This summer, I spent some time thinking about, and cleaning up, my digital identity. What’s that? Why? How? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.
Defining Digital Identity
Your digital identity is any aspect of your online footprint that’s discoverable by the general public. Honestly, it can and will be used to judge who you are as both a human and a professional. But don’t be scared. I’ll walk you through why you should care about it, how you can craft yours, and what you should do to maintain it.
Why You Should Care
As I was growing up, my generation was living on AIM and rearranging our Top 8 on MySpace constantly. When we all joined Facebook towards the end of high school, parents and teachers warned us to not posting photos from parties with red Solo cups when we went off to college. Future employers might not hire you!
If that’s how you’re looking at things today, you may need to shift your mindset. Employers realize we’re all human. If you’re in college and drinking at a party, that’s probably not going to prevent you from getting a job. Nearly everyone does it.
But there’s always a tweet these days, in situations with politicians and celebrities alike, with an unpopular opinion or offensive comment that comes back to bite them in the butt. You don’t want to be like them. You need to constantly monitor and maintain your digital identity to make sure your content and online persona is totally on-brand.
My first experience with this was in high school. I was spending a lot of time on MySpace, and said something snarky about a coach who I didn’t like. Before I knew it, my comment had been reported to the coach, and screenshots were printed out in triplicate and handed out at an in-person meeting where I was forced to face the consequences of my actions.
It was an intimidating experience for me as a teenager, but a good one to have at a young age! I learned that what you say online definitely isn’t private, and you should be thoughtful before posting something on the internet.
Developing Your Digital Identity
If you haven’t given any thought to your personal brand or digital identity yet, start by jotting down some notes about how you’re perceived IRL. What’s your reputation? What do your coworkers think of you? What are some key attributes that define your personality?
Next, audit how you are perceived online. How do you use social media? What platforms are you on? What kinds of content do you share on each?
Give some thought to whether you are public or private on each platform. Double check your privacy settings on Facebook, for starters. Then take some time to consider whether you want to be public or private on Twitter and Instagram, if you have them. The thing about building a personal brand is that you can’t do it in private. If you have personal content you want to share that you don’t want the whole world to see, then private may be the way to go.
For me, I find that the lines between professional and personal have blurred, especially as I run my own business. I want clients to know that I’m human, a real person, with interests outside of my work. I don’t just create content and develop strategies for social media all day. I also love reading, hiking with my dogs, and exploring my city with my husband. I share about all of those things, and consider it on-brand even though it’s not strictly business-related content. I encourage you to experiment a little and find the balance that works for you.
Maintaining Your Digital Identity
Once you have a handle on your digital identity, it doesn’t stop there! Life online moves fast, and you need to monitor your digital identity continually. I recommend setting aside 30-60 minutes each quarter to review your digital identity.
Google yourself—it’s not vain! It’s practical. See what kinds of results come up. It’s good to be aware of what people find about you on the internet if they search.
When I google myself, I can find a full five pages of results about ME! That’s a bit unusual, but partially due to my name choice. Choosing to use both my maiden and married name could be an entire blog post on its own, but one of the factors that led to that decision is SEO. There is one other Emily Hessney that I know of, and there are many Emily Lynches who fill up the google search results for that term. But as far as I know, I’m the only Emily Hessney Lynch. Hence, five pages of Google search results about me. Everything from news from my alma mater to radio show appearances, from blog posts and articles I’ve written to posts I’ve liked on Facebook. It runs the gamut, but there’s nothing off-brand or horrifying.
As you continue your review, peek through your email inbox and consider what sites you’re signed up for where you may be posting content without even thinking about it. For me, that’s sites like Goodreads, Yelp, and TripAdvisor. Is there anything there that you no longer stand by or wish you hadn’t published on the internet? For example, I was an avid Yelp user for years, and this summer made the decision to delete my Yelp reviews and then my entire account.
Sounds extreme, right? I had written hundreds of reviews, and as I remembered they existed and reread them, I was low-key mortified. They were overly harsh, a bit sassy, and seemed like I was often trying to find issue with the establishment I was reviewing. I had been part of the “Elite Yelp” squad for a few years, and it may have gone to my head a little. I remember reading a review where I gave a salad place three stars because “the salad assembler was yelling at me.” It was a loud and echo-y space! It wasn’t a big deal! 2019 Emily cringed and decided the Yelp account had to go.
Those reviews were no longer a good representation of the person I am today. I thought I was helping local businesses by reviewing and posting photos, but I wasn’t. They were melodramatic, and written for Elite Yelper clout. Away they went! Yelp didn’t make it easy to delete my account. I had to email with a service rep to confirm, in writing, that I wanted it gone. It’s always fascinating to see what requirements these sites have for closing an account. Things last on the internet much longer than we realize.
As you wrap up your audit, don’t forget to review your social media presence. I used to subtweet people on occasion and it definitely came back to haunt me. I recommend avoiding subtweeting, and stopping to think before you post, “What would my grandma think if she saw this?”
Don’t live in fear when interacting with others on the internet. Just be thoughtful about what you share. Make sure you can stand by what you post. And remember, people hire people. It’s okay to be human.
Got tips or best practices of your own? Share them with me at @servemethesky!