believe educators should use the same name across all online networks: as with using a nickname, it is like using different names in different places in your real life.

 2. If you want to be followed by educators on Twitter, tell people who you are.

When someone starts following me, first I read their biodata then have a quick look at their tweets. I sometimes don’t have time to read the tweets and if there is no information about the new follower, I choose not to follow back. If you want to build a PLN, you need to take some time and tell people who you are in 160 characters or less. If you do not know what to write, you can read other people’s biodatas for inspiration.

3. Do you really need to protect your tweets?

I don’t see the point of having a private account on Twitter if you are there to share. It might be ok if you are sharing very personal information, pictures and so on – but if your reason for being there is to share ideas, resources and links, why are you protecting your tweets and who are you protecting them from? To tell the truth, I usually don’t follow back if a new follower’s account is protected.

4. Use a real and positive-looking picture of yourself as your profile picture.

This is a personal preference, I must admit. Since I think there is no difference between my online-self and the ‘me in real life’, I prefer to use a picture that is ‘me’.

5. If you have a silly email address, get another one.

Once I had an interview with a teacher whose email address was something like sweetcandygirl_85@something.com, and this ‘sweet’ email address had a very negative affect on my impression of her. I cannot imagine her giving this email address to her students at high school.

Email is one of the ways people can contact you online and if you are an educator, I don’t think you should use a silly email address like the one above.

6. Carefully re-read blog entries, status updates or tweets for grammar and spelling before you post them.

Some recent Facebook updates I read made me include this in my list. Of course we make mistakes, and we cannot get everything we write proofread. But if we are English teachers, we must be more careful than other people – especially if we have our students and their parents in our networks…

7. Don’t give the impression that you are a teacher who hates going to school.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read some messages during the snow holiday in Istanbul. I don’t know anyone (including myself) who doesn’t feel happy when there is an unexpected break like this. But I think we, as teachers, need to keep some feelings to ourselves if we have students and their parents in our networks. Keep it to yourself if:

  • you don’t want to go to school because you’re tired
  • you don’t want to mark the exams
  • a class gives you a headache
  • you do not like a colleague or an administrator
  • you cannot manage a student and you have negative feelings for him/her
  • you are not happy about your working conditions, etc.

8. Be aware that unprofessional looking photos or videos might ruin your career.

Be careful about the photos and videos you share on online social networks. If someone tags a questionable photo of you on Facebook, you can remove the tag yourself. If you can’t remove the tag, you can ask your friend nicely to do it for you.

9. Don’t send direct messages to people in your Facebook or Twitter network unless you have something to say.

Sometimes I receive direct messages like ‘hi!’, ‘how are you?’. As you can imagine, the answer could be ‘hi, I’m ok, you?’, but why would I want to have a conversation like this? I have people in my network that I don’t know in person and I prefer to interact and share ideas with them publicly. Of course it is ok to send a direct message if there is something to say. But, personally, I don’t like people sending private messages just to ask how I am or to promote their blog posts or products.

10. Don’t add people to Facebook groups, or send game requests, without asking them.

This is as annoying and meaningless as direct messages. Remember that people might not be interested in the Groups you have created or the games that you are playing. You can recommend Groups, games, apps and so on via status updates and your friends can decide whether to join or not.

As I mentioned at the beginning, these are my personal opinions and I don’t think there are any certain rules for standard professional behavior online.

What do you think?


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  1. Adam Simpson (@yearinthelifeof)

    I’m right there with you on all of these, Burcu.

    I have to say that I was also particularly shocked at instances of #7 that I witnessed recently when we had the bout of snow here in Istanbul. From a purely objective perspective, I could now have a list of twenty or so people that I would never hire if I was in a position to do so, based entirely on their apparent contempt at their jobs. Careful, folk, there are people out there reading your throwaway comments and make decisions about you based on what they see.


