You pride yourself on your professional appearance and demeanor. You strive to create and maintain a strong identity and reputation within your organization, with your clients and peers, and in your industry. But are you as diligent a custodian of your professional brand in cyberspace as you are in the physical world? If not, you probably need a digital make-over... This post provides guidance for critiquing, updating, and maintaining your digital presence to convey a positive professional identity in cyberspace throughout your career.
I continue to be amazed by the number of anemic profiles there are on LinkedIn, how easy it is to access Facebook activity that's not intended for the public, how many people have no filter and/or no sense of time and place when they post on Twitter, and how uncivil people can be when commenting on news articles and blog posts. Not much surprises me anymore, but the opportunities to wonder "What were they thinking?" seem never-ending...
Given my focus on digital rookies, I'm particularly intrigued by people who are so fastidious about their personal appearance and "real world" reputation but show virtually no regard for their appearance or reputation in cyberspace. They seem oblivious to the fact that they have a digital identity whether they want one or not - and more importantly, that in many respects their digital identity and brand are much more public and powerful than how they're known and perceived in the physical world.
Lately, to drive home the point of how important it is for professionals to take responsibility for their digital presence, I've started using analogies like leaving the house without any pants on; wearing torn, stained, disreputable, or inappropriate clothes; being unkempt; and having a hairstyle, glasses, and other accessories that are out of date. And to address the frequent lament of "I don't have time," I highlight the time we make to do things that are important to us, like going to a hair stylist or the gym, or shopping for clothes and shoes. The point is that if we can make the time to take care of our physical appearance and put our best foot forward on earth, we should also be able to make the time to take care of our digital appearance and put our best foot forward in the cloud.
In this post I extend those analogies by laying out the basic steps and tasks in a digital make-over. Although the recommendations are primarily targeted to rookies, the suggestions should be useful to people who are more digitally sophisticated and engaged as well. We can all benefit from a little closet cleaning...
Even if you don't need a digital make-over, you probably know someone who would benefit from these recommendations. : )
As always, I welcome your comments and questions. What did I miss? What would you add?
- Courtney Shelton Hunt
Step 1: Review and Critique
Conduct internet searches on yourself.
- What to do:
- Conduct searches via major search engines like Google and Bing.
- Use different combinations of your name and aspects of your professional identity (e.g., organizations you've worked for, positions you've held, industries you've worked in), as well as nicknames you may have used when engaging in digital activity (e.g., sharing or liking an article, commenting on a blog post). It's also a good idea to include a spouse/partner's name and to search on particular aspects of your personal life (e.g., political donations, church affiliations).
- What to look for:
- Publicly available information and activity that you thought was private
- References to and/or information about you shared by others
- Potentially embarrassing or misunderstood images and/or content
- Personal activities, affiliations, and perspectives that may impact your professional life (rightly or wrongly)
- Potential cases of mistaken identity
Evaluate your public profile on social media platforms.
- What to do:
- Find and review your public profile on networking platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Plus to see how your profile appears to people to whom you're not connected.
- If you have a Twitter account, a blog, and/or an account/channel on public platforms like YouTube, SlideShare, Box.net, VisualCV , Quora, Klout (it's a potentially long list!), access your public profile on that account. Don't forget to look at accounts you don't use anymore too!
- What to look for:
- Content that is incomplete, out of date, and/or inaccurate
- Typos and grammatical errors
- Broken links
- Potentially embarrassing or misunderstood images and/or content,as well as those that could undermine your professional brand
- Publicly-displayed information that you'd like to keep private
Get someone else to critique specific accounts/activity.
- Whom to ask: Identify someone you trust to give you an honest opinion, even if that opinion might make you a bit uncomfortable or hurt your feelings. Finding someone with whom you could do a quid pro quo exchange is not only mutually beneficial, but you're likely to get a better sense of what you should/shouldn't do based on your review of their accounts/activity in addition to their feedback on yours.
- What to do: Identify the platforms/activity you want them to concentrate on. For most people that would be LinkedIn and Facebook. People who are more digitally engaged may also want to include platforms like Google Plus, Twitter and blogs.
- What to look for: Basically they're going to look for the same things you did in the previous step, only they can be more objective and are likely to spot things you miss. They can also better identify things that might be viewed as questionable by people who don't know you.
Step 2: Make-Over
Delete risky content when/where you can.
- If it's something you can control (e.g., a blog comment made via Disqus or using your Twitter account, or a photo you uploaded to Facebook), access the content and delete it.
- If it's not something you can control (e.g., a Flickr photo in which you're tagged, or a reference to you in a blog post), contact the person who created the content and ask them to either remove the content or unlink it from your identity.
- In some cases (e.g., reports on contributions to political candidates, newsletter articles) you won't be able to delete the content or unlink it from your identity, but at least you'll be aware of what is publicly available and can be prepared to discuss it if necessary.
Board up digital properties you no longer use.
- If you don't plan to ever use a specific platform again, shut down your account. Check with the provider to see if your public data will still be available, or if it effectively disappears from cyberspace. If you can't completely erase it, try to add information that redirects people to a new platform/account.
- If you think you may use the platform again, clean up your account and add some kind of a "we'll be back" sign. You may also want to redirect folks to a new platform/account.
Lock the doors that need to be locked.
- If you don't want everyone to see certain Facebook albums or wall posts, change the settings on those items. Do the same with activity you consider private on other platforms like blogs, Flickr, and YouTube.
- Similarly, you may want to cull through your friends, connections, and followers on various platforms and disconnect from people with whom you don't want to be connected/engaged on that platform (e.g., unfriending work colleagues and/or people you don't know very well).
Make sure your front porches are presentable. Update your public profiles to address all the problems you identified during your review.
Direct people to the "right" you, and make yourself easy to find. Designate a hub or home base for your digital identity (e.g., your LI profile or a website). Make sure that hub includes current contact information (i.e., email address and/or phone number) and links to all your relevant digital presences.
Step 3: Maintenance
Think before you tweet, comment, update, blog, etc. The best way to manage a strong positive digital reputation is to not put anything out there that you will later regret. And the best way to do that is to be mindful of what you share and where you share it, to choose words and images carefully, and to remember that even though most digital activity is fleeting, it's also permanent.
Set up internet search alerts at regular intervals. Using an engine like Google, set up regular alerts using the same criteria you used in your initial review. This way, you'll be notified whenever some cyber activity is connected to your identity. Keep in mind, though, that these automatic searches aren't perfect, so you should plan to supplement them with periodic manual searches.
Keep a current inventory of your digital properties. Create a list of all the places you have accounts and update it whenever you join a new platform. This list may not be necessary for the accounts you use all the time, but it is vital in helping you remember the accounts you set up but never return to or stop using. It's amazing how many digital stakes you can put in the ground and then forget about...
Review and clean up your digital inventory periodically. At least once a year, determine whether you want to continue to maintain specific accounts, especially those you rarely/never use. Doing so will minimize the digital detritus you leave behind.
Review and update your public profiles. Even if your professional circumstances haven't changed, it's worthwhile to take a look at your public profiles at least once a year to make sure you continue to be satisfied with how you're presenting yourself in cyberspace - and to take appropriate action when you're not.
Choose your friends wisely. We all have different rules about whom we connect with, but it behooves us all to be discriminating about the company we keep in cyberspace. Develop a set of connection rules and adhere to them consistently.