FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – In our digital age, the social networking website Twitter has become a popular way for celebrities and public figures to brand themselves and connect with fans in the community. But — good or bad — your online footprint becomes part of your identity, and it can follow you around forever.

From world-known personalities to local businessmen, your online actions can often be just as important as your physical ones. “What you put out there is what you are going to get back,” said Dallas business owner Bernard Underwood, “so you have to be careful what you put out there, because it’s definitely going to come back around to you.”

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Many public figures use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to connect with the community. Business owners use the sites to expand their brands. Celebrities use them to build upon a solid fanbase. “I follow SportsCenter, Forbes, Fortune magazine,” said Dallas resident Katie Oswald. “I do follow celebrities.”

But one wrong tweet could backfire big time.

Locally, that is perhaps most evident in the messy divorce case between Deion Sanders and his wife, Pilar. The former Dallas Cowboys player took to Twitter to air his grievances and expose allegations of domestic violence, and his tweets — including a photo of his children filling out police reports against their mother — ignited a media storm.

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“You have to be authentic,” said social media expert Jenna Ryan, “but you have to be guarded. You have to have a filter.” Beyond airing dirty laundry and picking public fights, Ryan listed other things that one should never do online when trying to build a brand. “If you are already well known, you really need to protect your reputation.”

But perhaps you are going the opposite way. Maybe you want to draw attention. That could be as easy as hitting the pound key (#). Hashtags allow folks on Twitter to gather around a particular topic. This can make your tweet — and your account — much easier to find in a search. “You would use it to get yourself into whatever genre you are trying to get into,” Ryan said. “In a very short period of time, you can be famous online.”

Also, retweeting and replying can go a long way to get another user to notice your account. But be careful who you follow. Just like actual relatives, a Twitter family defines you, whether you want them to or not. Be mindful of your own tweets and the things that your Twitter family says online. “I really think, for a public figure, you need to keep your follow count low,” Ryan said.

Finally, search your name regularly to monitor your online footprint. If you have followed Ryan’s social media advice, you should (almost) always be happy with the results.

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