    1. burcuakyol

      Yes, Adam, those instances made me write this post:) I have screenshots of their status updates on my phone that make me angry whenever I look at them. I put my feelings into words to feel better:)

      Thanks for the comment!:)


  2. Patrick

    Agree with most of this but interested that some people who have gone out of their way to muster loads of friends and followers now seem to be getting a bit shirty when people contact them out of the blue to say “Hi”. Isn’t that a nice thing for them?

    1. burcuakyol

      Hi Patrick. It is definitely a nice thing if they continue and say something meaningful. Once someone said ‘good evening’ to me. I didn’t reply because I was busy. Then he called me ‘arrogant girl’!?! I was shocked to see that message and unfriended him right away.

      I am a person who is very happy about what social networking has brought to our lives: the easiness and simplicity of contacting people we like. I met lots of wonderful people on social networks.

      In face-to-face communication, you may find the style and attitude of some people weird, right? I think I experienced more than a couple of weird approaches and consequently added #9 to my list:)


      1. Patrick

        Sure thing, Burcu. I suppose it’s just symptomatic of being a kind of a star that people want to say “Hello!” to you because they can. If any person well-known in their field sat in a public space they would have loads of people coming over to them and that some of this attention would be unwelcome or that some of the attention would be annoying, inappropriate or badly timed. The way celebrities deal with that public attention varies greatly but I think that they realise that this is part of the deal that in our field includes people coming to your talks or being interested in what you say on your blog or any of the other stuff that is desirable attention. Isn’t it true that most people who come along have something meaningful to say or offer you a chance to help somehow? It may be that they are just an opportunity for you to share something or spare a few seconds to be nice to someone in awe of your coolness! I think anyone who wouldn’t understand a polite message saying “I’m really sorry. I am terribly busy now” deserves what they have coming to them though.

  3. Ken Wilson

    Points 1-8 are v good advice, and 9 and 10 are essential to anyone who wants to stay friends with me! :-)

  4. Lyudmyla

    Burcu,I completely agree with all the issues you’ve mentioned in your post. On the top of everything, personally I hate when people complain about working too hard or when they are not willing to go to work as there are so many good unemployed teachers who can’t find a job.

    1. burcuakyol

      Hi Lyudmyla. Yes, it’s so true. A couple of minutes ago, an ELT student sent me a message on Facebook. She tells me that she finds it very toxic to read unhappy and full of complaint status updates from some of the teachers in her Facebook list. She even turned off the notifications not to see any updates from a couple of teachers. It is really sad and annoying.

  5. Emma Herrod

    A very intelligent post, Burcu. I totally agree with all of your points here. I have to be careful with proofreading – I tend to snatch moments here or there and rattle of quick responses to things. An extra two minutes would save me a whole lotta hassle :)

    I have recently felt quite uncomfortable when reading some responses to another ELT blog post. One of the individuals seem to have gone out of his or her way to remain utterly anonymous, secret even (the name even says as such!). Going over to this person’s website, the reader is greeted with posts ranting about their staff and students. I was gobsmacked and rather creeped out to be honest at how nasty people can be. I wonder why such comments cannot stay in the personnel files where they better belong.

    Thank you for taking the time to post this. We all could do with a little self-checking every now and then.

    I hope your beautiful city is returning to normal :)

    1. burcuakyol

      Hi Emma. Yes, Istanbul has returned to normal and we’re not expecting another snow holiday, thank God;)

      I think teachers like you’ve mentioned mustn’t be allowed to enter the classroom. Being a teacher requires a healthy mind and a happy soul. Otherwise it means ‘children who hate learning English’.:(


  6. mura


    all very sensible points, regarding point 9 and twitter, i actually think Direct Messaging is not used enough for when people have a convo that maybe starts relevant to ELT but proceeds to diverge. kinda annoying to have to see that on the feed, they should take it to DM!

    then again twitter (website version) doesn’t actually make it very easy to DM as easily as tweeting!


