Your online footprint is an important part of your personal brand. Just like a company selling a product, online is where many people will find you first. You should be aware of the elements you must manage.
- Social media. There’s a reason I mentioned this first. Because of the nature of my job (public relations, blogger) I have a pretty big online footprint. Two years ago, a Google search for my name (with no location) would turn up about 14 pages of content (mostly relevant) and the majority of the content would be actual news stories where I was quoted. This week, the same search for my name turned up a very different search. The first two full pages of relevant content were all linked to social media: my LinkedIn profile, my Facebook page, my blog sites, and my company website. News items from traditional media did not appear until page three. (Traditional news sites should take notice.)
- News and public notices. Obviously, there is good news and bad news about getting your 15 minutes of fame. If you’ve been featured in the news for the wrong reasons, the articles or notices will show up for years unless you take action (more about that later.) Arrests, foreclosures, legal matters may all sneak into your digital footprint. So will obituaries where you are mentioned, home sales notices, etc.
- Someone with the same name may also confuse the issue. It’s important to know what’s out there; you may have a doppleganger who becomes famous and shows up in searches for your name. For the next few years, my name will show up in searches because of a tragedy in Jacksonville, Arkansas. Candace Moody of Jacksonville, AR, was a victim of a murder-suicide, and news items continue to appear about the incident. There’s also a prominent obituary, which may alarm casual searchers. It’s especially challenging because the city where I live is usually a reliable way to sort my results from other peoples’.
- Close misses include people who spell their name almost the same way you do (Candice is a common variation of Candace.) Watch for Twitter accounts, blogs and social media pages that sound like you but may contain content that is definitely not you.
So how do you manage all these sources?
First, you have to know what’s out there about you. It’s easy to set up a Google alert on your name (and location, if you have a more common name.) Just go to www.google.com, set up an account (which will also allow you to store maps and directions) and set up how often you want to receive emails with your search parameters. This is also a good way to keep up with companies or industry leaders you are following in our job search.
You should also make sure you have a robust online presence on social networks. Even if you’re just posting links to articles you find helpful or interesting, activity on social networks will help push down other mentions in a search for your name. That’s one way to “manage” your online presence. Another is to make sure you sound like yourself (presumably) intelligent and literate. Remove any posts that were written in haste and contain misspellings or opinions you wish you hadn’t posted. The difference between online and real life is that online lives forever. Resist the impulse to post your snarky complaints and comments to social networks.
Make sure your privacy settings are up to date, and that you share personal information appropriately. The way you manage your own confidential information is how you’ll manage your employer’s information as well. Give them confidence that you understand how privacy policies work. Facebook now allows you to organize lists (family, friends, classmates, etc.)and use them to organize the information you share.
While you’re creating your presence, consider brand consistency. Use the same profile picture or avatar across sites so people can recognize you when they see you. Use similar or the same biographies and usernames (and make sure that they can be linked to you as a professional; @jacksonvillecutie may not ring a bell with your future employer.)