You may not think of your identity as a brand, but one day you’ll want to market yourself to a new employer, university or customer. Perhaps someone will spot your talent and sign you up for a five album deal. Either way, your digital footprint needs to be managed or it could come back to haunt you.
I think this topic is particularly important for young people who are in the run up to a working life, or further education. This area generally becomes the centre of my discussions with pupils of 14-15 years old and above.
Newspapers and news sites throw out the latest numbers almost weekly; 37% of employers look at your facebook, 90% of recruiters check social media, Would-be students checked on Facebook. However those numbers or the locations don’t really matter, it’s clear that the process is wide spread and been going on for some time.
So it’s probably safer to attempt to delete everything and never post anything right? Well some people would argue that not having a digital footprint can be as damaging as a bad one. Also lets not forget that our family, friends and in some unfortunate cases our enemies, are able to create, adapt and manage our digital footprints on our behalf. How much you are comfortable sharing is up to you, when you are in control.
We go on about positive online identities, but what do they look like, and how do you build one?
Search engine ranking is key – promote the good, hide any bad as far down as possible. Searching your name regularly gives you a good idea on what others can find about you. But don’t simply rely on google. Google returns results based on what it thinks interest you most, so you are likely to be higher up the list than if others search you. You’ll get different google results if you sign out of google services and delete your cookies, or use the privacy mode in your browser. Also try other engines – you remember them – Bing, Ask, DuckDuckGo and then there are the people specific ones, 123people and Pipl for example. Try them all with and without quotation marks around your name. After which think about creating a google alert so you are warned of any new results.
You’ll notice that more often than not, the first few results will be for LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. It will come as no surprise then, that these platforms are the most important to get right.
It doesn’t matter if you are not actively looking for a job, linked in has become the first place many recruiters look for potential people to fit into roles. Your profile should be professional and highlight everything you’ve achieved that is relevant to your field. List where applicable, qualifications, achievements, awards and work experience. Also make your profile a bit more interesting by adding volunteer work and other interests. Linkedin recently opened it’s doors to the under 18’s too, so it could be a good way to get noticed by universities. Customise your linkedin profile URL with your name, or a version of it. Connect to people you have a genuine link with. Ask for a recommendation where you think it’s due, but only ask once, and don’t be upset if they don’t respond.
Many people think twitter isn’t a professional platform, but it is what you make of it. Twitter is one of those few places where you can mix with leaders in your field. Follow them, see who they follow and chat with. Ask an insightful question and get involved with discussions. Link to things you’ve found interesting and comment on things you think could be changed. I’ve found that busy people are more likely to quickly respond to a tweet, than answer a lengthy email.
Blogs are an excellent way to track your progression, highlight your skills and de-construct your mistakes. Try to update it fairly regularly. WordPress is my favourite, but many others exist.
Have a homepage
Have a simple site which links to all the site where you have a presence. About.me is quite good, or create one yourself from scratch. Not only will it help a bit with your search engine ranking, it gives people a clear view of which online profiles are yours, and perhaps more importantly the ones that are not. Use words and terms associated with your chosen field so you can be found more easily.
Buy a domain
Domain names are cheap – generally. Having YourName.Com is an excellent way to help ensure you’re in control of your digital footprint. It also looks professional when you add a fancy email address on your CV. Look at less obvious domains, me.uk, .me or .eu they are often cheaper still. There are hundreds of new TLDs being released at the moment, it’s a great time to secure your name. It’s unlikely to rank higher in the search engines than the big social networks, but it is your stamp on the web in which you are fully in control. Perhaps point it at your blog, about.me or something along those lines.
This does get harder every day, but try to keep your username consistent across all the platforms. If starting from scratch, try to find a username that is available on twitter, facebook and linkedin and relects your name where possible. Link from one to the other to the other. Link to your twitter and your blog from your linkedin profile for example. Where that isn’t possible, link to your ‘homepage’. Find a headshot you’re happy with and befits your professionalism. Use it across all the sites. Keep an eye out for new networks which are on the rise – you might want to bag your name before anyone else does.
This is by no means a complete list of sites to use or things to do. If you are into visual arts, Pinterest, Flickr or Youtube could be important to you. Audioboo or Soundcloud might be indispensable to the journalistic or musically minded amongst you. Building a professional profile can be a daunting task and it does take some time and effort. Time well spent when your name is at the top of the recruitment agencies or university admissions pile!
Image by Frau Hölle and licenced under creative commons v2.0