    1. burcuakyol

      Hi Mura,

      Thank you for your comment. I think Tweetdeck makes Twitter more fun and easier to manage. Unfortunately most of the DMs on Twitter are spam messages that people send unknowingly because of the links they click by mistake. I don’t understand how it happens and what is fun about it for spammers. All I know is that those messages have turned my DM column into a spam folder:(


  7. Ansa Lakioti

    Dear Burcu,
    I absolutely agree with all except #10! The reason is that I’ve happened to send game requests to some people by mistake! :-) Of course the easiest way to deal with such requests is simply to ignore them – this is what I do – but I know that some people are really bothered so I try to be really careful when I play some of my favourite games.
    As regards the rest, I believe that the problem is caused by the fact that many people do not really know how to use Social Networks. It makes me feel sad to see professionals upload pictures that reveal their private moments! Obviously the possibility that such pictures could ruin their careers doesn’t cross their mind…

    1. burcuakyol

      Hi Ansa,

      You’re right about sending requests by mistake. It sometimes happens when you start using a new app as well. It might send requests to everyone in your contact list right after you click an innocent-looking button:).



  8. DaveDodgson

    Hi! How are you doing? 😉

    If you were shocked by the attitude of some teachers in Istanbul last week, you should have seen/heard some of the things I did here in Ankara from those teachers upset that we didn’t get a snow holiday despite heavy snow all night last Monday – complaints, moaning, & even swearing (no exaggeration!)

    Proof-reading is something I have to do better on. Many a time I have made typos when blogging that have slipped through the net.

    And I’m definitely with you on the email addresses, I’ve seen a few that have put employers off (Jazzpoetjosh and boocrazyblue are two that have stuck in my mind!)

  9. Dorothy Zemach

    #7 is a hard one. Teachers feel stressed just like anyone else. But–the place to let off steam is in private with your friends or family, and not in public. (Of course, that holds true for a lot of jobs!) Certainly not in a place where your students can read it. I think teachers, at least in the US, also need some closed places where they can talk about employment conditions, which are not always so good here. It doesn’t mean we don’t love teaching; just that we need health insurance and the possibility of staying home for a day if we are very ill. But at several places where I have worked, there has been rather intense pressure to say you loved everything, all the time, and saying something like “I wish my contract hadn’t been changed from 12 months to 10 weeks without my knowledge” led to other teachers calling you “burned out.”

    #s 9 and 10–yes, yes, yes!


    We tell all our teachers to keep their private and professional life separate on Facebook. It’s a no-brainer and will solve most of the issues you’ve posted about.

    Here’s how: http://tinyurl.com/bbjkhjz

  11. alexis

    Like ICAL TEFL said I think you keep your professional and personal life separate. If I want to only network and share ideas for my career I would use such site as linkedin or set up a ‘teacher’ facebook profile.
    I have my facebook page only for friends and colleagues who are friends. I also like pages and join groups to do with teaching as it is an interest but mine is not a professional page and would not wish it to be seen as one.
    I do not add students as I feel it is inappropriate and at the moment I am teaching very young children ages 6, who don’t have facebook or such (I hope!) If I was teaching older children I would make a special page or another account for them as I know they use facebook a lot and it is a great way to get across to them, to encourage and engage.
    I do feel that the teacher/student relationships and what is seen as normal in schools here is different in the UK. (and there are both good and bad points.)

  12. Gita

    Yes, agreed with most of the issues you mentioned above. I prefer to add only the students who have already gratuated from the school and also have them on a low profile. I don’t think that we necessarily need to have our students be included in our social network unless we follow their homework or project from here.
    As for the status updates and the spelling mistakes, I am one of the people who sometimes make terrible spelling mistakes as some keys on my computer dont work so well and sometimes I am too excited to write and share. I know that I need to be more careful.
    Overall, I guess we all sometimes get carried away by the allure of the social network without being trully aware that we might be watched, or followed.
    Yes, I guess there are good points to be considered!

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